This month, I have managed to consume another three books that relate, at least tangentially, to keto. The ketogenic diet comes up as part of the discussion in each volume. Each is more concerned with our biology at the cellular level, however. All three represent a relatively hands-on approach to aging, and what we can personally do to influence the process. I enjoyed reading all three, though ultimately the first volume, Lifespan, turned into something of a struggle.
Dr David Sinclair: Lifespan
Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To
The first two-thirds of this book is a fascinating read. Dr Sinclair gives us a deep and interesting insight into the nature of growing old. He explains with great lucidity the ‘information theory’ of againg. He explains in great detail how aging can be thought of as a gradual loss of information. Over iterations, the epigenetic information slowly loses its integrity and the instructions to the cells become increasingly less precise.
Although access to the information is lost over time, it seems that the original information maintains its integrity. The problem is in the process of epigenetic communication. This gives the hope that restoration of that communication process can effectively be used to rejuvenate the cells. If this could be achieved, aging could not only be slowed but even reversed. Dr Sinclair goes into great detail about the signalling role of sirtuins (Silent information Regulator 2, or SIRT proteins) in metabolic regulation. To function adequately, sirtuins need adequate amounts of NAD+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) to fuel them. It turns out that ensuring we have adequate amounts of NAD+ is just one of the things we can do to hold back aging via their role in fueling the sirtuins, thus allowing them to function more effectively.
The book helpfully goes into several other ways that we can personally utilise to slow down the aging process. Dr Sinclair even goes so far as to provide a list of relatively simple, straightforward measures, that we can all include as part of our lives on a very practical level.
I think if the book had finished at that stage I would have been hugely satisfied. It was informative, interesting, amusing, and challenging. Everything one could ask of a book written on such a relatively complex subject. Unfortunately, it does not stop there. The author adds on a section in which he discusses the possible implications of his work for the future.
Admittedly, there are some very valid moral and ethical points made. Such questions need to be aired and discussed. Regrettably, the author does not stop there and instead lapses into political discussion. Perfectly allowable, of course, but at least leaven it with a little humour and a degree of balance. Dr Sinclair is concerned, apparently, that longer-lived people may turn out to be more conservative. Heaven forbid! He then goes on to press all the achingly predictable buttons. We hear about LGBT rights, gender issues, colonialism, racism, how the West’s wealth is built on slavery, and so on, and so forth.
This is all rather lamentable and somewhat spoils an otherwise fine book. Even though the first two parts were somewhat technical at times, I found that I raced through them easily. They were a very enjoyable reading experience. I felt spurred onwards by the excitement of discovery and revelation as each new facet of the process was revealed. Sadly, the last part was completed out of a sense of duty. I wanted to be able to honestly say I had read the book before writing this review.
A very good book. But it could have been a great book with a little more restraint from the author.
James Clement: The Switch
Activate Your Metabolism for a Healthier Life
I came across this volume on Amazon after browsing for books related to longevity. Surprisingly, I had not heard it referred to before. I was also unaware of the work of its author: James Clement. Having read the blurb, it seemed to be just the sort of volume that I would enjoy. How right I was!
This is an excellent read from beginning to end. Oddly, for a somewhat technical book, the pace never slackens. It is as entertaining and informative in the last chapter as it is in the first. The writing is fluid and smooth, the ideas amusing yet pertinent, the underlying point profound. This was one of the best reading experiences I have had for many a year.
James Clement, who penned this volume, is an interesting character in his own right. He started his adult life studying to be a lawyer, but after reading ‘Life Extension‘ by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, he decided that what he really wanted to do was to study the biological mechanisms of aging. On making this decision, he announced it to his wife who promptly told him that he was going to do no such thing! His dream was put on the back burner for a few decades whilst he built a successful legal career. Later in life, though, he was able to return to his fascination with the aging process and become a scientist in the field of life extension. Although never taking formal qualifications, he is looked upon with great respect In the field.
The switch referred to in the title is that between two possible states that our bodies can be in; mTOR (mechanistic Target Of Rapamycin) and autophagy. The first is anabolic (concerned with building up tissues), the second is catabolic (concerned with recycling and repair, particularly at the cellular level).
mTOR is kick-started by the ingestion of foodstuffs, particularly proteins and carbohydrates. It is a much-needed function of the body, necessary if we are to avoid such dreaded states as sarcopenia and the breakdown of the body. It can also be destructive, though. If we are continuously switched to mTOR we increase the likelihood of cellular damage and even such maladies as cancer, interstitial lung disease, and hypertension.
Autophagy, on the other hand, is elicited through fasting and exercise. It is essentially the body’s repair and recycling mechanism at an intracellular level. Within our cells, there is an organelle known as a phagosome. Their role is to collect cellular debris such as misfolded proteins and other damaged organelles somewhat like a kind of cellular Pacman. At this stage, the phagosome fuses with a lysosome. The latter has an enzyme which will break down the cellular debris so that it can be recycled within the cell.
Clement explains that the switch between mTOR and autophagy is not binary in nature. Rather, it is more akin to a dimmer switch. At any one time, it can be favouring either mTOR or autophagy. Being too long in either state can have harmful consequences. Because of this, Clement suggests a way of life and eating that promotes the conscious switching between mTOR and autophagy, thus hoping to reap the benefits of each whilst avoiding the dangers of spending too long in either.
All in all, the book does a great job explaining these relatively complex processes and how they relate to aging and longevity. Clement does this in such a way that most people will be able to understand the need to use the switch wisely. If they can do so, they are likely to reap considerable benefits in terms of health and lifespan. Not only does the author achieve his aim, but he also manages to do so in a thoroughly entertaining and inspirational way. ‘The Switch’ is a very good read and one that I would highly recommend.
David Perlmutter: Grain Brain
The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers
My final book this month is ‘Grain Brain’ by Dr David Perlmutter. The book was originally published in 2014. Back then, the notion that grains could be at the base of many neurological problems would have been very controversial. Since then, there has been a wealth of studies published that have demonstrated the dangers of any diet that is over-reliant on grains, or even carbohydrates in general.
Dr Perlmutter has the distinction of not only being a certificated neurologist but also a well-qualified nutritionist. Back when he originally wrote the book, this was somewhat unusual. In fact, he may have been the one and only health practitioner so qualified. This gave him a somewhat unique perspective on the problems his patients were experiencing.
The book mixes theoretical ideas and practical examples. Using this mechanism, it allows Dr Perlmutter to demonstrate to his readers how celiac and gluten problems are not just related to the gut, as had been previously believed, but affect the whole body, particularly the brain. The problem can be that many of the neurological problems do not manifest themselves in such obvious ways as those affecting our stomachs. They are, none the less, extremely disruptive and dangerous.
Dr Perlmutter believes that as many as nine out of ten people affected by consuming grains may be suffering on the neurological level. If this is true, and that seems now to be very likely, then we are in the midst of a virtual epidemic caused by the effects of gluten. This is the same gluten that we find in so many of the products that are fundamental to healthy diet recommendations both hear and the US. I sometimes wonder if the food pyramid, with its so-called ‘healthy grains’ at the base, would not be better if it were inverted. The odd wheat-based treat could be consumed every now and again, but they should never be used as the main source of our calories.
The book goes on from the clearly setting out the theory and the evidence, to outlining exactly what we can do about it. The approach is non-pharmaceutical; the author wishes his readers to make lifestyle changes, rather than just looking for a ‘magic pill’. To achieve this end, he recommends a range of relatively easily obtainable supplements such as DHA, Resveratrol, Turmeric, and Vitamin d.
Finally, there are also lifestyle recommendations. These are all, more or less, easily implemented in one’s life. They go from diet to exercise to regular sleep. All play a vital role in slowing aging and helping us to maintain health. There is even a section that gives a range of simple recipes to help the reader implement the changes he recommends.
All in all, this is a fine book. The style manages to be both sufficiently detailed and informative, yet very direct and hard-hitting. Dr Perlmutter has written several other books along similar lines which may well form part of my reading canon in the months to come.
This month’s books have provided a month of very informative reading, especially in regards to longevity and the aging process. As ever in these matters, behind each new door is another door. Over the last year, I have gone from a basic interest in health and lifestyle to delving deeply into cellular biology and longevity. Although these three books may be evidence of how far I have come on this journey, they are also indicative of just how much further I still have to go. All three I would recommend in themselves, although I was somewhat disappointed with the political turn that ‘Lifespan’ took. It seemed somewhat irrelevant and spoilt an otherwise great book. ‘The Switch’ was the most enjoyable for me, but ‘Grain Brain’ was also very stimulating.