This is a book about extending your lifespan—and, within this extended lifespan, living a healthy, disease-free life. For a number of years, there has been research on how to do this, and new research continues to confirm the importance of our mitochondria in aging and age-related diseases.
The human lifespan in the last century has reached documented heights of over 120 years, meaning that life after 50 could be the bulk of your lifespan, and attention to longevity may be the most important decision you make concerning your health and quality of life. At the core of this longevity are lifestyle and dietary choices as well as various types of health maintenance and preventive nutraceuticals and herbs that have emerged in recent decades. The real key is how we can use all of these tools to improve our life.
Individuals concerned about healthy aging should understand that aging isn’t fundamentally about superficial appearance but rather that one's appearance mirrors their underlying cellular maintenance as they age. As each of us looks at our own health maintenance as we get older, choices must be made concerning how best to promote healthy skin, hair, muscle, joints, organs, and—most importantly—our brain.
When these approaches are used, one will look good for their age—youthful and not artificially young—and their health and vitality will be evident to all around them. The first step in adopting an individualized protocol of anti-aging—or, rather, healthy longevity—is to become educated about the science of our bodies as they age, which is the intent of this book.
In actuality, this science has been around for a very long time, and current research is essentially confirming the wisdom of the science of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ancient Chinese medical texts describe this practice of longevity in Chinese medicine as Yang Sheng, or nurturing life.
Lest you get disappointed and think this is a book about Chinese Medicine, be assured it is not. This book is based on the latest, cutting-edge research, but it’s surprising how the latest research confirms the rich legacy of Ancient Chinese Medicine.
Let me provide some background on how this book came about. As you may guess, my training is in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas and lifestyle practices. For me, Chinese Medicine is an observational medicine that closely matches my own life, where there have been a series of “that’s interesting” observations culminating in many “aha” moments. The following is a roadmap of some of those valuable “aha” moments, which ended with the realization that I needed to write this book.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Daoist medicine, is based on theories that our cells are born with a quality that ancient Daoists called Jing, commonly translated as essence. The Jing is passed from the parents to the fetus at conception—in particular, from the kidneys of the mother. Jing determines basic constitution, strength, and vitality, and the preservation of Jing is integral to the ideas of longevity. Many Chinese herbal medical practices are devised to preserve the Jing.
At some point, I heard the term “Mitochondrial Eve.” We’ll discuss mitochondria throughout this book, but, briefly, mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles (a specialized component of a cell that has a specific function) that are the power generators of the cell, converting oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate, the energy that powers the cell's metabolic activities.
Mitochondria are inherited maternally, so if we trace our genetic lineage from child to mother to maternal grandmother and so on, Mitochondrial Eve would be the mother of all mothers. She’s thought to have lived in Africa approximately 170,000 years ago. This doesn’t necessarily mean she was the first human, or, at least, the first female; it only means she’s the most recent ancestor common to all humans living today. The reason we can trace our ancestry this way is because all mitochondria have their own DNA (“genes”), which is normally passed on to our children only in the mother’s egg, not in the father’s sperm.
That was one of those “that’s interesting” observations. Ancient Chinese Medicine had theorized that our basic essence, Jing in the Chinese medicine world, was being passed down from the mother. And current research indicates that there exists a Mitochondrial Eve.
Another ongoing “that’s interesting” observation relates to the current research on Chinese herbs. Traditional Chinese Medicine has an extensive history—going back some several thousand years—of using tonics made of herbs to support health and extend lifespan as well as using Jing (essence) formulas to extend one’s life.
Not surprisingly, research into the physiological actions of herb tonics has exploded in the last 20 years. Two Jing “superstar” herbs that have received a lot of attention lately and are discussed in this book are Astragalus (Huang Q), and Polygonum cuspidatum (Hu Zhang).
Astragalus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, often in combination with other herbs, to tone and strengthen the body. Modern research shows that Astragalus slows formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and supports learning and memory—both of which are discussed in later chapters.
Astragalus is also the primary active ingredient in traditional Chinese Medicine formulas for cardiovascular support. This benefit is supported by a recent study that found Astragalus to be especially effective at protecting the aorta from damaging effects of high levels of free fatty acids (FFAs).
Polygonum cuspidatum (Hu Zhang) historically was used in Chinese Medicine for quickening blood circulation to dissipate stasis, dispelling wind, removing obstructions in the acupuncture channels, clearing heat, and promoting diuresis and detoxification. Recent research has identified that Polygonum cuspidatum contains an isolate called resveratrol, which activates an enzymatic chemical called Sirtuin-1. This compound is required for the cellular autophagic response (clearing and replacing of cellular components). Research also shows that caloric deprivation, or patterns of fasting, plays a significant role in this autophagic response that appears at the heart of longevity mechanisms. This research suggests that all of these components play a symbiotic role in a holistic treatment protocol for longevity.
Compare the recent research to the methodical development and refinement of Chinese medicine essence tonic herbs and formulas that occurred over time periods measured in centuries—and, in some cases, thousands of years. This slower, empirical approach resulted in a huge and sophisticated body of knowledge, gathered over the course of dozens of generations and life spans, that revealed (with a high degree of accuracy) which herbs and herbal formulas work best, which ones are problematic, and which ones belong to the class of “Jing tonics,” recognized for their ability to safely support “radiant health,” defined in Traditional Chinese Medicine as “health beyond danger.”
Again, this was one of those “that’s interesting” observations. It was with a sense of wonderment that I discovered how the depth of holistic knowledge passed down over the centuries aligns with what current research confirms.
My observations began to coalesce around my clinic practice. I work with patients who are dealing with fertility issues using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and lifestyle changes with good success. Occasionally, I’d have a patient who did well on the protocol and would get pregnant, but, within the first three months, the pregnancy would fail.
As I researched this problem, several factors stood out that could be causative.
First, during the first three months of life, the embryo goes through a tremendous growth spurt, going from a single cell to millions of specialized cells. This growth requires energy.
Second, a human female has about 1,000,000 undeveloped eggs in her ovaries at birth, but only when she reaches puberty and begins ovulation do select, immature eggs begin to move through a one-year cycle, culminating in a mature egg ready for ovulation. During the development phase, the egg is under the influence of the body's nutritional status—and requires energy to develop.
The fully developed egg, when released from the ovary, contains about 100,000 mitochondria. Now, compare that to a single sperm, which contains approximately 100 mitochondria. The image that comes to mind to demonstrate the relationship between the egg and the sperm is a large planet (the egg) floating in the void with all these little rocket ships (sperm) circling it, looking for entry.
The mitochondria contained within the egg supply the energy to accomplish this first trimester of rapid growth. If the mitochondria are defective and unable to provide the necessary energy to sustain this rapid growth, there will be a miscarriage. With that understanding, I modified the fertility treatment protocols to avoid sugars and carbohydrates, and I incorporated supplements that specifically targeted the mitochondria energy-production pathways.
At that time, I looked at the mitochondria as an egg-quality-related problem—yet another “that’s interesting” observation—and just moved on in my practice. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the topic of mitochondria came up again.
I was working with a patient who’d recently suffered a stroke and was experiencing symptoms of post-stroke sequelae (after-effects). From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the earlier the symptoms are treated after the stroke, the greater the chance for improvement.
To that end, I was researching Chinese herbs or isolates of herbs to help nourish the heart and improve oxygen supply, and I came across a book entitled The Sinatra Solution. It was written by Stephen Sinatra, MD, a cardiologist. The book is an easy weekend read and really not very technical, but is well referenced.
The book was profound for me. First, it pinpointed dysfunctional mitochondria as driving most cardiovascular disease issues. Dysfunctional not from the view of genetics but from lifestyle issues such as excessive consumption of carbohydrates and sugar, lack of exercise, and shallow breathing—all of which hindered the mitochondria’s ability to produce energy for a constantly beating heart.
Secondly—and this one was amazing for me—a cardiologist (Dr. Sinatra) who would normally suggest bypass surgery or heart stents was recommending nutritional protocols for cardiovascular issues. Most importantly, many of the nutritional support strategies Sinatra recommended were those I was already using in the fertility protocols to strengthen egg quality. This was exciting for me, as I realized this mitochondrial approach extended well beyond heart and fertility issues and, in fact, represented a holistic approach to our health.
This was my big “aha” moment and the inspiration to write this book. In essence, this is a continuation of a long history in Chinese Medicine of writing about life-extending formulas and practices.
Fundamentally, there’s a root cause addressed in this book—a root cause of increased body fat and reduced lean muscle mass, low energy levels and inefficient metabolism, increased low-grade inflammation, inadequate performance, accelerated aging, and, unfortunately for some, premature death. The treatment principle is stated in Chinese Medicine as:
Yi Bing Tong Zhi
One disease, different treatments;
Tong Bing Yi Zhi
Different diseases, one treatment.
This statement means that patients with the same disease diagnosis may receive entirely different treatments if their presenting patterns are different. Conversely, patients with different disease diagnoses may receive essentially the same treatments if their presenting patterns are the same.
While these aspects of our general health might seem vastly diverse and impossibly related to a single cause, you’ll learn, while reading this book, there is a single causative factor—our mitochondria, which can manifest as one disease pattern or many different disease patterns. I can assure you, of all the important components of the cells in our bodies, none are more important than mitochondria. However, this book will show you how to take control of and increase your energy reserves to make them more efficient. The far-reaching benefits will impact every aspect of your general health and wellbeing.
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