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Will Avoiding Dietary Sugar Prolong Life?

Nobody has yet shown any way to extend the life span of humans. However, both exercise and calorie restriction (with adequate nutrients) have been shown to extend the life span of animals. Both of these measures apparently extend life by increasing the number and size of mitochondria in cells and making them turn food into energy more efficiently. Each cell in your body contains up to several hundred mitochondria which provide the most efficient chemical reactions in your body for converting food into energy.

An exciting study on worms offers a potential method to prolong life and good health. When blood sugar levels rise too high, sugar enters cells in large amounts. An earlier study showed that adding sugar to the diet of the worm, C. Elegans, shortens its life (Cell Metabolism, October 2007). Now the researchers have found that preventing sugar from entering cells by altering the genes for DAF-2, DAF-16 and Heat Shock Factor-1 causes the same changes as avoiding sugar and extends the worms' life span up to 20 percent (Cell Metabolism, November 2009). These benefits could also occur in humans because we have the same three genes that control sugar entry into cells as those of the worms.

Calorie restriction and exercise probably prolong life by the same mechanism: they enlarge and activate mitochondria in cells that turn food to energy. This helps mitochondria to clear free radicals much more rapidly from the body. Free radicals can damage cells and therefore shorten life. The worms' cells responded to the absence of sugar inside cells by increasing their ability to clear free radicals from their bodies which prolonged their lives. Indeed, when sugar was allowed to again enter their cells, they still could clear free radicals faster and live longer because their enlarged mitochondria were more efficient in removing free radicals.

This research on worms questions the way doctors treat type II diabetes when they prescribe drugs to lower blood sugar levels by driving sugar into cells. The best treatment may be to develop diets and drugs that prevent blood sugar from entering cells in the first place.

For now, we know that you will shorten your life and increase risk for many diseases by allowing blood sugar levels to rise too high after meals. A diet that keeps sugar from rising too high after meals (and reduces the entry of sugar into cells) can prevent diabetes, help control all the side effects of diabetes (JAMA, December 16, 2008), cause the most weight loss, and allow many type II diabetics to safely stop their medications (Nutrition and Metabolism, January 2009). Avoid foods that cause the highest rise in blood sugar levels: sugar in liquid form (sugared drinks, fruit juices, and adding sugar to any drink); foods made from flour (bread, spaghetti, macaroni, pretzels, bagels and so forth); and foods with added sugar.

You should also exercise every day. Exercise causes muscles to remove sugar from the bloodstream at a very rapid rate and this effect lasts maximally for about half hour after you stop exercising, then tapers off until it stops completely after about 17 hours. Furthermore, since lack of vitamin D causes high blood sugar levels, you should make sure that your blood level of vitamin D3 is above 75 nmol/L (see the note on new vitamin D recommendations below).

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How can I tell when I'm getting too cold during outdoor sports?

Your body sends you signals when your temperature starts to drop. With a one degree drop in body temperature, your speech becomes slurred. This serves as a warning that you are losing more heat than your body is producing. Seek shelter or conserve heat by adding more layers of clothes.

With a drop of three degrees, you will find it difficult to coordinate your fingers. Seek shelter immediately. When your temperature drops five degrees, you won't be able to walk and you will stumble and fall and probably not be able to get up. Your body temperature can continue to drop rapidly and you may die. If your clothes are wet, your temperature will drop even faster.

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New recommendations on vitamin D

At the University of Toronto School of Medicine's "Diagnosis and Treatment of Vitamin D Deficiency" conference on November 3, 2009, thirty of the world's leading researchers on vitamin D recommended 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily (the current recommendation is 600 IU). Vitamin D3 blood levels should be 100-150 nmol/L (40-60 ng/ml); the existing recommendation is 30-50 nmol/L.

Vitamin D pioneer Dr. Cedric Garland presented data showing that raising vitamin D levels to 200 nmol/L decreased breast cancer risk more than 77 percent. He said: "Breast cancer is a disease so directly related to vitamin D deficiency that a woman's risk of contracting the disease can be virtually eradicated by elevating her vitamin D status to near that level." Recent work has shown that all cells in the body have "vitamin D receptors" to control normal cell growth. Garland presented new evidence that low vitamin D status compromises the integrity of calcium-based cellular bonding within tissues, which allows rogue cancer cells to spread more readily.

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with at least 24 cancers, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, falls and fractures, psoriasis and many other health problems.
More on Vitamin D

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Recipe of the Week:

Spaghetti Squash Soup
About Spaghetti Squash

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June 22nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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