Summary of “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever”: The 21st century will be the equivalent of three centuries in terms of technological changes, and medicine will benefit from this as will other areas: in particular, progress in biotechnology and then in nanotechnology will allow us to reach a point where we will gain more than one year of life expectancy per year (currently we increase our life expectancy by two or three months per year), which will make us virtually immune to ageing. To get to this particular point, which could well happen during the 21st century, we must remain fit and healthy for as long as possible ; the authors offer us the best in current scientific knowledge to reach this goal.
By Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, 2004, 520 pages.
Book chronicle and summary of Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever:
Let’s begin by introducing the authors of Fantastic Voyage. Ray Kurweil is an American inventor and millionaire famous in the USA for his radical thoughts on changes in technologies and the advent of genuinely intelligent artificial intelligence (more so than humans). He was the main developer of the first automatic character recognition software (OCR), one of the first synthesizers, and was a pioneer in voice recognition systems. Ray has founded 9 companies and written a dozen books. He was one of the main architects of the Singularity University, created in collaboration with the NASA and Google in 2009, whose objective is to train the leaders of today in understanding the exponential phenomenon of technological development, and the manner in which this can help human beings to resolve the major problems facing humanity.
Terry Grossman is a medical doctor who specialises in nutrition and anti-ageing medicine, and is the founder of the Frontier Medical Institute, a clinic specialised in the treatment of ageing and the lengthening of life expectancy.
Vision of the Authors
The authors begin by laying out their vision of technological evolution: according to them, it is exponential, and the 21st century will be equivalent to three 20th centuries in terms of technological advances, while the 20th century was itself the equivalent of several 19th centuries.
According to them, medicine will evolve at the same pace as other fields of science, and will cross three bridges:
It is the programme of longevity described in Fantastic Voyage, designed to keep you in good health long enough for you get to Bridges 2 and 3.
Bridge 2 is the biotechnology revolution. Decryption of the genomic and proteomic codes will lead to a revolution in three phases:
1. Personalised medicine through knowledge of our genetic code.
By knowing what genes you have, and therefore the risk factors intrinsic to your genetic heritage, you can choose a suitable lifestyle and engage in preventive strategies to change the impact of your genetic heritage. Today, American companies such as 23 and me and offer to decipher part of your DNA for respectively $299 and $999. And Stephen Quake, Professor of Biotechnology at Stanford, recently announced in Nature a technique of complete sequencing of DNA for $50,000. This means that it will probably cost $1,000 five years from now. The doctors, once the process has been widely disseminated, can base themselves on your genome to prescribe drugs that are specifically adapted to your case.
2. Blocking or modification of the expression of genes.
Knowledge of our genes and the risks that they induce is good, but what would happen if we could change defective genes to replace them with better versions? Initially, this will quite inaccessible to science, but during the second phase it will be possible to modify the expression of genes, in other words, rather than changing the genes themselves, we change the factors that may or may not lead to triggering them.
In this way, we will be able to inhibit the expression of genes at the origin of a disease, and trigger the expression of desirable genes. To take an example, your genes come both your parents, and as each one exists twice, one from the father, the other from the mother, it can happen that the gene of one of the two parents turns out to be defective, and it takes precedence in its expression over the healthy gene. By inhibiting this defective gene, the other gene can then express itself normally, eliminating or mitigating the genetic disease of which the defective gene was the source.
3. Somatic gene therapy.
This is the holy grail of biotechnology. It will allow the genes inside the nucleus of a cell to be changed by “infecting” it, in particular using a specially controlled virus which will replace the DNA strands incriminated with those that will have been “loaded” into the virus. The use of small lipid spheres with an internal aqueous part is also envisaged – liposomes – and ultrafine nanobeads that are 25 nanometers in diameter, to inject the new DNA. Furthermore, the creation of new organs through stem cells – which will likely come directly from our adult body, and not from clones as researchers thought previously – and their implementation will replace defective organs with brand new ones.
Bridge 3 is that of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Nanotechnology will allow the construction of nanomachines, whose smallest constituents will be around 100 nanometers, that is to say one hundred billionth of a meter. A nanometer is roughly equal to the diameter of five carbon atoms. These extremely delicate machines could be introduced into the body to repair and rebuild each of its cells, with precision that is completely unimaginable today.
All of the existing cellular machinery is already built of nanomachines – protein, blood cells, antibodies, etc. and we will simply add much more high-performing machines because they will have been designed with a very specific purpose using all that human design capability has to offer. Teams of millions of nano-robots will be able to rebuild muscles and bones, destroy each cell of a tumour, and clean the arteries of any cholesterol that is blocking them. These nano-robots will be thousands of times more precise than the most delicate surgical instruments used today, will leave no scar and will allow continuous monitoring after a serious intervention.
The advent of Bridge 3 will make extremely advanced changes to our body possible, with opportunities for human-machine interfaces that have been unimaginable to date. In order to understand this, let’s look at one of the perspectives envisaged by the authors:
[…] An original idea appears:
Replace the entire genetic machinery (the cell nucleus, the ribosomes and related structures) with a small computerised robot. The computer would be in possession of the genetic code which would only take up around 800 MB (Note: barely larger than a CD-ROM, an iPhone 3GS with 32 GB could contain approximately 40 complete genomes!), or about 30 MB if the data is compressed. The computerised system replacing the nucleus would then perform the function of ribosomes by directly assembling strings of amino acids according to the computerised genetic information. These computers, as part of a wireless local area network, would therefore allow fast downloading of the improvements in the genetic code from the Internet. […] One major advantage of this approach is that unwanted replication processes, for example those of a pathological virus or cancerous cells, could be quickly interrupted.
The book Fantastic Voyage is sprinkled with futuristic perspectives of this kind, which are of course the work of Ray Kurzweil whose books revolve around these topics. I will give you a few of these passages here and there, but be aware that you are under absolutely no obligation to try them, or even to believe or to be in agreement with them to appreciate what is at the heart of Fantastic Voyage, which is to obtain the necessary knowledge and to act in order to live for a long time in good health.
Life Extension Escape Velocity
What the authors are betting on is that if you happen to maintain yourself for long enough, we will arrive at a time when the increase in life expectancy will be greater than one year per year – we currently gain two to three months of life expectancy per year – thereby making us impervious to ageing. trategies For Engineered Negligible Senescence, a programme to permanently reverse ageing) calls this point the “velocity escape point”:
According to Aubrey de Grey’s vision, while the elderly aged 80 or 100 years old today are condemned to die, those aged 30 or 50 have every chance, after a period during which their remaining life expectancy will decrease, to see it then increase to reach a point where each year will be the opportunity to gain more than one year of life expectancy – thereby eliminating any possible death due to old age. You just have to remain alive long enough to reach this point.
To learn more about Aubrey de Grey and his programme to rid the world of old age as a cause of mortality, you can watch this video of his TED talk:
Whether or not you subscribe to this vision of things, and apart from the problems that it poses in relation to other questions such as human overpopulation, the depletion of resources or the funding of pensions, or even its technical feasibility, is not critical to reap the benefits of the contents of the Fantastic Voyage, whose goal is to provide you with the best current knowledge so that you can live for a long time in good health.
Base of the book Fantastic Voyage
“Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever” is based on the principle that
- Western medicine is first and foremost curative medicine that heals you after the onset of symptoms but does not teach you to prevent diseases and
- that doctors, for all their skills and experience, do not spend more than 15 minutes with you during a doctor’s visit. Many diseases that are endemic to our Western civilisation can in large part be avoided through better behaviour. The authors advise assuming full and entire responsibility for your own health, in partnership of course with healthcare professionals.
“Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever“completely changed my life by making me radically change my attitude towards everything which affects my food, my health and my body. I hope that it will be the same for you, and I am sure that the fact that I am writing about this book will prevent at least one reader from a chronic disease, and that this will save him, allowing him to live for many years to come, perhaps even very many years .
Follow me, and embark on a fantastic adventure to discover your body, the multiple dangers with which it is faced and ways to minimize and even to avoid them:
Chapter 5: Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Load
What are carbohydrates? As their name suggests, they are “hydrated” carbon, i.e. carbon mixed with water. Their chemical formula is CX(H20)x, and they are commonly known as “sugars” or “carbs”. For example, simple sugar has the formula C6(H20)6 : this is the formula for glucose, fructose and galactose, even if their atoms are arranged differently.
Regular sugar is in fact a disaccharide, which indicates that it is a double sugar: each molecule is made up of one unit of fructose and one unit of glucose. It is then rapidly broken down by the body into simple sugars.
Carbohydrates store energy under a very efficient form which is widely used in nature, from plants to complex animals. The immediate source of energy for our cells is derived essentially from the simple sugar that is glucose, which circulates in the blood. The most important source of energy is however stored in the form of fat, whose process of transformation into energy for the cells is much slower. Also, fat cannot be broken down into glucose. Protein, structures that are essential for our body to function, are synthesised in an indirect way from carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates therefore have a powerful effect on the body: their proportion in your diet, and especially the type of carbohydrate that you eat has very significant effects on your health. And the main problem with the modern Western system is its dependence on a large amount of bad carbohydrates.
To understand this, you must first understand how carbohydrates are digested: simple sugars are absorbed directly by the epithelial cells of our small intestine. Some complex sugars such as sucrose or lactose – milk sugar – are also absorbed by these cells, but they must be broken down into simple sugars to be able to be digested.
That is why lactase converts lactose into glucose and galactose. And yet, more than half of the human population has a genetic deficit that means that lactase is poorly synthesised or not synthesised at all, and therefore the lactose arrives in the colon without having been digested. It ferments there, which causes gastrointestinal disorders. Yes indeed, the domestication of the cow is very recent compared to the age of the human species, and more than half of the humans alive today cannot digest the most important constituent in milk!
Other complex sugars such as starch and other sugars from food cannot be absorbed by the epithelial cells: they must first be broken down into simple sugars, an operation that is performed by the amylase enzyme, secreted by the salivary glands and the pancreas. The amylase breaks down the amylose, which is a long chain of units of glucose, and which is contained in large quantities in grains and vegetables that contain starch, such as potatoes. The carbohydrates consumed with these foods are digested very quickly, and there is no big difference, in terms of a rapid rise in blood glucose, between eating these foods or simply eating sugar.
Once this is understood, it is easier for us to understand the concept of the Glycemic Index: it is the speed at which food is converted into blood sugar. Simple sugars are almost instantly transformed into glucose, and therefore have a very high glycemic index (GI). Food that consists mainly of starch – including a large part of amylose – such as potatoes, rice, and everything manufactured from refined flour such as bread, pasta and pastries is therefore digested almost as quickly and therefore also has a high GI.
Vegetables such as beans and also lentils have a high fibre content and complex carbohydrate content, and therefore have a relatively low GI. Fructose – fruit sugar – has a much lower GI than that of many other sugars because it takes some time has to become absorbed by the epithelial cells. Despite its sweet taste, fruit therefore has a GI that is lower than confectionery made from sucrose, such as pastries.
Protein can also be converted to glucose, but it is a long process, which makes the GI of food that is primarily made up of protein in general quite low.
When we eat a meal that contains a lot of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, the rate of blood glucose rises quickly and the pancreas responds by immediately secreting a lot of insulin, which regulates glucose, in particular by contributing to moving it to the cells. This keeps the blood glucose under control, but these peaks of temporary insulin often exceed their goal and lower the rate of blood glucose to a level that is too low, which leads to a greater need for carbohydrates with a high GI – a vicious circle!
Over time, constant abuse of this cycle means that the cells in our body develop a lower sensitivity to insulin. This resistance to insulin is one of the main causes of metabolic syndrome, and can also lead to type 2 diabetes, which means that regardless of the amount of insulin produced by the body, blood sugar continues to remains too high.
Many problems are caused by excessive levels of blood sugar, such as an inhibited immune system, promoted growth of pathological cells such as fungal infections and cancers and competition with vitamin C, which uses the same transport system, and is therefore hampered in its mission to fight against infections and develop body tissues, etc.
In this way, the more sugar enters your body more rapidly, the more your insulin increases. But how can we guard against the occurrence of these insulin spikes? By choosing our food in an appropriate manner. But it’s not that simple: as we have seen, some foods that are not at all sweet tasting, such as potatoes, contain a lot of amylose and considerably increase the blood levels of glucose and insulin, whereas others that do have a sweet taste, like sweet potatoes, have a lesser effect. The main way to determine the speed with which any given food increases your blood sugar – and therefore insulin – is to know its glycemic index.
The GI is measured in a laboratory by taking blood samples at regular intervals after ingesting the food, in order to measure the speed and the rate of elevation of the glucose in the blood. It ranges from 0 to 100, and it is considered that a rate of less than 55 is low, a rate between 66 and 69 is moderate, and a rate higher than 70 is high. Pure sugar has a rate of 100.
However, the glycemic index is just one side to the problem; it must be associated with the Glycemic Load (GL). This is the number of grammes of carbohydrates in a food multiplied by its GI. GL allows us to measure in a general way the amount of insulin which our body requires to digest a foodstuff, because the amount of insulin secreted is dependent on the amount of carbohydrates as well as the speed at which they are converted to glucose. The website
Therefore, a melon has a high glycemic index (65), but as it is mainly composed of water and fibre, it contains very few carbohydrates and only has a GL of 4. The GL of the melon is calculated as follows: available grammes of carbohydrates (total carbohydrates minus the amount of fibre) times the glycemic index expressed as a percentage. So, according to the Supermince table, a melon contains 6 grams of carbohydrates and has a GI of 65: its glycemic load will therefore be 6 x 0.65 = 3.9. To summarise, a melon contains little sugar that is very quickly digested and transformed into glucose. However, the low initial amount of carbohydrates means that blood glucose will only increase very moderately.
Therefore, to preserve health, eat as much food as possible with a low glycemic load. Pure sugar in all its forms must be avoided, because it is the food that has the highest glycemic load – 100 grammes of glucose has a GI of 100 and a GL of 100! To do this, it may be tempting to use substitutes, but the authors discourage this: some studies have shown a correlation between saccharin and cancer of the bladder in animals, and aspartame – just like acefulsame K and sucralose – has been the subject of studies showing its harmfulness.
Chapter 6: Fat and Protein
Around half a billion years ago, evolution endowed the first animals with thin layers of fat under their skin in order to provide them with an insulating layer against the cold. More importantly, the fat turned out to be an excellent way of storing accumulated energy during periods of abundance in order to use it during periods of shortages. Plants never developed this faculty.
Today, the human species lives in an era of abundance, in the West at least, in terms of the number of available calories. We no longer need to store kilos of fat, which in the long term has adverse effects such as accelerated ageing and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, or degenerative arthritis. Unfortunately, we cannot yet re-programme our biochemical software to remove this obsolete feature, and must therefore take into account this offset between our lifestyle and the ageing functions of our metabolic programme.
An excess of calories, whatever the type of food consumed, is placed into storage in the form of body fat. Dietary fats are twice as rich in calories as other food: they add 9 calories per gramme against 4 calories per gramme for protein and carbohydrates.
And our diet is not only imbalanced in terms of calories consumed in relation to energy expended: for a very long time, until about a century ago, two families of unsaturated fats, the omega 6 – found especially in vegetable oils – and omega 3 – found in fish, nuts, flax seeds – were relatively balanced. Modern diets favour the omega 6 group at a ratio higher than 25 to 1. And yet they can lead to inflammation, whereas omega 3s are anti-inflammatory. As the inflammatory process has a very important role in degenerative diseases, as we will see later, this imbalance contributes in an essential way to chronic diseases. Furthermore, modern methods of preparation of margarine, vegetable fats and oils create modified forms of fat molecules which did not exist at the time when evolution shaped our digestive system, and which are very harmful.
Before continuing, it is important to understand what are fats, and the differences between the different types of fats. Above and beyond their role as a reservoir of energy, beneficial fats contribute to the formation of many essential constituents of our body: hormones, phospholipids and prostaglandins. Minor changes in the structure of fatty acids determine the different fats, and generate considerable differences in the types of biochemical interactions in which these fats are involved.
All fat molecules have a common structure:
In the middle is a string of 2 to 22 carbon-hydrogen units (CH2). Everything to the left is the fat part of fatty acid, which ends with a methyl group (CH3-), which is soluble in fat and insoluble in water. To the right is a carboxylic acid group, which it is soluble in water and insoluble in fat. You will notice that the backbone of a molecule of fat is formed by carbon atoms. In fact, life is based on carbon, because it is an extremely flexible and practical molecule: each carbon atom has 4 electrons which can join with other atoms.
Therefore, a carbon atom can link with up to 4 other atoms (the carbon atoms in the centre of the molecule of fat are bound to 2 atoms of carbon and 2 atoms of hydrogen) or create very strong links to another atom (the carbon atom of the carboxyl group to the right is thus linked to an oxygen atom with a double bond, to an atom of oxygen with a single bond – which is itself connected to a hydrogen atom – and to a carbon atom, which “connects” the carboxyl group to the “trunk” of the molecule of fat).
Biological cells are capable of inserting a double link between two carbon atoms of a chain of fatty acid by eliminating two hydrogen atoms. The carbon-carbon double bond is represented in this way: .
Role of Fatty Acids
The fatty acids with one or more carbon-carbon double bonds are unsaturated fatty acids, simply because the part of the fatty acid where the carbon-carbon double bond is located is not saturated by the hydrogen atoms. This has a number of beneficial effects, because it allows this area of fatty acid to react with other molecular units, such as oxygen, water, hydroxy groups and sulfhydryl groups. And this ability to chemically interact is the key to the health benefits of unsaturated fatty acids.
Fatty acids without a carbon-carbon double bond are saturated. They are therefore generally inert, which is to say that they do not react with other substances. These saturated fats do not facilitate the biochemical reactions that are essential to our body, and when they are present to excess, they largely contribute to diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease.
Furthermore, when a fatty acid has only a single double bond, it is called mono-unsaturated fatty acid. If there is more than one double bond, it is called poly-unsaturated fatty acid. Each exact location of these carbon-carbon double bonds with missing hydrogen atoms allows specific types of biochemical reactions.
Mono-unsaturated Fatty Acid
Here is an example of mono-unsaturated fatty acid found in nature:
The fact that one hydrogen atom is missing “at the top” of the two carbon atoms bound by the double bonds means that this creates an imbalance with the two hydrogen atoms “at the bottom” which repel each other, as they are both positively charged. This makes the molecule curved, and this curvature plays a role in the possible interactions of the unsaturated fatty acid with other components of the body.
And yet, fatty acids, unsaturated in appearance and therefore good for the body, have been artificially created by the food industry. They differ from the remaining hydrogen atoms which are found on the opposite side of the carbon atoms, preventing the curvature of the fatty acid:
Also, they are trans fatty acids, which behave in fact more like saturated fatty acids because they are straight and biochemically stable and found mainly in margarines and vegetable fats and do not exist in nature. They are interesting from an industrial point of view because their stability means they can be preserved for a long time, but this stability means that the health benefits of the unsaturated fatty acids are lost, and due to this fact trans fatty acids contribute to heart disease, just like saturated fats.
The families of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, and therefore have several carbon-carbon double bonds. Both two families are essential, but the Western diet is very unbalanced in favour of omega 6, as we have seen. Care must therefore be taken to ensure better balance between these two type of fats with a suitable diet. In order to choose food correctly, you need to know the different omega 3 and 6.
Omega 3 type fats:
- Alpha-linolenic acid. It is essential for life and cannot be created by the body from other foods, making it an essential fatty acid (EFA). It contributes to improving tissue oxygenation, to promoting the oxidation of food in the mitochondria, healing, lowering of blood pressure, etc.
- EPA and DHA . These are absolutely essential, and when they are consumed in appropriate amounts, they contribute to facilitating the dispersion of other fats – thus reducing the destructive effects of saturated fats and trans fatty acids – to decrease blood pressure, to inhibit the growth and metastasis of cancer cells, etc.
The authors recommend, for these last two fats, not just to eat food that contains them, but also to take food supplements in order to be sure to get the optimum amounts, such as fish oil supplements.
Omega 6 type fats:
- Linoleic acid (LA). This is also an EFA, but it encourages inflammation, and most western diets consume excessive amounts. It is found mainly in sunflower, soybean, safflower, pumpkin or sesame oil.
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). It has important beneficial effects on health. The human body converts the LA into GLA, but a number of abnormal conditions, ranging from diabetes to ageing, can block this conversion. Evening primrose oil is a good source of GLA.
- Dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). It also has many beneficial effects for health, as it is necessary to control blood platelets and blood circulation.
- Arachidonic acid (AA). This is the black sheep of omega 6. It is mainly present in meat and animal products, and the high consumption of meat in the West means that it is over-consumed, resulting in high levels of inflammation, and causing diseases of the coronary arteries and other degenerative diseases.
Other important, mono-unsaturated fats include:
- Oleic acid (OA). This is an extremely beneficial omega 9 which is contained in olives, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, peanuts, pecans and cashew nuts, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts.
- Palmitoleic acid (POA). This is an omega 7 which raises the level of cholesterol and is unhealthy. It is found in coconut and palm oils, and in industrial fresh creams that are not milk-based.
Finally, there is cholesterol. This is not a fat, but its metabolism makes it very similar to dietary fats. It is a substance that is essential for human life, but one that is well known as a risk factor in the formation of plaques in the arteries that can lead to a heart attack. It is unique because our body knows how to manufacture it, but not how to break it down: it can only be evacuated through the stool, a process which is facilitated by dietary fibre. Therefore, it is essential to limit your consumption of cholesterol: the authors recommend not exceeding 140 grammes per week, and even 70 grammes if you have risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases. Consider that the average American diet contains about 80 grammes of cholesterol per day!
Source of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is only found in animal products, including egg yolk (which alone contains around 25 grammes), crustaceans, meat, offal (120 grammes of liver contain 25 grammes) and dairy products (30 grammes of butter contain 6 grammes).
Armed with all this knowledge, what must we do to ensure that we consume good fats in the right amount in order to be in the best possible health?
- The authors recommend limiting fat to 25% of calories, reminding us that one gramme of fat provides 9 calories, against 4 for protein and carbohydrates. So, 25% of fat calories represent less than 12% of the weight of the food.
- It goes without saying that virtually all of these fats must be good fats. Saturated fats should represent less than 3% of the calories that you eat. For a person who consumes 2400 calories per day, that makes less than 8 grams per day. A portion of 90 grammes of beef steak contains only 2 grammes of saturated fat, but a cheeseburger from a fast-food restaurant typically contains 15 grammes.
- Focus on the following foods:
- Fish that is rich in EPA and DHA, in particular salmon (wild salmon contains more than farmed salmon) and has a low rate of mercury.
- Extra virgin olive oil (this is very important).
- Flax seeds and naturally pressed linseed oil.
- Lean meat, in particular white meat (chicken, turkey). Obviously, it is preferable to select farmyard poultry raised without hormones and without antibiotics.
What should we avoid
In all cases, it is preferable to avoid red meat, even lean red meat, because livestock is generally saturated with hormones and antibiotics used by industrial farming, in particular because it takes more time to raise a cow or a pig than a chicken. Furthermore, this meat is often rich in cholesterol, and there is a risk of prion infection due to mad cow disease.
It is absolutely essential to avoid:
- Saturated fat from fat meat, butter, milk and other animal products.
- Commercial cooking oils (always prefer extra virgin olive oil).
- Hydrogenated fats from margarine or vegetable fats, and almost all commercial pastries.
- Frying in a deep fryer. It is preferable to sear at high temperatures using extra virgin olive oil, and the best is to put some water in a wok, add a small quantity of oil, and cook for a short time at a medium or moderate temperature.
While fats are a relatively recent innovation of evolution, protein is the basis of life: DNA has the protein codes of all known forms of life. The protein production mechanism is fascinating: the DNA of the nucleus of a cell is copied to create a kind of mirror image, in the form of an RNA molecule. The RNA leaves the nucleus, and then biological machines named ribosomes read it, and create sequences of amino acids from the code of the RNA. After that, in an extremely complex process that is still poorly understood today, the amino acids fold back on themselves to form a three-dimensional complex structure – the protein. The form of the protein, just like the amino acids of which it is composed, will be critical for the functioning of this protein.
Myoglobin protein. You can see the complexity of the 3D structure of the assembly of amino acids. Wikipedia image
These proteins are involved in absolutely every function of living organisms: breathing, digestion, movement, thought… Poor unfolding of the protein is a source of extremely serious diseases: poorly folded proteins are named prions, and are at the origin for example of mad cow disease. That is why understanding of the mechanism of protein folding is a major challenge facing medical science today. You can contribute to this research by loaning the unused power of calculation of your computer or your game console by downloading and installing folding@home, which conducts simulations of folding for a scientific project at the University of Stanford. You can learn more by reading from the Alliance Francophone.
Essential Amino Acids
Out of the 22 amino acids used by the human body to build protein, 8 are considered essential because they cannot be synthesised by the body: they have to come directly from food. The requirement for each of these essential amino acids is approximately 1 gramme per day, and if the diet contains even the smallest quantities of meat or fish, deficits almost never happen.
It is however preferable to draw your protein from plant sources rather than animal sources, because the latter include saturated fats that increase the level of cholesterol, and from an ecological point of view require 20 times more resources to be produced. The ideal is eat soy protein, and protein from fish, in particular salmon – especially wild salmon that is little infected by mercury.
Finally, the authors recommend limiting healthy fats to 25% of the calories consumed and restricting carbohydrates to approximately 33%, which means that the protein intake must represent 42% of calories. For those who should eat less sugar (diabetics for example), carbohydrates should not exceed 16% of calorie intake, and protein should therefore represent at least 59% of the total.
Chapter 7: You are what you digest
From consumption to absorption, the food we eat follows a long, complex and dangerous path along the digestive tube – from the mouth to the anus – which breaks down food into its molecular components to allow it to be transported to its final destination, thousands of billions of cells.
Digestion is an efficient process, but one which suffers from defects that are partly genetic and partly due to decades of unbalanced nutrition. One study has shown that 70% of Americans suffer from troublesome gastrointestinal symptoms.
Human digestive system
Before examining these various disorders and the means to remedy them, let’s take a look at the digestive process and its 7 steps:
1. Digestion begins in the mouth, where chewing reduces the food to the state of small particles that can be processed. The salivary glands produce about one litre of saliva per day, to moisten and lubricate dry foods, and begin digesting starch.
Chewing well is very important for our health. Swallowing pieces of food that are too large before they have been correctly crushed and mixed with saliva forces the digestive tube to secrete more substantial quantities of powerful digestive enzymes which can cause an excess of gas and bloating, and can harm the stomach over time. So take your time when you eat.
2. The food then goes through the oesophagus, where contractions send it to the stomach. It acts as a holding station which releases food into the intestine in a gradual and controlled manner.
3. The cells in the lining of the stomach secrete every day approximately a quarter of a litre of gastric juice, largely comprised of hydrochloric acid whose pH is between 1 and 2, and digestive enzymes, including the pepsins that break down protein into its constituent amino acids. The food that leaves the stomach is called chyme, and the digestive processes have broken down about 30 to 50% of the starch, and 10 to 15% of the protein, but virtually no fat.
The cells of the gastric wall produce two mucus to protect themselves from being digested by their own gastric juice. There is a delicate balance between these acids and the protective action of the stomach mucus. A breakdown in this balance, often caused by infection from the bacterium Helicobacter pylori – that infects approximately two thirds of the human beings on the planet (even if most often there are no visible effects) – can result in serious problems, such as peptic ulcers of the stomach.
Very low absorption of food in the direction of blood circulation is carried out in the stomach. Small quantities of simple sugars, alcohol and excess water can be easily absorbed at stomach level.
4. After spending about three hours in the stomach – or longer if your meal has been rich in fats – the chyme enters the small intestine, approximately 8 metres long and the main digestive organ. It has three different regions: the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum.
The duodenum is about 30 centimetres long and it receives the digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas and bile formed by the liver, which emulsify the fats in order to allow them to mingle well with the other digestive juices.
5. Although a degree of absorption of nutrients is carried out in the duodenum, it takes place mainly in the jejunum. The jejunum is dotted with folds that increase its surface in order to obtain optimal absorption.
6. The remaining nutrients are digested in the ileum, the longest part of the intestine. Vitamin B12 can only be absorbed by the ileum.
7. Digestion is almost completed when the chyme passes from the small intestine to the large intestine, called the colon. Every day, it receives about half a litre of chyme, and mainly absorbs water, sodium and chlorine. The digestive process ends with a movement of the large intestine which is often triggered by a meal, but generally it is not the most recent meal which is eliminated: full transit through the digestive tract generally takes between 24 and 48 hours.
Tests to evaluate your digestive process
As the efficiency and the long-term health of our digestive process depend on maintaining many delicate balances, the authors recommend non-invasive blood, faecal or urinary tests, in collaboration with your doctor or a qualified nutritionist.
They should be carried out, in the absence of specific symptoms, every two to five years:
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis (CSA). This analysis assesses the digestion, absorption, metabolism and the number of yeasts and healthy or pathological bacteria.
- Evaluation of minerals in the hair for mineral nutrients and toxic heavy metals.
- Blood level of antibodies directed against food. This allows food allergies to be detected.
Examinations in cases of chronic gastrointestinal symptoms
- Examination of parasites in the stool. Parasites affect a significant share of the world’s population.
- Evaluation of leaky gut syndrome This is a common digestive problem which affects most people over the age of 50. It is the result of chronic inflammation which creates thin spaces that develop between the cells surrounding the small intestine, allowing toxins, bacteria and undigested food particles to penetrate directly into the bloodstream, resulting in significant demand for detoxification by the liver and in the long term leading to deficits in vitamins and minerals, even when adequate quantities of foods are consumed.
- Respiratory tests They can diagnose lactose intolerance that prevents proper digestion of milk, along with microbial outbreaks in the small intestine, a common disease at the origin of many gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Blood test for H. pylori. This allows the detection of antibodies against the bacterium, a main cause of ulcers and gastritis and a contributing factor to stomach cancer.
What you should eat to stay healthy
- Eat a wide range of foods.
Eating the same food day after day can make sensitivities and allergies appear, and eating the same food will cause “taste fatigue” that encourages overconsumption. Furthermore, eating a variety of foods promotes a balance of nutrients. Each vegetable has its specific nutrients, but a single vegetable does not offer everything you need.
Reduce or eliminate wheat.
Wheat is a recent agricultural innovation in human history, and its very wide consumption in Western countries has led to particular sensitivity to gluten, one of its major protein components. Many people have found that removing wheat from their diet has resolved long-existing digestive problems. You can try it for yourself by abstaining from wheat for two weeks. You can also carry out blood tests for gluten intolerance.
Eat your vegetables
The benefits offered by the consumption of vegetables that are fresh, natural and low in starch are countless: they contain a myriad of valuable nutrients and fibre, and have a low glycemic index and caloric density. However, be careful not to overcook them: cooking them for too long makes them lose their vitamins, their phytochemical products and other nutrients. Lightly steam cooked is ideal, or eating them raw for some of them.
Eat produce that has a nice colour (but not rotten meat!)
By eating a series of naturally colourful vegetables, you get a whole series of vital nutrients.
Drink freshly squeezed vegetable juice
By putting vegetables that are fresh, natural and low in starch into an electric juicer, you get one of the healthiest drinks around – low in calories and very rich in vitamins and minerals. The best vegetables for this are celery, cucumber and fennel, and you can use small amounts of red or green Romaine lettuce, chicory, escarole, spinach, parsley or kale. Avoid vegetables with high sugar content such as beetroot or carrots.
Drink tea instead of coffee
Many of the constituents of tea are good for health. A recent study published in the Journal of The American Heart Association discovered that drinking two cups of tea a day reduces the risk of death from myocardial infarction in the remarkable proportion of 44% (Tea consumption and mortality after acute myocardial infarction). This discovery applies to black tea and green tea, but not to herbal teas. Tea also contains the L-Threonine, which reduces the level of cortisol and promotes relaxation. The most beneficial tea is green tea, with additional antioxidants that reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer.
Go easy on the booze
Moderate consumption of alcohol has been associated with reduced rates of heart disease and strokes, because the alcohol could improve the health of blood vessels. But beware of the fact that alcohol is metabolised in the same way as carbohydrates, and it has a relatively high glycemic load. In addition to this, the dangers of excessive consumption and the addiction that it causes are well known.
Have breakfast and eat frequently
It is better to have breakfast and to eat several small meals per day rather than one or two big ones. Eating less food more often prevents overloading the digestive system and minimises insulin spikes.
Avoid unhealthy fast food
Fast food is rich in starch that has a high glycemic index, sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation”
If you fall off a horse, you get back in the saddle: any number of dietary programmes have been abandoned by people who become discouraged after a temporary setback. Learn how to stray from the path from time to time, as long as the bulk of your diet remains healthy.
Be informed: sugar is everywhere
Sugar is added to countless numbers of products, even products that are labelled as “healthy” such as soy or rice milk. Most cereals have added sugar, even those which are labelled as being low in sugar. Sugar appears under different names, so be aware of its different forms in the lists of ingredients, which for the most part end in “-ose”: sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose. Don’t forget honey, molasses, maple syrup, sucanat, amasake and corn syrup.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the digestive system before we get to Bridge 3:
As we continue to understand the principles according to which the human body and its brain function, we will soon be in a position to design systems that are significantly superior and that will be more pleasant, will last longer and be more efficient, without being sensitive to degradation, disease or ageing. We have come a long way in separating the relational aspects of sensual sex and its biological role in reproduction.
So why not make the same separation between biological goals with another activity that also offers social intimacy and sensual pleasure, in this case eating food? […] Nutrients would be directly introduced into the blood circulation by special metabolic nanobots. […] One possible scenario is that you will need to wear a special “nutritional garment”, such as a belt. This garment would be responsible for nanorobots bearing nutrients that would find their way in or out of the body through the skin or other cavities of the body.
At this stage of technological development, you can eat everything you want, everything that brings you gourmet pleasure and satisfaction and, thanks to this, you can enjoy the culinary arts for their flavours, their textures and their aromas. At the same time, you will receive an optimal influx of nutrients into your blood stream using a completely separate process. One possibility would be that all the food you eat passes through a digestive tract which would be disconnected from any possible absorption by blood circulation.
A food pyramid is a schematic graph in the shape of a pyramid, which includes in its base the food that should be eaten in larger quantities, and at the top the food that should only be consumed episodically. It was created in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in this form:
According to the authors, there are a number of problems with this food pyramid:
- The base of the pyramid is composed of foods that are rich in starch with a high glycemic load. In addition to this, no distinction is made between carbohydrates with a low or high glycemic load.
- No distinction is made between healthy fats and unhealthy fats. Also, meat and fish are put together.
- Dairy products are put to the forefront and some critics have linked this to intense lobbying on the part of the dairy industry.
In 2006 (two years after the publication of the Fantastic Voyage), an update (visible on Mypyramid.gov) resolved some of these problems (in particular by distinguishing between good and bad fats), but there are still a number of limitations.
The authors suggest the following food pyramid:
Ray and Terry’s food pyramid
They focus on vegetables, which must constitute the basis of food consumption over cereals, and they are put forward ahead of fruit, which has a higher glycemic index. They favour protein that comes from healthy sources, along with good fats.
It is clear that food plays a cultural, social and emotional role that makes it difficult to follow a perfect set of nutritional recommendations. But this pyramid represents what the authors believe to be the best recommendations from modern science to be in the best health and the best possible form.
Chapter 8: Change your weight for life in one day
Being overweight has many adverse effects on your health. This is why an obese man aged 20 has an average life expectancy that is 13 years lower than that of his contemporaries whose weight is normal. And being overweight by 20% triples your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, doubles your risk of high cholesterol, and increases your risk of heart disease by 60%.
Clearly, being of normal weight also gives you a better appearance, and that is the number 1 motivation behind the billions of euros spent every year on diets by Western people. But 95% of people who go on a diet end up putting back on all the weight they have lost, and sometimes more. This “yo-yo” cycle is even more harmful to health than not losing weight ever.
According to the authors, the key to a successful weight reduction programme is to change one’s attitude toward weight loss: rather than considering a diet to be a temporary period of deprivation, it is preferable to think of it as a long-term commitment.
The Fantastic Voyage gives a 3-step programme to lose weight, which allows you to determine your stature, your optimal weight and the number of calories to eat each day.
One important factor to consider is that two people can be the same size, the same weight and have the same stature, but one may be much less fat than the other. The real objective of weight loss is to lose fat, and not muscle or water. That is why it is more important to determine your percentage of body fat than your ideal weight. You can do this with the help of , which send a small electric current – that you will not feel at all – through your feet to determine your percentage of body fat.
The ideal percentage of fat is located between 12 and 20% for men, and 18 to 26% for women. It is not healthy to be too far below or above this percentage, and the authors recommend positioning yourself at the lower limit of these intervals.
The place in which fat is located in our body is also very important: an accumulation of fat around the belt buckle, known as a “beer belly”, is very bad.
The authors recommend the following actions to lose weight in a definitive manner:
As we saw earlier, consuming carbohydrates with a high glycemic load leads to an increased need for them, and therefore to more eating. Consuming carbohydrates with a low glycemic load helps to control appetite and decrease our requirements. Avoid sugary foods, pasta and bread.
As we have seen, one gramme of fat provides 9 calories, against 4 for carbohydrates and protein. Eating less fat will therefore reduce your weight.
Vegetables with a low percentage of starch, a low glycemic index and are rich in nutrients and fibre are the best. Many green vegetables that grow above ground fall into this category.
It is essential to eat at least 25 grammes per day, including 10 grammes of insoluble fibre.
Do not radically change your diet
The authors strongly advise against diets that involve radically changing the way we eat, because often people who do this count the days until they are released from this food prison and they associate a whole collection of negative feelings with their new diet.
Make your good health, and not your weight loss your objective
Take up a physical activity
It is very important to burn calories, decreasing our balanced weight (the weight around which our body revolves) and increasing our metabolic level.
Increase your metabolic level
The metabolic level is the speed at which you burn calories. One essential factor in this is the number of mitochondria in your cells. This are small energy plants, at the heart of all our cells. The more you have, the more they burn energy and therefore calories. We cannot take a supplement of mitochondria, but the fact is that fat cells contain very few, because their function is to store energy without burning it, whereas muscle cells have a lot of mitochondria. By developing your muscle cells and reducing the fat cells through exercise, you increase the number of mitochondria and increase your metabolic speed in a permanent way.
Caloric restriction (CR) is the only technique that has been validated in laboratory that allows a significant increase in the life expectancy of mammals. It consists of eating one third fewer calories than under your normal diet, and this fact is reflected in all species studied by an increase in life expectancy of 30 to 50%. No experimentation has been conducted long term on humans as yet, given the average longevity of our species, but there is no reason to believe that this does not apply to us.
One high-profile experiment conducted on rats in 1982 presented CR for the first time. The control group was fed normally and had a life expectancy of approximately 1000 days, which is normal for a rat. These rats died from heart failure, kidney disease or cancer. The experimental group of rats subjected to CR ate one third fewer calories, but with sufficient nutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, proteins). These rats lived for approximately 1,500 days, an increase in their life expectancy of 50%.
Also, these rats, in addition to living longer, did not suffer from the weakness, the precarious health, the apathy and the grey-haired appearance which went with the old age of the control group that had been fed normally. And when they died, it appeared to be the most often for a reason that was not clear, without any apparent disease.
Other experiments have shown that rats subjected to CR and fed with high rates of carcinogenic substances showed significant resistance to chemicals that cause cancer.
Why does CR work?
We don’t yet know exactly why, but recent research points to the following factors:
- Little body fat: following CR implies a very low level of body fat.
- Blood sugar level: the animals subjected to CR had a significantly lower level of blood glucose, because they burned fewer calories at the same speed as the animals that were fed normally: therefore, there was less unused glucose in their blood stream.
- Level of free radicals Free radicals provoke gradual deterioration in the tissues of the body, particularly at the level of the cell membranes. Many researchers attribute part of the ageing process to free radicals that circulate in the blood. The animals on CR had a significantly lower level.
- DNA repair The animals on CR had more robust DNA repair enzymes, which limits the risk of the occurrence of cancers and slows down the ageing process.
- Limit lifetime calories. One very interesting fact to note is that the total quantity of food consumed over the course of the life of the animals fed normally and those subjected to CR is broadly the same. The animals subjected to CR ate two thirds of the food given to the other animals, but they lived one and a half times longer, which makes the total amount of food consumed identical. This would appear to show that each species has a fixed number of calories that it can burn over the course of its existence. By eating a little less each day, it will take longer for this to happen.
Obviously, there is a limit to CR: as we have to get enough nutrients to maintain our body, it is not possible to limit CR to, for example, a third of the normal rate in order to increase life expectancy by 300%. It seems that the optimal rate would be two-thirds of the diet which would be consumed freely.
Applying CR to humans
Many studies illustrate the potentiality of calorie restriction in humans. The populations living in Okinawa, Japan, count 40 times more centenarians that the regions of the north-east, and they have very few serious illnesses before the age of 60. The only essential difference in their diet appears to be a lower calorie intake.
By extrapolating animal studies to humans, some researchers have estimated that our maximum life span could be increased from 120 to 180 years old with CR. Of course, this is just a potential and theoretical maximum life span for human beings, and the authors believe that the technologies of Bridge 2 and Bridge 3 will increase it significantly.
The benefits of calorie restriction extend to our remaining life expectancy. So, if you are aged 40 and have a remaining life expectancy of 40 years, you can only extend the remaining period. That is why it is preferable to start CR as soon as possible.
Application of RC
The authors do not recommend strict application of RC: humans who follow it eventually end up becoming so thin that they are almost emaciated. Instead, the authors recommend a moderate application of CR, following these recommendations:
- Consume a minimum of 24 calories per kg of optimal weight. This way, a man weighing 75 kilos will consume at least 1800 calories per day. Depending on your level of activity (sedentary, semi-active, active), use values that are 10 to 33% lower than the data in the food tables.
- Get your weight down to 95% of your ideal weight.
- Choose food with low calorie density. Eat vegetables that are low in starches, such as broccoli and courgettes, rather than potatoes and rice.
- Don’t forget fibre Choose foods that are rich in fibre, which have many benefits for health because they reduce the level of cholesterol and reduce the risk of colon cancer. Most vegetables are rich in fibre.
Chapter 9: The problem with sugar (and insulin)
In 1826, annual consumption of sugar per French inhabitant was less than 2 kilos. It increased to 5.5 kg in 1860, 8.6 in 1890, 20 in 1913, 23 during the period between the two wars, and today has reached 35 kilos per year and per capita. The consumption of sugar has therefore been multiplied by more than 17 in 150 years. In developing countries, it remains very low: so the per capita consumption in Afghanistan was just 1 kilo in 1999.
Most of this sugar is consumed in the form of sugary drinks. In the United States, the consumption of sugary drinks has been multiplied by six in comparison to 1945. And sugar is now found in very many processed food products, because it has many commercial virtues: it is inexpensive, gives a good taste, can be used in a very wide variety of foods and… leads to a certain addiction.
This over consumption of sugar and its incredible increase over the past century is not very well known. Sugar is an intimate part of our culture, and we associate it very strongly with pleasure and relaxation. And many foods with sugar levels that are hazardous to health have become a part of everyday life, to the point that many of us consume them every day without thinking of them as harmful, such as sodas, fruit juices, cereal bars and most breakfast cereals, pasta, pastries, etc.
The marketing techniques of the big food industries are so effective that many of these foods have become products that we give primarily to our children, thereby creating an addiction that starts at a very tender age! (In France, the Public Health Act of 9 August 2004 prohibited school vending machines, which were available in 20% of junior colleges and 50% of high schools, to fight against the increase in juvenile obesity, which had increased by 17% in 20 years).
Sugar causes damage
Sugar is quickly converted into fat which greatly contributes to excess weight, and also increases the rate of insulin in the blood. Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas to contribute to decreasing the level of sugar in the blood, allowing its absorption by the cells.
Prior to our recent addiction to sugar, our insulin levels were very low – less than 5 ng/dL (5 nanograms per decilitre of blood). Today, these levels have risen steeply, sometimes exceeding 20 ng. The majority of overweight people are overweight due to those 35 kilos of sugar consumed every year.
This is what happens when you drink a soft drink, or eat a sweet or a pastry:
- The level of sugar in the blood increases sharply.
- The level of insulin in the blood also rises quickly, in order to stop the blood from becoming too syrupy. But insulin levels that are too high raise blood pressure and body fat.
- The excess glucose circulating in the blood is then combined with proteins to form dangerous derivative products which are strongly implicated in many diseases, including premature ageing.
According to recent studies – see for example .5% of men and 17.9% of women are affected in France by a disease that is the result of a severe inability to process food sugar, called metabolic syndrome (MS) or X Syndrome. It is a little known disease and yet it is so widespread that you could very well have it and not know: you wouldn’t be alone.
How do you know if you have metabolic syndrome?
It’s simple: in public, look for people whose morphology resembles that of an apple rather than an hourglass – for women – or a stick of celery – for men. These people have a tummy, they are “pot-bellied”, and therefore have what is known in medical terms as “central obesity”. Very frequently, these people are affected by metabolic syndrome.
This disease is mainly attributed to a resistance on the part of the body to the effects of insulin, due to excessive consumption of sugar, which means that the pancreas must secrete increasingly large quantities of insulin in order to reduce the level of blood glucose.
Metabolic Syndrome can accelerate the ageing process, and more especially expose sufferers to a tremendous number of catastrophic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and many neurological diseases. In addition to this, people affected by MS feel tired, more easily irritated, and have attention and memory problems.
In order for MS to be diagnosed, three of these five criteria must be determined:
- An excessively large waist size, in other words higher than 100 centimetres in a man and 90 centimetres in a woman.
- A level of serum triglycerides (blood fats) that is higher than 150 mg/dL.
- A level of good cholesterol (HDL-C) that is less than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women.
- Arterial blood pressure that is greater than 135/85.
- Fasting blood sugar greater than 99 mg/dL.
You can also get a good idea for yourself as to whether or not you are affected by MS by performing the following steps:
- Use a tape measure to measure your abdomen around your navel. As indicated above, if it measures more than 100 centimetres if you are a man or 90 centimetres if you are a woman, this indicates that you have a good chance of being affected by MS.
- Measure around your hips at their widest part.
- Divide your waist size by your hip measurement.
This waist/hip ratio is an excellent provisional indication of MS: it should be less than 0.8 in women and 1 in men. If your ratio is higher, you should consult your doctor, so that s/he can prescribe the tests indicated above. You can also ask him or her to prescribe a fasting insulin test: often, doctors do not prescribe this, relying on indirect measurements such as the measurement of the level of blood fats or blood pressure, which are less precise.
Here are levels of glucose and insulin in the fasting state:
|Usual reference value
|Insulin when fasting
|Less than 5
|Greater than 10
|Glucose when fasting
|Greater than 100
In addition to being an important factor in obesity and the metabolic syndrome, sugar is also a strong ageing accelerator: when the level of glucose is too high, the glucose molecules stick to proteins (because sugar is sticky), which form sticky agglomerates that damage our vital enzymes and increase the damage caused to our tissues by free radicals. This translates into age spots on the skin, or the formation of cataracts in the crystalline lens of the eye.
The process of forming conglomerates is known as the Maillard reaction or “browning” and it also occurs in sweet foodstuffs when they are cooked at high temperatures. That is why any high temperature cooking, whether in an oven, a barbecue, a fryer, or on a spit or a grill increases the formation of these harmful by-products. It is preferable to steam cook or boil, because the temperature does not rise above 100°. And when the food turn brown during cooking, like the crust of bread, meat and coffee beans, this means that their content in harmful by-products has increased.
Chapter 12: Inflammation – the Latest “Smoking Gun”
Inflammation is a reaction by the body’s immune system when faced with aggression, such as an infection, a burn, an allergy… until recently, doctors thought that inflammatory diseases were limited to obvious and acute inflammations, such as asthma – inflammation of the airways – arthritis – inflammation of the joints – or acne – inflammation of the skin.
However, recent studies have shown that there is another type of inflammation, chronic or silent inflammation, which plays a very important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Although acute inflammation plays an essential role in the body’s response to sprains, fractures, bacteria or viruses, chronic inflammation is totally different, and barely detectable: often it remains undiscovered until a disaster occurs, decades later.
Inflammation to a minimum
One of the cornerstones of the Kurzweil and Terry Grossman’s programme of longevity is to reduce silent inflammation to a minimum, which is possible by choosing a suitable lifestyle. It turns out that what we eat is very important in determining our risk of silent inflammation, because of prostaglandins, molecules that are synthesized in the body from linoleic acid (essential omega 6 fatty acid) and linolenic acid (essential omega 3 fatty acid), contained in nuts, cereals, seeds, animal products and most plants.
There are three main types of prostaglandins, including two anti-inflammatories (PG-E1 and PG-E3) and one pro-inflammatory (PGE2), which therefore increases inflammation in the body. The three types are necessary for our health, and excessive inflammation appears only when there is an imbalance between them.
They are synthesised in the following manner.
(This may seem a little complex, but if you hang on, you will understand clearly why excess sugar results in excess inflammation):
- As indicated in the diagram, the first step in the production of PG-E1 anti-inflammatory converts linoleic acid (LA) – an omega 6 essential fatty acid – into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), through the action of the enzyme desaturase. You get linoleic acid in your diet by eating vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds. It is however important to note that this process of transformation is blocked by the trans fatty acids (which were discussed earlier in this chronicle), found in vegetable oils and hydrogenated margarine, and by certain viral infections. Excessive consumption of alcohol, along with ageing, also interferes with the process. You can help your body by eating food that is rich in pre-formed GLA – that your body will therefore not need to synthesise – such as soybeans, sesame and sunflower seeds and nuts.
- The GLA is then converted into dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) with the help of the elongase enzyme.
- The DGLA goes on to form either PG-E1, a strong anti-inflammatory, or PG-E2, which is very inflammatory. The choice between these two prostaglandins is largely influenced by the level of insulin in the blood. When the insulin level is high, such as when we eat sugar or food with a high glycemic index, more DGLA is transformed into arachidonic acid, which in turn becomes PG-E2. So, well hidden inside a complex chemical process, we find the point that directly links excess consumption of sugar to increased inflammation.
Therefore, when we eat fibre-rich foods that are low in calories and have a low glycemic load, this reduces our level of insulin (as seen in the first part of this chronicle), reduces our production of arachidonic acid and decreases inflammation. In addition, as you can see on the diagram, red meat, eggs and sea food are important sources of arachidonic acid, which is transformed into PG-E2: reducing their consumption allows inflammation to be reduced. You can also consume more EPA and DHA, which block the process of transformation of the DGLA into arachidonic acid, and which are omega 3 fats that are found mostly in fish and fish oil. The authors recommend taking 1000 to 3000 milligrams of EPA and 700 to 2000 milligrams of DHA extra per day, in the form of food supplements.
Other lifestyle choices allow you to reduce inflammation:
- Lose weight: fat cells are very powerful inflammation generators, and reducing them automatically decreases the level of silent inflammation.
- Do more physical exercise: 30 minutes per day will significantly reduce inflammation.
- Reduce stress: in fact, stress is an important factor that causes inflammation. Recent research has shown that chronic exposure to stress significantly increases the rate of the inflammatory compound IT-6, which is associated with many diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and accelerated ageing.
Furthermore, regular visits to your dentist (minimum once per year) could reduce your risk of myocardial infarction: inflammation of the gums is in fact a potential risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Gum disease, which is very common, can lead to the destruction of bones and a loss of teeth called osteonecrosis.
There is a test to measure inflammation in your body: it is a measure of the rate of the ultrasensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP or CRP), which is a protein that is synthesised in the liver and then released into the blood in response to inflammation. The authors recommend including this test in your regular health review process. Studies show that the men who are in the top third of the percentile for CRP have rates of myocardial infarction that are double those of men whose results are located in the lower third. The accepted standard today for hs-CRP is to be under 5, but the authors find this rate too high and recommend keeping it below 1.3.
You can also do another test to determine the profile of essential fatty acids, which allows you to know the precise level and the ratios of the fatty acids EPA, DHA, and DGLA (anti-inflammatory) and arachidonic acid (pro-inflammatory).
Chapter 13: Methylation – critically important to your health
Methylation is the chemical process during which a methyl group (a carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms) attaches itself to other molecules. It is a simple biochemical reaction which has considerable effects on the synthesis of DNA, the activation or inhibition of genes within a cell, and metabolism. The body also uses methylation to contribute to eliminating many toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead, antimony and arsenic. Defective methylation also leads to an accumulation of these toxic metals in the body.
Depending on age and ethnic groups, between 10 and 44% of the population has a methylation problem, which is a risk factor for cancer of the cervix or colon, for heart disease affecting the coronary vessels, stroke, Alzeihmer’s, etc. It is easy to detect a defect in methylation, but unfortunately most doctors do not prescribe these tests, and the phenomenon is often detected too late.
Measure the level of homocysteine
The easiest way to detect a problem with methylation is to measure the level of homocysteine in your blood. Homocysteine is a toxic metabolite, which forms when we consume methionine, an amino acid that is found in the proteins of red meat and poultry. It is behind a number of problems if it is not rapidly excreted or rendered non-toxic, and the body uses methylation to make it non-toxic. A build-up of homocysteine in the blood is therefore a good indication of a problem with your methylation. And this build-up is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Optimal levels when fasting are under 7.5 umol/L.
You can optionally complete this test with a dynamic homocysteine test, which is to take a dose of methionine after the first blood draw when fasting, and then to take a second blood test 2 to 4 hours after ingestion, because the dosage of homocysteine in a fasting state is not the most pertinent level (given that it is synthesised from methionine that is contained in meats). A study has shown that doctors can detect 27% of additional patients that have defective methylation using this technique.
To reduce a high level of homocysteine, you need to reduce your consumption of red meat and poultry, which as we have seen, contain large quantities of methionine which transforms into homocysteine. Moreover, smoking and drinking coffee have been associated in the research with high levels of homocysteine, while drinking one or two glasses of wine per day decreases this level (although drinking a lot increases it). Taking vitamin B6 and B12 and folic acid as food supplements also allows you to lower the rate of homocysteine (so a high level may be an indicator of a deficiency in these vitamins).
Chapter 14: Cleaning up the mess: toxins and detoxification
In 2000, in the United States alone, more than 2.5 billion tonnes of toxic waste were dumped into the water, the ground or the air. Our planet has become so toxic that everyone’s health is in danger, because we are exposed to toxins in many forms, and we are bombarded by electromagnetic radiation and polluted by heavy metals.
The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. determined in 1990 that the concentration in hydrocarbons in 90% of the 60,000 zones that it studied was higher than the standards laid down, above which there is a risk of cancer. Two hundred zones had concentrated pollutants that were more than 100 times higher than recommended levels.
The worst is when cold air blocks the hot air beneath it: this creates an “inversion”, and makes the outside air become very polluted. When this happens, the authorities often recommend that people who suffer from respiratory problems should stay indoors. The problem is that the levels of many pollutants inside homes are several times higher than those outdoors: this problem of indoor air pollution in homes is critical because many people spend up to 90% of their time indoors.
Sources of home pollution
Sources of pollution inside the home include cooking and heating fumes, cigarette smoke, commercial housecleaning products, rat poison and insect repellent, fumes from construction materials and carpets, smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces, and radon.
To partially combat this, you can use household plants, as studies by Nasa have proven their purifying action in reducing toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde. Among these useful plants are ivy, lilies, bamboo, Chinese sempervirant, chrysanthemum, daisies and Dieffenbachia.
You can watch this short 4 minute video which presents the beneficial effects of three plants, the Areca palm tree, the Sansevieria and the Pothos:
There are also books available on this subject.
While drinking water polluted by bacteria, viruses or parasites produces acute effects in the short term, such as diarrhoea, hepatitis and cholera, chronic effects persist years after exposure to contaminants contained in water. These pollutants include chemicals used to kill pathogens, such as chlorine, industrial solvents, pesticides, radioactive elements and toxic minerals, such as arsenic. Regular exposure to such contaminants is associated with cancer and liver problems, kidney and reproductive organ problems.
It is well worth paying attention to the type of water you drink. Most tap water is not optimal for perfect health: chlorine and fluoride that are added are chemicals can have harmful effects on the human body.
Your work or leisure environment can have a considerable impact on your health. Here are a few examples to convince you:
- People in charge of golf courses have higher instances of brain cancer or prostate cancer, as well as neurological diseases, because their job requires prolonged exposure to pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertiliser.
- People who work at oil refineries, and are exposed to a great number of toxins, have increased rates of mortality for:
- Lip cancer (384% higher)
- Stomach cancer (142%)
- Liver cancer (238%)
- Pancreatic cancer (151%)
- Connective tissue cancer (243%)
- Prostate cancer (135%)
- Eye cancer (407%)
- Brain cancer (181%)
- Leukaemia (175%)
It is well known that chemicals are used extensively in food production. For example, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are sprayed regularly onto fruit trees, poisoned seeds are dropped by plane onto orchards to kill rodents, chemicals designed to prevent apples from falling from trees are sprayed, and after the harvest, the apples are covered with wax to improve their appearance and stored for months in warehouses full of toxic gases.
So when you buy apples that have been grown according to the standards of modern agriculture, you are also buying many of these toxins that remain on the fruit, even inside the fruit. Even if you are very vigilant, it is impossible to avoid an accumulation of pesticides in your body, because they are found in all food categories.
Here is a list of the most contaminated foods:
- Imported grapes
And less contaminated foods:
In order to reduce these toxins, it is important to eat organic food whenever possible, and to wash fruit and vegetables in water for several minutes.
When it comes to food of animal origin, it has even higher levels of toxins, which are concentrated in the fatty tissue.
Our bodies are constantly being bombarded with man-made electromagnetic radiation, coming from computer screens (ones that are not flat), mobile phones, hair-dryers, electric razors, telephone antennas, television stations and radio stations, satellite and radar transmitters.
There is a lot of controversy about the harmfulness of these waves, but pending clear cut results of the many studies being carried out on this subject, it is preferable to apply a principle of precaution. It is of course impossible to completely avoid the electromagnetic fog in which we live, but we can take precautions to reduce our exposure and the dangers that are associated with it, such as keeping the use of powerful electrical devices such as hair dryers and electric razors to a minimum, making sure to stay at least three meters back from our TV screen, or using a hands-free kit with our mobile phones, and of course to use them as little as possible.
Heavy metal pollution
In order for many enzymes that are essential for good health to function properly, a cofactor vitamin or mineral is required: toxic heavy metals can take the place of these vitamins and minerals and interfere with these enzymes. These toxic heavy metals also contribute to premature ageing and can lead to malfunctions of the immune system, learning disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases. People who are intoxicated by heavy metals have symptoms such as fatigue, mood disorders, problems concentrating or hair loss.
There are a large number of toxic heavy metals, the most common being arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, nickel, mercury and aluminium.
Mercury is particularly toxic and causes many problems for animals to which it is administered in laboratories. Methylmercury, a form of mercury, found particularly in the sea, contaminates almost all marine food. Nowadays, it is impossible to escape this contamination, and it is therefore important to limit our consumption of fish and seafood, particularly those that are more contaminated.
Large fish at the top of the food chain such as tuna, swordfish, sailfish and sharks have very high mercury levels and should not be consumed. It is preferable to eat smaller fish, located lower in the food chain and which therefore contain lower levels of mercury, such as anchovies, sardines and salmon.
Here is a table of the species to favour and to avoid:
|Low mercury level
(can be eaten regularly)
|Intermediate mercury level
(can be eaten from time to time)
|High mercury level
(eat as little as possible)
|Tuna (tinned or steak)
|Atlantic blue crab
|Gulf Coast blue crab
Test to determine the amount of toxic metals
Here is a list of tests that you can ask your doctor to prescribe to assess your intoxication by heavy metals:
- Mineral analysis of hair: one of the simpler and less expensive tests, which uses a gramme of hair collected at the nape of the neck.
- Urinary provocation test: the doctors administer an agent designed to concentrate the heavy metals in the urine, which is collected between 6 and 24 hours after.
- Blood tests: these are the least useful, because they only allow toxic heavy metals to be detected if you have undergone massive poisoning.
Chapter 15: The real cause of heart disease and how to prevent it
Heart disease is a major cause of mortality in France, responsible for 28% of deaths, just behind cancer with 30% (Insee statistics from 2006), making more than 145,000 deaths in 2006.
Until recently, the conventional understanding of most myocardial infarction was that over time, the excess cholesterol content provided by LDL-C (commonly called “bad cholesterol”, in contrast to HDL-C) oxidises and is deposited in the coronary arteries, finally calcifying to form a hard plaque. Once this plaque blocks 80% or more of the artery, the blood can only flow through a narrow duct: a blood clot can then block this narrow passage, hampering blood circulation, leading to the death of the part of the heart irrigated by this artery, which implies either the death of the person, or permanent heart damage.
This former understanding of the causes of heart attacks has led to the development of two very widespread techniques:
- Surgical by-pass – which bypasses the problem by sending the blood flow to a grafted vein or artery. It is one of the most invasive surgical procedures, with a mortality rate of 2 to 6%. This intervention also causes many complications, including a significant decline in mental activity and mood in more than 80% of survivors.
- Angioplasty – when a catheter, a thin flexible tube tipped with an inflatable bulb is placed in the artery. Once installed, it is inflated to compress the plaque and widen the blocked artery. Since the 2000s, a development has been introduced with the placing of a stent, a rigid tube designed to block the development of the cholesterol build-up and prevent it from developing in the same place. Angioplasty is less invasive than a by-pass, but it also causes significant complications.
Often, these interventions relieve patients who are victims of chest pain – hence the name “angina” given to its symptoms – and therefore they have the impression that the treatment has worked well. However, these surgical procedures do not provide long-term benefits, and many studies have not been able to demonstrate a statistically significant increase in survival as a result of a bypass surgery or angioplasty compared to a control group using beta-blockers, aspirin and statins, whose cost and risk levels are much lower. Why? Because these two operations consider the myocardial infarction to be a plumbing problem that can be fixed by plumbing repairs, which is false in most cases.
New conception of the cause of myocardial infarction
According to this new conception, most myocardial infarction is caused by vulnerable plaque and inflammation, and not by wide, calcified and expanding plaque inside the coronary arteries. Therefore, it is soft, small and vulnerable plaque that forms within the walls of the vessels, which is the main culprit.
In fact, extended and calcified plaque is relatively stable, and because of its wide coverage tears less, while soft plaque that is more dynamic and less stable is much more likely to rupture violently. When this happens, the body forms a clot to try to this rupture, and the result may be a total blockage of the blood flow, and therefore a heart attack. This soft plaque is “hiding” inside the arteries, without blocking or decreasing the blood flow, that is of course until the rupture occurs, and it is often fatal. In fact, the dominant theory today is that the hard plaque is an attempt on the part of the body to protect itself against the soft plaque.
This new conception of things is good news, because it is much easier to reverse the constitution of soft plaque than hard calcified plaque.
This is the essential knowledge that medical science has about heart disease today:
- HDL: It is considered to be the “good” cholesterol that can eliminate cholesterol from the arteries before it has a chance to oxidise.
- Risk factors: cigarette smoke, diabetes and hypertension are major risk factors for heart disease.
- Aspirin: taking 75 mg of aspirin per day reduces incidences of myocardial infarctus by reducing inflammation and by thinning blood.
- Unpredictability: a myocardial infarction can suddenly strike a person who is in good health. Vulnerable plaque does not cause any symptoms, and it is difficult to detect it with a CT scan of the heart or any other process.
- Heart bypass and angioplasty are incapable of preventing future myocardial infarction.
- The problem with arterial stents: not only do they leave vulnerable plaque untreated, they also induce a strong inflammatory response, which is extremely counter-productive.
Major risk factors for heart disease
Count the risk factors that affect you with the help of this table:
|Risk Factor Category
|Level of Risk Factor
|Parents or close family members are not affected by heart disease
|The father had a heart attack before the age of 55, and/or the mother before 65
|Sex and age
|Man aged 44 or younger; woman aged 54 or younger
|Man aged 45 or more, woman aged 55 or more
|You have never smoked
|You currently smoke one packet per day, and/or smoked for 10 years or more
|95% of optimal weight
|20% or more above optimal weight
|Cholesterol and triglycerides
|Total cholesterol 160-180, of which:
– LDL : 80 if you have fewer than three major risk factors, and 70 if you have three or more
– HDL above 60
– Ratio of total cholesterol on the HDL below 2.5
– triglycerides lower than 100
|One of these factors:
– Total cholesterol above 200
– LDL below 130
– HDL lower than 40
– ratio of total cholesterol on the HDL above 4
|7.5 or less
|10 or more
|1.3 or less
|Fasting glucose and insulin
|Glucose above 110
Insulin above 10
|Systolic < 120
Diastolic < 80
|Systolic > 140
Diastolic > 90
|Personality that is not highly irritable
|Personality that is highly irritable
If you have three or more of the major risk factors, the authors recommend a series of tests that you should take every 5 years at least:
- A full blood work-up (cholesterol, HDL, triglycerides, ultrasensitive CRP, homocysteine, fasting glucose, lopoprotein (a), C-reactive protein)
- Coronary scanner by computed tomography with Calcium Scoring
- Stress test
Chapter 16: The prevention and early detection of cancer
According to the same Insee statistics from 2006, cancer is the primary cause of mortality among French people, and is responsible for 30% of deaths, or more than 155,000 deaths in 2006, among the causes:
- Cancer of the larynx, trachea, bronchi and lungs: 29,765 deaths
- Bowel cancer: 12,160 deaths
- Breast cancer: 11,631 deaths
Among men, the likelihood of developing cancer at any time of life is about 1 in 2; among women, it is about 1 in 3. However, you can choose a lifestyle which will radically reduce your chances of being part of this group: three quarter of cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 55, but they often take decades to become established. If you choose a healthy life style early, and by learning whether you are predisposed to a certain type of cancer, you can reduce your chances of developing cancer to a strict minimum.
Intensive research in the fight against cancer that has been conducted since the 1970s changed almost nothing about the risks of contracting cancer: only stomach cancer has decreased by more than 75%, a phenomenon that is unfortunately offset by the considerable increase in lung cancer.
Reducing deaths due to cancer
There are two keys today to reducing deaths due to cancer: a reduction in risk and early detection. Between these two key factors, risk reduction is the more important one: as lung cancer is the deadliest cancer of all, the mere fact of avoiding or stopping smoking allows you to significantly reduce your chances of contracting cancer.
However, before examining the means to protect ourselves from cancer, it is important to understand how we develop this disease. Cancer is a disease that is characterised by uncontrolled cellular proliferation: while normal cells have a fixed life span, cancerous cells continue to grow and multiply as long as they have food. This behaviour is attributed to mutations in their DNA, caused mainly by exposure to very unstable chemical substances: free radicals, which are formed naturally in the body, but whose number is increased by certain factors.
Excess free radicals are generated when:
- Exposed to radiation (such as X-rays and intense solar radiation)
- Absorb toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or mercury.
- Subjected to environmental toxins (pesticides, plastics, pollutants).
- Exposed to cigarette smoke.
- Eat fried foods.
- Subjected to excessive stress.
- Excess food-based iron levels.
Early detection of cancer
Early detection of cancer and cancer prevention are often confused, but they are two distinct things: the first involves detecting the occurrence of cancer as early as possible, while the second is reducing the risk of developing cancer as much as possible. While the authors do not want to minimise the value of the efforts deployed to detect cancer early, they believe that screening is not as important as preventing risk. To understand this, compare the importance of stopping smoking, which prevents the risk of cancer appearing, with the fact of discovering limited lung cancer.
Nevertheless, here is a list of a some of the screening tests possible, knowing of course that your doctor can help you to determine if you are at risk and whether you need additional tests:
- Breast cancer: women must begin self-examination as early as 20 years of age, once every three years up to the age of 40, and every two years after that.
- Cervical cancer: Clinical examinations accompanied by a pap smear must begin within the three years following the first sexual relations, and no later than at the age of 21 years. Afterwards, they should be conducted every one to two years, depending on the type of test performed and can be reduced to a frequency of two to three years after three consecutive smears that are normal after the age of 30.
- Colorectal cancer: Tests should be done each year after the age of 50, with a proctoscopy every five years and a colonoscopy every 10 years.
- Prostate cancer: A rectal examination and test of the level of PSA in the blood each year are recommended after the age of 50.
- DR-70 blood test: DR-70 is a tumour marker that is found in the blood, capable of detecting 13 different types of cancer, including those of the lung, colon, rectum, breast, stomach, liver, ovary, oesophagus, cervix, thyroid and pancreas. This test remains experimental however.
The possibility of a genomic test can be added to these tests. There is clear evidence today that our genes play a significant role in the type of cancer that we are likely to develop. One Swedish study followed 140,000 twins born in Sweden in 1886 during their entire life, and clearly revealed the genetic risk for certain cancers, such as that of the prostate, pancreas, colon or rectum. Genomic tests are available in a limited way today, but should be widely available soon, allowing you to find out precisely which cancers you have a greater chance of developing.
The following are the recommendations of the authors to prevent the appearance of cancer as much as possible:
- Drink vegetable juice: start your day with a glass of 225 to 350 ml of freshly squeezed vegetable juice as an integral part of your breakfast. Mix the juice of a few cucumbers, broccoli, kale, cabbage, one carrot (but no more to avoid too much sugar), and other green vegetables. In this way, you will fulfil almost half of your needs before you even leave home. Of course, you should preferably choose organic vegetables.
- Adopt the Mediterranean diet: low in red meat, with the emphasis on whole grains, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables. It has been associated with many benefits, including a reduction in the risk of cancer. The Mediterranean diet also calls for generous quantities of extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, and cooked tomatoes.
- Avoid the white Satan: white sugar. Cancer cells consume this kind of sugar very avidly, and you can inhibit the formation of a cancer by avoiding food with a high glycemic load.
- Take up a physical activity: exercise is associated with lower incidences of cancer, in contrast to a sedentary lifestyle. Adults should practice moderate sport for a minimum of 150 minutes per week, obtained through any possible combination of exercise, with a minimum of 10 minutes per session. Children and teenagers should practice moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day.
- Avoid pesticides: Exposure to agricultural chemicals has been linked to many types of cancer. Farmers have a 40% higher risk of developing stomach cancer, 50% higher risk of developing bowel cancer, 40% higher risk of cancer of the larynx and 40% higher risk of prostate cancer. Therefore, it is important to eat organic food.
- Lose excess weight: Being overweight or obese is an independent factor for various types of cancer.
- Avoid tobacco: this seems obvious, and it is. The list of diseases related to cigarette smoke reads like the little black book of the Angel of Death. Smoking increases the risk of cancer in all tissues that touch the tobacco smoke at its points of entry (lungs, mouth, throat, and larynx), its output channels (kidneys and bladder) and various other locations along the way (cervix, pancreas). Smoking also greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac arrest and stroke. And smoking significantly increases the risk of lung problems such as emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc., and this list is far from complete! Therefore, the authors recommend that if you are a smoker, you should immediately take steps to quit.
Chapter 22: Keep moving: the power of exercise
There is a great deal of evidence today about the many benefits of exercise: it considerably reduces the chances of disease and death related to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Evolution has shaped human beings to be physically active. The Western epidemic of vegetative diseases is in part due to our new and overly sedentary lifestyle. A few dozen centuries ago, the majority of our ancestors spent their time gathering and hunting. Today, our DNA is 99.99% identical to that of our ancestors, who were very physically active every day: their bodies developed well thanks to this robust regime. Until such time as we can free ourselves from our obsolete machinery through biotechnology and nanotechnology revolutions, we must keep exercising regularly.
Here are the various benefits of regular exercise:
- A decrease in the risk of illness
- Reduction in blood pressure
- Increase in the strength of the ligaments and tendons
- Reduction in stress and assistance with healing and depression
- Improved sleep
- Reduction in the risk of several types of cancer (including bowel, prostate and breast cancer).
- Improvement in physical appearance
- Improvement in self-confidence
- Strengthened bones, reduction in the risk of osteoporosis
- Increased energy
One study has shown that the overall death rate of a group that regularly exercised was 60% lower than that of the sedentary witness group.
The authors recommend regular aerobic physical activity (with oxygen) as the pillar of your exercise programme. This kind of exercise accelerates the heart rate and breathing, and increases air intake. This type of activity includes sports such as walking, swimming, cycling, rowing and cross-country skiing. One key aspect of this type of activity is that it involves at least 20 minutes of continuous rhythmic effort on the most important muscles in all parts of the body: while our heart also benefits from the significant yet brief effort required by some sports such as tennis or basketball, these are not optimal forms of aerobic physical activity.
The authors insist on the importance of the regularity of such exercise, and indicate that it is preferable to avoid exercising during a meal, and just before bedtime, in particular if you have trouble sleeping.
Kurzweil and Grossman also recommend practising anaerobic exercise, in other words strength training, mainly in the form of weight training.
Chapter 23: Stress and balance
We can always find reasons to feel stressed, but the inherent source of our stress comes from inside ourselves. But what is stress? It is a response of the body and the mind to demands and problems. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but many studies show that chronic stress contributes largely to illnesses, and have shown that relaxation techniques and meditation have the power to relieve stress.
Because stress has been shaped by evolution for use in an environment that was very different from that of today: when our Palaeolithic ancestors were threatened by a dangerous enemy, they had the choice between fight or flight. This process begins with the perception of danger: the amygdala, a region of the brain, triggers a chain reaction of neural and hormonal changes in order to prepare the body for action. This leads to the stimulation of the adrenal cortex, which produces a hormone named cortisol. Cortisol causes a very significant, albeit temporary increase in energy, and stimulation of the memory centres of the brain so that they can work more quickly. The spinal cord produces adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These are extremely powerful hormones: they almost halt the digestive process, increase blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, fibrinogen levels, the pace of the heart and breathing. This mechanism, planned for occasional activation in the event of physical danger, is still useful from time to time, but its continuous activation is a major factor in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and accelerated ageing.
Here is a table showing different stressful events, and their proportionality coefficient:
|Death of a spouse
|Death of a close family member
|Losing one’s job
|A loved one has health problems
|Death of a close friend
|Change of job
|Children leaving the home
|Problems with one’s boss
|Minor infringements of law
To counter stress, it is important to not take refuge in false means, such as abusive consumption of alcohol or drugs. The authors recommend a comprehensive programme, which includes a healthy and balanced diet, regular physical activity, restful sleep, in other words sleep that is sufficient in quantity and quality, balance between the different aspects of our life, such as work, friends, family, hobbies, etc., time management (you can read for that), taking regular holidays, talking to others, listening, regular massage and meditation (you can find an introduction to this practice by reading my chronicle of
As you have noticed, judging by the length of this chronicle and the fact that I have not even mentioned several chapters, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever is a book that is both lengthy and dense: 525 pages, in a good format and in quite small writing! This does not even include the 38 pages of footnotes referring to hundreds of scientific studies used to support the statements of the authors. This book presents itself as an introductory guide to taking charge of our health that is well-documented and goes into great detail in the subjects it tackles, with an approach which can seem almost encyclopaedic.
This would be to forget, however, that this book is directed primarily at people who want to take charge of their health, not doctors, and that, contrary to what is said in some criticism I have read, it not overly abundant in “pseudo-scientific terms” but rather it simplifies and summarises extensive medical knowledge to make it accessible to beginners, while remaining deep and attempting to explain in detail the mechanisms that cause disease, rather than simply saying “don’t do this” or “don’t do that”.
Change in Health
Succeeding in this delicate balance between accessibility and an attempt to free individuals by giving them deep understanding of the mechanisms at play is a difficult exercise, and there is no doubt that some will find that it is much too long and technical, while doctors may say that it does not go deep enough into a number of subjects. Personally, I believe that this book is perfect for any intelligent, cultivated, open-minded person who wants to take charge of his or her health – this desire can come about over the course of reading the book at the sight of all the evils that await those who do not! – at the cost of a certain amount of personal investment.
By the way, don’t expect to read this book in one go or to digest its contents quickly, and I would not recommend doing so. When I read it for the first time, at the end of 2006, it took me more than 4 months to finish it, because I was applying what I learned at the same time and changing habits that had become deeply rooted in me due to my crass ignorance of the mechanisms of my body and of the impact of those habits on my health. This book revolutionised my approach to my own health, and it was the first book that I read which truly changed my life.
This is what I used to do before I read this book:
- I stuffed myself full of fat, sweet industrial products that are filled with dyes, conservatives and hydrogenated fats, such as pizzas, burgers, sodas and other sugary drinks, with a predilection for ready-made meals, given that I was a busy entrepreneur who lived alone.
- I was a great lover of pasta with cheese, croque monsieur and barbecued food.
- Never ate fresh fruit and vegetables, instead enjoying yogurt and other sweetened dairy desserts.
- Big fan of rare red meat.
- I drank two cups of coffee per day with one or two sugars.
- Never did any sport.
- I thought that organic was a load of rubbish.
- Overall, I reckoned that “looking after yourself is for old people”, thereby making the same mistake as all the other ignorant people.
- I had a “devil may care” attitude and laughed at people who took care of their health and tried to convince me to do the same, thinking they were far too much like snowflakes, and in the back of my mind I only had a very vague idea about my own mortality.
- Overall, I was illiterate about everything which affects my body and my health, ignorant of the operating mechanisms explained in this book, what my food was made from and what the long-term consequences of my behaviour would be.
In short, I had the typical behaviour of someone at risk. Since reading this book, this is what I do now:
- Most of the food I eat now is organic. Still, I have a predilection for meals that can be heated up in 10 minutes, given that I am still a busy entrepreneur who lives alone, but these days, they are organic prepared meals and I garnish them with fresh vegetables. I know that ideally I should eat meals that I prepare myself using fresh organic ingredients, and this is a step that I intend to take when my “4-hour working week” comes into effect.
- Now, I push myself to regularly cook for myself, using healthy foods such as brown rice, soy pasta, quinoa, tofu…
- Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, with a preference for tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and peppers, courgettes, apples, pears, kiwis, blueberries and grapes.
- I hardly eat any red meat any more, instead eating organic white meat, wild salmon and tofu.
I drink one glass of red wine per day.
- Stopped eating pasta, cheese, sodas, potatoes, bananas and maize, and limited my consumption of everything that is too sweet to a strict minimum.
- I swapped my two cups of coffee with sugar for two to three cups of green tea with organic mint and no sugar.
- I do sport, with a workout in the gym once a week, and mini-workouts at home using home equipment.
- Take two food supplement tablets per day, a reasonable compromise in the light of the particularly heavy recommendations of the authors on this subject and the debate which has taken place surrounding them, along with what scientific research has established: a supplement of EPA/DHA (1000 mg) and a multivitamin that provides me with a good part of my daily recommended vitamins and essential minerals.
- I deviate sometimes, especially when I eat out, but this is quite exceptional (around 5 to 10% of the time at most).
- I believe that taking care of your health is something you should do at any age, and that it is particularly beneficial to begin when you are young given that this allows you to prevent the appearance of damage that will need to be treated.
- Now, I think it is up to ourselves to take charge of our own health, and to ensure that we avoid illness as much as we can: this is not the role of the doctor, who intervenes when we need to heal and to prevent diseases. However I do, think that doctors have a very important role in our personal health programme and that it is appropriate to include them and to talk to them about the programme.
- I have become very curious about the operating mechanisms in my body and about food, and intend to deepen my knowledge in this regard as soon as have the time.
- I visited the French official statistics site run by the INSEE to see mortality statistics for my region and for France, in order to see what die people from and at what age (it is extremely interesting). It is particularly interesting to see the enormous disparities that exist between the Northern and Southern regions, which clearly demonstrate the importance of a healthy diet in order to live a long life in good health.
- Now, I ask my doctor for a full health assessment every three years (as I am self-employed I am not entitled to a free occupational health assessment!).
- I have become a staunch advocate for taking personal responsibility for one’s health, the importance of having a healthy and balanced diet and taking time for sport and relaxation, and do not hesitate to talk about this to people around me.
What a change, don’t you think?
These simple habits today do not require more of an effort on my part than the ones I had previously (apart from exercise perhaps, which has become a real pleasure for me), significantly increasing my chances of living a long life in good health, and increasing my performance, my well-being and my happiness on a daily basis. In return for an investment of a few hours in reading this book and at the price of changing a few sterile habits, I find this to be particularly advantageous!
While I believe today that I have reached a good level compared to the one I had three years ago, I can see many opportunities for improvement, that I intend to put in place as time goes by.
Don’t let the size of this book and the density of its contents discourage you: digest them slowly, gradually change your habits, take practical and precise notes. Because despite the size of this chronicle, and the fact that I have tried to give you 50% of the value of the book using less than 10% of its content, be aware that I have left out so many things, in particular several entire chapters:
Chapter 4: Food and water
This chapter encourages drinking alkaline water (with a lower pH) and advocates that this contributes greatly to good health. This is very controversial in the scientific community, and that is why I have left it out and have not applied it personally either.
Chapter 10: Ray’s personal program
This is the programme that Ray Kurzweil, one of the authors, follows.
Chapter 11: The promise of genomics
The book was published in 2005, so I reckon that much of this chapter would need to be updated as medical science is making such great progress in this sector.
Chapter 17: Terry’s personal program
This is the programme that Terry Grossman, the other author, follows.
Chapter 18: Your brain: the power of thinking… and of ideas.
Chapter 19: Hormones of ageing, hormones of youth
Chapter 20: Other hormones of youth: sex hormones
I had to make choices and decided not to describe these three chapters, which I find to be less interesting than others.
Chapter 21: Aggressive supplementation
The authors recommend a heavy programme of food supplements. The effectiveness and the non-harmfulness of these supplements is another subject of debate in the scientific community, so I have left it out.
Therefore, while some readers may complain about the length of this chronicle, I can tell you that this is nothing compared to the book itself. This chronicle will already allow people who know nothing about these matters (as was my case) to see that there is so little time, discover it like a real wake-up call and become aware of how much knowledge there is to be acquired in this area.
In response to these comments, I would say: I think that taking responsibility for our health requires this kind of detailed information which goes much further than what I have seen in the other books in the same field: armed with this scientific knowledge, we can in our heart and soul make informed choices every day about our health and lifespan. It is well worth a few hours of reading, especially if you still have many decades to live. In fact, as far as I am concerned, I find that it is such a good deal that I do not understand how anyone can just think about doing it: it’s a “no brainer”.
Old age and mortality
On the question of whether old age can be eliminated as a cause of mortality, a subject that both authors are passionate about, I do not hide my sympathy for this kind of theory. Even if I have a tendency to find them a little too optimistic (it is likely that the scientific revolutions that they announce will take more time than this to come). In particular, I think that there is nothing sacred about the body. It is just a biological machine shaped by a blind process, which provides us with consciousness of ourselves and of the world. From the moment that high-performance, safe technologies will be available to improve and change it, I have absolutely no problem with the idea of taking advantage of them, even significantly, up to no longer having much in common with my original body.
From this point of view, I could be considered part of the movement. I am in any case convinced that it is only a matter of time before we have these kinds of opportunities, and the science-fiction writer inside me likes to imagine all the consequences that such technology would have on human societies. The consequences would be absolutely huge, certainly as big as the consequences of the technological advances of the entire 20th century, in causing much progress and many problems.
One of the first steps on the path towards transhumanism is the decryption of the human genome. And I decided to take a step toward this by subscribing yesterday.
Immortality is impossible!
However, as I specified, you do not need to believe in its ideas to appreciate this book. You are free to think that immortality is impossible, dangerous and harmful. But I do not think that you are against the fact of living a long life in good health without being affected by a terrible disease.
This demanding book represents quite an amount of accessible knowledge that is at the same time deeper than any I have ever seen in any other book on health. It is not perfect, and the first fault, in addition to its length which will put quite a few people off, is that the authors are perhaps a little too cutting-edge and despite the hundreds of scientific studies that they cite, they do not hesitate to put forward certain ideas which are still very controversial and whose benefits have not been irrefutably proven, including drinking alkaline water and taking significant amounts of food supplements.
The second is that the authors have their own business selling food products, created in the same year that the book was published (2004), and although they do not mention it in the book, this may raise some eyebrows.
Different edition of Fantastic Voyage
It should also be noted that in April 2009 the authors published another book. That book is a different edition of Fantastic Voyage in the sense that is focuses on the practical aspects (removing for example the countless references to scientific studies). The author has removed some of the more controversial passages. Such as those referring to alkaline water or heavy consumption of food supplements. However, I haven’t read it and I cannot tell you more about it.
Anyway, you have of course understood that I cannot recommend this book enough. It is the very essence of the “rare and demanding life-changing book”. I think the fact that I reviewed it and contributed to awareness will save at least one reader from a serious illness in the years to come. Read it, work at it: your life will never be the same again. Perhaps you will live for 5,000 years, who knows?
Strong points of Fantastic Voyage:
- Detailed and very comprehensive
- Supported by hundreds of scientific studies that the authors have assembled into 38 pages of foot notes (!)
- Fascinating (in any case, I was totally hooked )
- Sprinkled with paragraphs of futuristic perspectives that are startling and exciting
- The point of departure for true awareness among people who know nothing about such things (as I used to be).
Weak points of Fantastic Voyage:
- Some controversial passages (notably on the importance of alkaline water and food supplements)
- The underlying theme of the book (use the best current medical knowledge to extend longevity up to a time when science will allow us to gain more than a year of life expectancy each year, thereby eliminating old age and death) may put some readers off.
- Quite long and in-depth
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