Living Longer, Living Healthier

Posted 11/01/2006

It’s been a good month for new research revealing ways you can live a longer and healthier life. Here are a few highlights:

  • Medscape News for physicians reported that fully one-third of all cancers can be directly attributed to lifestyle factors. These include choices such as dietary selections and tobacco and alcohol use; environmental issues like exposure to industrial pollutants, agricultural pesticides, and herbicides; and long-term use of some medications (ten years or more on birth control pills, for example, increases risk of breast cancer).
  • Despite the prevalence of diet books, the Mediterranean way of eating remains the healthiest around. Research has now shown this largely vegetarian eating program–including fruits and veggies, whole grains and cereal products, nuts, olive oil (as primary source of fat), daily red wine, and some fish and poultry with little to no red meat at all–prevents all sorts of chronic illness. The Mediterranean diet covers you against heart attacks and strokes, cancers of all stripes, and Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly even slows the aging process.
  • People worry about the mercury content of fish, but a good article in last month’s Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that the positive aspects of twice weekly fish consumption (36% less heart disease, 17% less development of all potentially fatal illnesses) vastly outweighed any mercury issues. The mercury-in-fish warnings to pregnant women do remain in place, however. If you don’t like fish, can’t find fresh fish, or are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, a good substitute is fish oil capsules, two a day.
  • If a villain did emerge recently, it was red meat again. The November 13 issue  of the Archives of Internal Medicine reviewed the eating habits of more than 90,000 women. Those who ate red meat three times a week or more had a much higher risk of developing breast cancer. Red meat eaters who smoked and took birth control pills were sitting on a powder keg.
  • Many people take a daily low dose of aspirin (88 mg) to prevent heart disease. Although the beneficial effects of aspirin are well known, dark chocolate could give aspirin a run for its money. Not only is it a terrific antioxidant, it has an effect similar to aspirin on preventing blood clots.

If you pause to think about these and other studies, they pretty much confirm common sense. When I saw that a high-sugar diet is linked to a higher risk of developing cancer of the pancreas, I wondered how many people were aware that high-sugar diets already cause disease–including diabetes and an increased risk for heart disease–and whether this new information would change anybody’s behavior.

Quick summary for today: Mediterranean Diet is best, add some fish, reduce red meat to once or twice a month, and keep your sugar intake low, really low.

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