Can Humans Live Longer?: What we can learn about anti-aging from mynah birds, fruit flies and leeches

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The
number of Americans age 65 or older has increased ten told in the
last century and the elderly are living longer. In 1900 there were
about 3.1 million people over the age of 65 in the USA. Today there
are more than 35 million retirees and this figure is expected to
leap to 70 million by the year 2030. In 1900, 65-year olds could
expect to live another 12 years. Today they can expect to live an
additional 18 years.1 There are even an estimated
35,000 centenarians living in the USA today. But these achievements
in longevity have only whetted the appetite of humans to reach for
even greater prolongation of human life. Yet, while Americans are
living longer, the maximum human life span hasn’t budged.

Throughout
history females have outlived males. The difference is about five
to eight years on average. Some females living in the same environment
and eating the same diet as their spouse will outlive their husbands
by a couple of decades. Those who pursue anti-aging technologies
often overlook this important point.

Estrogen
effect is small

The
idea that estrogen is reponsible for the increased longevity of
females has served as a distraction. The majority of the life extension
attributed to estrogen, about 2.3 years, occurs only among women
with coronary artery disease who take hormones. Estrogen replacement
therapy only adds about 0.3 years of additional life if for healthy
women if begun at age 50 years.2 Furthermore,
the decreased mortality rates with the use of replacement hormones
appears to wear off over time.3

Women
control iron, and live longer

Women
live longer because they are better designed to withstand the rigors
of life. Women, being the baby carriers of the species, must be
protected from disease for human life to skirt extinction. Women
better control iron in their bodies and thus outlast men. During
the growing years both males and females require iron to produce
hemoglobin for the production of red blood cells. Because the human
body is growing rapidly during youth and more blood volume is needed,
there is little danger of iron overload. But once full growth has
been achieved, around age 18, the demand for iron is relaxed and
about one excess milligram of iron per day of life accumulates thereafter
in the body. But at this point females avoid iron overload by virtue
of their monthly menstrual cycle. About 80 percent of the iron stores
in the body are in the red blood cells and females will lose about
30-60 milligrams of iron with the monthly cycle. On the other hand,
males have no direct route for the disposal of excess iron and by
the age of 40 have as much iron as a 70-year old female, about 5000-7000
milligrams of excess stored iron. A 40-year old male will have twice
the iron load as a female and will experience twice the rate of
diabetes, cancer, heart disease and infections. Bacteria, viruses
and fungi all utilize iron as a primary growth factor, so lower
iron levels in females protect them from infection.4

Females
who have undergone early hysterectomy or who have entered menopause
lose their control of iron and begin to experience the same rate
of disease as males. Females at age 45 have an advantage of about
5-8 more remaining years of life than males. But at age 80 this
advantage shrinks to just two years. This is because now both sexes
have lost any direct outlet for iron.

Blood
loss is a method of controlling stored iron levels. For example,
full-grown males, or females who no longer control iron via monthly
blood loss, but who regularly donate blood are healthier. Even blood
letting, practiced long ago, is returning to conventional medicine
to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and diabetes.
Blood-sucking leaches could theoretically protect against age-related
iron overload and thus promote longevity, though blood letting is
currently the preferred method.5

Calorie
or iron restriction?

Iron
is the single most important factor in the control of aging. Yet
anti-aging researchers recognize calorie restriction as the only
proven method of slowing down the aging process. However, the calorie
restriction model of anti-aging has only been proven in rodents
to date. It’s going to take another 10-15 years to determine if
this also occurs in larger animals such as monkeys.6
According to data at hand, it would take a 30% reduction in calories
over a human lifespan to significantly slow aging in humans. Calorie
restriction lowers body temperature, reduces cholesterol, triglycerides
and blood pressure, elevates HDL cholesterol and reduces arterty
stiffness.7 But there is more to the
story.

Studies
of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) may help to understand
the supremacy of iron control in the aging process. Fruit flies
are often used in aging studies because of their short life span,
maybe 50-70 days. Insects have inborn mechanisms to control iron
similar to humans. Insects control iron by iron-binding proteins
(ferritin, transferrin).8 Excessive
iron has been found to be the initiator of aging in fruit flies.9

Researchers
at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio,
Texas, measured the aging rate of mice at 6, 12 and 24 months by
determining the level of oxidation (rusting of tissues) in various
organs. The more food these animals consumed the more iron that
accumulated in their tissues and the greater the oxidation (aging).
As early as 1985 researchers proposed that the rate of age-related
iron accumulation correlates with the life span of some species.
The accumulation of iron in these rodents did not occur till growth
had been completed. After that time iron levels increased in the
liver by 140 percent and the kidney by 44 percent. The liver and
brain experience the greatest iron buildup with advancing age. An
iron-restricted diet minimized the oxidation levels in the liver,
kidney and brain with advancing age.10

The
lifespan of the fruit fly has been found to be proportional to the
iron content in the diet. The life span of humans has been correlated
with mice and the fruit fly. Consumption of tea extracts, which
bind iron and inhibit its absorption, has been found to inhibit
the age-related accumulation of iron and prolong life in the fruit
fly by as much as 21 percent.11 So
calorie restriction may not be the only way to prolong human life.

Progressive
iron overload is universal

Another
problem in understanding the iron overload model of aging is that
it is often characterized as being a genetically-acquired disease
rather than a universal aging factor. Iron overload is called a
disease, hemochromatosis, and it is mistakenly believed to only
affect about 1 million Americans. It is usually diagnosed between
the ages of 40-60 years. The growing years and menstruation usually
mask the problem till middle age. Iron overload is not just a genetic
disease. Furthermore, since fertile females and growing children
are often deficient in iron (anemia) due to the high demands for
this mineral, nutritionists have often overemphasized the problem
of anemia without warning full-grown males and females who no longer
have monthly cycles of the dangers of iron overload.12

For
example, adult males should not eat a bowl of Total cereal (General
Mills) for breakfast which provides a full 18 milligrams of iron
per serving, 100% of the daily requirement, per bowl. Do you know
any males who eat just one bowl of cereal? Many consume a couple
of bowls for breakfast and may through meat eating get three to
four times more iron than they need on a daily basis. There is no
warning on the label for full-grown males to steer clear of Total
cereal.

It’s
not that iron should be totally avoided. The body needs some replacement
iron to make red blood cells. Dietary iron is OK, even from meat.
Only 5 percent of iron in plant foods is available, vs. 30 to 50
percent of iron from meat.13 Meat
is not the culprit, it is the lack of molecules in the diet that
control iron that makes iron a rusting agent (see below). A little
meat is needed to keep us from becoming anemic, the flip side of
iron nutrition. Supplememental iron should be avoided for full-grown
males and females who no longer have monthly cycles. Niether do
iron tablets in stores carry a warning label for full-grown males
and postmenopausal females. Ironically, females who have higher
iron needs in their fertile years may crave iron-rich foods, such
as meats. If the women do the cooking in the family household and
they prepare foods to meet their own nutritional needs, loading
upon on iron-rich meat, they may hasten the demise of their male
spouse.

Humans
consume about 30 milligrams of iron per day from the diet, but only
a small portion is absorbed. But the addtion of alcohol to a meal
greatly increases the absorption of iron. Iron overload disease
is strongly associated with alcohol consumption. Compared to alcoholic
spirits, red wine is low in iron and contains the iron-binding pigments
from grapes, which may explain some of the health benefits attributed
to wine.14

Mynah
birds and longevity

Any
animal or human can develop iron overload disease. The study of
the mynah bird reveals some secrets of iron and longevity. Iron
overload in mynah birds has been likened to iron overload disease
(hemochromatosis) in humans.15 While
some mynah birds live in the wild as long as 20 years or more, mynah
birds in captivity often die early of iron storage disease, usually
by the age of 10. This problem is attributed to iron-rich bird feed.
[www.mynadbird.com]

Mynah
birds in the wild are fruit eaters and the favorite fruit is figs.
Figs are relatively high in iron. Yet the wild mynah birds don’t
develop iron overload. Figs are high in iron-binding pigments (tannins)
that bind iron and render it harmless. Starlings are birds that
are similar to mynah birds in that they are fruit eaters. When starlings
are fed a diet high in iron along with natural iron binders (tannins),
such as found in figs, tea, and grapes (wine), the starling don’t
accumulate iron in their liver and none of the birds develop iron
overload.16 Tannins are potent binders
(chelators) of iron.17

Iron-binding
plant pigments also have been shown to extend the lifespan of the
fruit fly. In one study the survival of fruit flies exposed to an
herbicide (paraquat) was about 56 percent and when iron was added
the survival rate dropped even lower. But when the herbicide was
fed to the fruit flies with an iron binder commonly found in green
tea (catechin), the survival rate jumped to 78-87 percent.18

Most
health practices control iron

Most
of the health-promoting practices of modern life unknowingly control
iron. For example, taking an aspirin a day to prevent heart attacks
and strokes causes blood loss via the digestive tract on the order
of about a tablespoon per day. This results in iron loss.19
Aspirin also appears to increase the production of ferritin, an
iron-binding protein produced in the liver that prevents iron from
inducing oxidation.20 By exercising,
a person loses about 1 milligram of iron through sweat.21

Fasting
and vegetarian diets, both of which promote longevity in animals
and humans, limit iron consumption because plant foods provide non-heme
iron which is poorly absorbed.

According
to one study, when you sit down to eat a meal consisting of a hamburger,
string beans and mashed potatoes, the addition of coffee, which
contains iron-binding pigments, will reduce iron absorption by 35
percent. Green tea will reduce iron absorption even further, by
62 percent.22

Vitamin
C increases iron absorption

Orange
juice increases iron absorption by 85 percent by virtue of its vitamin
C content. 22

While
vitamin C increases iron absorption,23
there is no evidence that vitamin C leads to iron overload. Thus
vitamin C should not be avoided by meat-eaters for this reason,
since studies show high-dose vitamin C supplements are associated
with a decreased risk for heart disease, cancer, cataracts and other
disorders.24 A vegetarian diet does
not generally cause iron-deficiency anemia because there is more
vitamin C in plant-food diets, which enhances iron absorption.25

Bind
that iron

Grapes
have a relatively large amount of iron, but you don’t see any rusty
grapes. The reason is that grapes, like the figs that mynah birds
eat, have those iron-binding pigments that tightly bind to iron.
In healthy individuals there is little if any unbound iron circulating
in the blood. In all states of disease, however, unbound iron (also
called free iron) is released at sites of inflammation, tumors and
infection, and can spark uncontrolled oxidation (rusting) and tissue
destruction.26

Fortunately,
there are numerous automatic mechanisms in the body that help to
control iron. For instance, melanin is an iron-binding pigment in
the skin. The liver makes binding proteins called ferritin, transferrin
and lactoferrin, to bind to iron as it enters the circulatory system.27

The
diet also provides some potent iron binders. Iron-binding pigments
found in berries, coffee, green tea, pine bark, onions and the rind
of citrus fruits, and phytic acid (a component of whole grains and
seeds such as sesame and rice bran) bind to iron and other minerals
in the gastric tract and help to limit iron availability.

If
bioflavonoids and phytic acid haven’t bound to minerals in the digestive
tract they will get into the bloodstream, where they can bind to
free iron, acting as blood-cleansing iron chelators. Therefore,
maximum iron chelation in the blood circulation is achieved when
these iron binders are consumed apart from meals.

How
to remove (chelate) excess iron (rust) from the body

The
question is, what can adult males, or females who have not menstruated
for years, do to remove the excess iron from their body stores?
Chelation therapy is what is needed, the removal of the excess iron.
Alternative medical specialists offer to perform chelation therapy
via the intravenous administration of EDTA, a mineral chelator.
Intravenous chelation therapy requires many treatments, maybe 30
or 40, and is somewhat costly ($3000-4000). Conventional medicine
also has a mineral-chelating drug, desferrioxamine, but it is sparingly
used because of side effects.

Nature’s
most potent rust remover is phytic acid, commonly found in whole
grains, seeds and nuts. Phytic acid – also called inositol
hexaphosphate, or IP6 – is comprised of six phosphorus molecules
and one molecule of inositol. IP6 is provided as a food supplement
extracted from rice bran (Tsuno Foods & Rice Co., Wakayama,
Japan). Bran cereal has some IP6 in it, but it is already bound
to minerals. The IP6 extract imported from Japan is 70 percent unbound,
ready to selectively chelate (attach to) minerals as it enters the
human circulatory system.28 IP6 doesn’t
remove minerals from bones or other needed minerals, it just removes
the free unbound iron, copper, calcium, and heavy metals such as
mercury, lead and cadmium. IP6 has little or no affinity for sodium,
potassium, and magnesium, the important electrolyte minerals required
for proper heart rhythm. Taken in between meals with water, IP6
can rid the body of excessive iron and other minerals in a short
period of time, 30-90 days. Once bound to IP6 the excess minerals
are excreted via the urinary flow. IP6 rice bran extract is an unheralded
but potent anti-aging therapy.

The
iron stores in your body will control the severity of disease and
longevity. Learning how to control iron is a major, if not the primary,
anti-aging factor in living organisms. The pursuit of long life
requires the control of iron.

References

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  3. Grodstein
    F, et al, Postmenopausal hormone therapy and mortality, New
    England J Med, 336: 1769-75, 1997.
  4. Weinberg
    ED, Iron loading and disease surveillance, Emerging Infectious
    Diseases 5: May-June, 1999.
  5. Weintraug
    LR, Current uses of phlebotomy therapy, Hospital Practice,
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    Research Service, USDA Bulletin, Dec. 23, 1998.
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  17. Lopes GK,
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  20. Oberle
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February
15, 2002

Bill
Sardi [send him mail] is a health
journalist, consumer advocate and president of Knowledge of Health,
Inc, San Dimas, California. He is the author of the book The
Iron Time Bomb
.
His website is www.askbillsardi.com.

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