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Is diet or DNA destiny?

The bad diet and hard living clearly did not help, yet Elvis Presley was already doomed by his genes to die young, a documentary shown in the UK on its Channel 4 TV claims in a controversial documentary series, according to the March, 2014 The Times news release, "Elvis was doomed to die young, his DNA reveals." Or see the Veooz 360 article, "Elvis was doomed to die young, his DNA reveals."

Is diet or DNA destiny?
Anne Hart, photography. Midtown Sacramento mural on wall of store, 2013.

The documentary claims, according to the producers of "Dead Famous DNA," a new Channel 4 UK series, claim to have resolved any questions by taking a strand of Presley's hair and using it to examine his genome, nearly. Doubts have lingered over the cause of the King’s death in 1977 at only 42. The question for scientists looking at his DNA focused on whether a massive heart attack took his life prematurely, or did an addiction to painkillers play a part?

Are people actually doomed by DNA, even if they change to a low-fat, vegan diet to reverse their genetic tendency to get hardened arteries at a young age? You may wish to check out news releases such as "Eat more, die young: Why eating a diet very low in nutrients can extend lifespan," and "Meat and cheese may be as bad for you as smoking."

Would Elvis have lived longer if he were a vegan, even a raw vegan? Or is DNA destiny when it comes to diet and health? So if DNA is destiny, can a diet that defies the DNA or overrides it, or turns off the bad on-and-off switches from the genes that create the problem by tailoring the diet to the individual? That's why research is ongoing when it comes to studying the micronutrients of nutrition and how food focuses on health. You also may wish to check out another article, "Grass-Fed Animal Foods and Diseases of Civilization: Cardiovascular Disease in Ancient Civilizations."

Meat and cheese may be as bad for you as smoking

A high-protein diet during middle age makes you nearly twice as likely to die and four times more likely to die of cancer, but moderate protein intake is good for you after 65, says a recent study, according to the March 4, 2014 news release, "Meat and cheese may be as bad for you as smoking." Think of that when you have a cheeseburger, cheese steak, or cheese melted over any type of meat or poultry.

That chicken wing you're eating could be as deadly as a cigarette. In a new study that tracked a large sample of adults for nearly two decades, researchers have found that eating a diet rich in animal proteins during middle age makes you four times more likely to die of cancer than someone with a low-protein diet — a mortality risk factor comparable to smoking.

"There's a misconception that because we all eat, understanding nutrition is simple. But the question is not whether a certain diet allows you to do well for three days, but can it help you survive to be 100?" said corresponding author Valter Longo, according to the March 4, 2014 news release, "Meat and cheese may be as bad for you as smoking." Longo is the Edna M. Jones Professor of Biogerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology in the Sacramento and Davis area, and director of the University of Southern California USC Longevity Institute. Check out the abstracts of the studies, "Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population " and "Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications."

Not only is excessive protein consumption linked to a dramatic rise in cancer mortality, but middle-aged people who eat lots of proteins from animal sources — including meat, milk and cheese — are also more susceptible to early death in general, reveals the study published March 4, 2014 in Cell Metabolism (Wiley). See, "Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population." Protein-lovers were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause within the study period than their more low-protein counterparts. They were also several times more likely to die of diabetes.

How much protein we should eat has long been a controversial topic – muddled by the popularity of protein-heavy diets such as Paleo and Atkins. Before this study, researchers had never shown a definitive correlation between high protein consumption and mortality risk

Rather than look at adulthood as one monolithic phase of life, as other researchers have done, the latest study considers how biology changes as we age, and how decisions in middle life may play out across the human lifespan. In other words, what's good for you at one age may be damaging at another. Protein controls the growth hormone IGF-I, which helps our bodies grow but has been linked to cancer susceptibility. Levels of IGF-I drop off dramatically after age 65, leading to potential frailty and muscle loss. The study shows that while high protein intake during middle age is very harmful, it is protective for older adults: those over 65 who ate a moderate- or high-protein diet were less susceptible to disease.

The latest paper draws from Longo's past research on IGF-I, including on an Ecuadorian cohort that seemed to have little cancer or diabetes susceptibility because of a genetic mutation that lowered levels of IGF-I; the members of the cohort were all less than five-feet tall. "The research shows that a low-protein diet in middle age is useful for preventing cancer and overall mortality, through a process that involves regulating IGF-I and possibly insulin levels," said co-author Eileen Crimmins, the AARP Chair in Gerontology at USC, according to the news release. "However, we also propose that at older ages, it may be important to avoid a low-protein diet to allow the maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty."

Crucially, the researchers found that plant-based proteins, such as those from beans, did not seem to have the same mortality effects as animal proteins.

Rates of cancer and death also did not seem to be affected by controlling for carbohydrate or fat consumption, suggesting that animal protein is the main culprit. "The majority of Americans are eating about twice as much proteins as they should, and it seems that the best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins but especially animal-derived proteins," Longo said, according to the news release. "But don't get extreme in cutting out protein; you can go from protected to malnourished very quickly."

Longo's findings support recommendations from several leading health agencies to consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day in middle age. For example, a 130-pound person should eat about 45-50 grams of protein a day, with preference for those derived from plants such as legumes, Longo explains in the news release.

The researchers define a "high-protein" diet as deriving at least 20 percent of calories from protein, including both plant-based and animal-based protein. A "moderate" protein diet includes 10-19 percent of calories from protein, and a "low-protein" diet includes less than 10 percent protein

Even moderate amounts of protein had detrimental effects during middle age, the researchers found. Across all 6,318 adults over the age of 50 in the study, average protein intake was about 16 percent of total daily calories with about two-thirds from animal protein — corresponding to data about national protein consumption. The study sample was representative across ethnicity, education and health background.

People who ate a moderate amount of protein were still three times more likely to die of cancer than those who ate a low-protein diet in middle age, the study shows. Overall, even the small change of decreasing protein intake from moderate levels to low levels reduced likelihood of early death by 21 percent.

For a randomly selected smaller portion of the sample – 2,253 people – levels of the growth hormone IGF-I were recorded directly. The results show that for every 10 ng/ml increase in IGF-I, those on a high-protein diet were 9 percent more likely to die from cancer than those on a low-protein diet, in line with past research associating IGF-I levels to cancer risk.

The researchers also extended their findings about high-protein diets and mortality risk, looking at causality in mice and cellular models. In a study of tumor rates and progression among mice, the researchers show lower cancer incidence and 45 percent smaller average tumor size among mice on a low-protein diet than those on a high-protein diet by the end of the two-month experiment.

Keep cancer from progressing: Is animal but not bean protein intake involved?

"Almost everyone is going to have a cancer cell or pre-cancer cell in them at some point. The question is: Does it progress?" Longo said, according to the news release, Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population. "Turns out one of the major factors in determining whether it does is is protein intake," Longo explained in the news release.

Morgan Levine, Jorge Suarez and Pinchas Cohen of the USC Davis School of Gerontology were co-authors of the study. The research was funded by the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health (grants: AG20642, AG025135, AG034906, P30AG017265 and T32AG0037) and a USC Norris Cancer Center pilot grant to Valter Longo.

You also may wish to see another study's abstract, "The Ratio of Macronutrients, Not Caloric Intake, Dictates Cardiometabolic Health, Aging, and Longevity in Ad Libitum-Fed Mice." In that study, the fundamental questions of what represents a macronutritionally balanced diet and how this maintains health and longevity remain unanswered, explains the study's abstract. Here, the Geometric Framework, a state-space nutritional modeling method, was used to measure interactive effects of dietary energy, protein, fat, and carbohydrate on food intake, cardiometabolic phenotype, and longevity in mice fed one of 25 diets ad libitum.

Food intake was regulated primarily by protein and carbohydrate content

Longevity and health were optimized when protein was replaced with carbohydrate to limit compensatory feeding for protein and suppress protein intake. These consequences are associated with hepatic mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activation and mitochondrial function and, in turn, related to circulating branched-chain amino acids and glucose. Researchers found that plant-based proteins, such as those from beans, did not seem to have the same mortality effects as animal proteins, according to the news release, "."

Calorie restriction achieved by high-protein diets or dietary dilution had no beneficial effects on lifespan. The results suggest that longevity can be extended in ad libitum-fed animals by manipulating the ratio of macronutrients to inhibit mTOR activation. But does it work in any similar way in humans when people restrict calories in general, but focus on eating micronutrient-dense foods?

Eat more, die young: Why eating a diet very low in nutrients can extend lifespan

A new evolutionary theory in BioEssays claims that consuming a diet very low in nutrients can extend lifespan in laboratory animals, a finding which could hold clues to promoting healthier ageing in humans, says the March 17, 2014 news release, "Eat more, die young: Why eating a diet very low in nutrients can extend lifespan."

Scientists have known for decades that severely restricted food intake reduces the incidence of diseases of old age, such as cancer, and increases lifespan. "This effect has been demonstrated in laboratories around the world, in species ranging from yeast to flies to mice. There is also some evidence that it occurs in primates," says lead author, Dr Margo Adler, an evolutionary biologist at UNSW Australia.

The most widely accepted theory is that this effect evolved to improve survival during times of famine. "But we think that lifespan extension from dietary restriction is more likely to be a laboratory artefact," says Dr Adler.

Lifespan extension is unlikely to occur in the wild, because dietary restriction compromises the immune system's ability to fight off disease and reduces the muscle strength necessary to flee a predator.

"Unlike in the benign conditions of the lab, most animals in the wild are killed young by parasites or predators," says Dr Adler, according to the news release. "Since dietary restriction appears to extend lifespan in the lab by reducing old-age diseases, it is unlikely to have the same effect on wild animals, which generally don't live long enough to be affected by cancer and other late-life pathologies."

Dietary restriction, however, also leads to increased rates of cellular recycling and repair mechanisms in the body

The UNSW researchers' new theory is that this effect evolved to help animals continue to reproduce when food is scarce; they require less food to survive because stored nutrients in the cells can be recycled and reused. It is this effect that could account for the increased lifespan of laboratory animals on very low-nutrient diets, because increased cellular recycling reduces deterioration and the risk of cancer.

"This is the most intriguing aspect, from a human health stand point. Although extended lifespan may simply be a side effect of dietary restriction, a better understanding of these cellular recycling mechanisms that drive the effect may hold the promise of longer, healthier lives for humans," she says. It may be possible in future, for example, to develop drugs that mimic this effect.

Notice, how most studies focus on developing drugs rather than customizing specialized diets to maximize health. Of course, the funding probably would be much less if the outcome focused on diets to get at the root cause of the issue rather than treat the symptom, instead of the potential to develop drugs, since the big money is in selling drugs not in selling specialized vegetables grown for health. On the other hand, you can watch the video abstract of the study on YouTube: "Bioessays (Wiley) Why do the well-fed appear to die young?"

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