How to live longer and better

By Dr Harold Gunatillake,
Talk delivered to the Senior Citizens of Kandy at the Kandy club.

Most of us believe that we have an encoded life span registered even before birth, according to oral traditions, religious beliefs in destiny and Karma. This is mythical and is not really true. Some take this myth beyond to their own advantage to indulge, and careless about the health, and well being. Hundred years ago our ancestors died young at 50 years. Today people live a good 80 years, the reasons been, better knowledge of health requirements, improved sanitary environments, eradication of chronic illness that killed us prematurely, and for many other reasons.

My talk today is to enlighten you that living longer and better is not difficult, and is quite easy with a bit of motivation, self determination, and change of life style.

First of all let me say a few words about the importance of controlling your body weight. One should really have a scale in the bathroom to step on it every morning, routinely, and record oneís body weight.

It has been proven that people who are over weight die sooner. Losing weight reduces the risk of diabetes, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure, and makes our joints less susceptible to arthritis. If you need to lose weight, knowing your healthy weight range provided in charts, gives you something to aim for. The heart, as you know, is the hardest working muscle in your body, beats 60 to 100 times a minute, pumping thousands of litres of blood through your veins everyday. Over oneís lifetime it beats 2.5 billion times. Obesity will strain the heart muscles, because the heart needs to pump with more force to provide nutrients and oxygen to the extra body mass, thus overstraining the pump. Remember you donít have to starve yourself. You can make good food choices that have less fat and sugar, and gradually your waist will reappear. When men get fat we describe their tummy shape akin to an orange, whilst ladies are compared to a pear.

Let us now talk on foods that are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients your body needs to maintain optimal health, and also touch on foods that you should avoid or eat the least amount. It is important to state generally - "eat the food that you dislike, and keep away from your delights".

Take for instance carrots. Eating atleast two carrots a day gives you so much of nutrient value. It cleanses your bowels, and detoxifies the toxins produced within. When eaten raw, they are good for lazy bowels, also dilutes the bowel carcinogens, reduce the absorption of cholesterol. Studies have shown that beta-carotenes in carrots reduces the risk of strokes in men suffering from heart disease.

Beta carotene is an anti-oxidant, also referred to as Pro-vitamin A, good for those who suffer from night blindness.

Let me now say a few words about Garlic, recommended by herbalists, and used by Ayurvedic physicians so freely. Garlic does reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the gut, and lowers the risk of heart disease. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure, by making the peripheral arteries more soft and flexible. Garlic is rich in oligosaccharides used by the friendly bacteria in the gut. It has also been suggested that garlic has antibiotic qualities and kills bacteria and viruses. It has anti-inflammatory qualities and hence good for all types of arthritis. It is good for indigestion and heart burn. So boil the whole clove in boiling water, then remove the skin to retain the vitamin C and other nutrients, and enjoy atleast one clove a day.

You know what cruciferous vegetables are. Brocoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, turnip, knoll coil, and radishes, contain flavonoid that activates the liver detoxifying enzymes. These crucifers possess anti-cancer properties, and also contains anti-oxidants.

Citrus foods are good for you, Grapefruits, oranges, lemon and limes, contain large amounts of vitamin C, fibre, coumarins which keeps your blood thin by preventing platelets agglutination, thus reducing the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. These citrus fruits are rich in folic acid, and reduces the absorption of cholesterol.

Now letís talk about mushrooms, an important ingredient in Chinese medicine. They help to promote health and longevity. They also enhance the immune system, reduces the risk of cancer and energises the heart muscle. Mushrooms also lowers blood pressure.

I will now talk about tomatoes. The red ripe tomatoes has Iycopene which has anti-oxidant properties, and also protects the body against degenerative diseases. People around the mediteranean region eat plenty of tomatoes in their food, and it is noted that the incidence of prostatic cancer among the men is very low.

The foods that we eat can be simply classified as complex carbohydrates, such as the vegetables I have already briefed, wholemeal bread, pastas, noodles, and rice. These complex carbohydrates possess high fibre, and hence digested and absorbed through the gut very slowly. They are good for you. On the other hand the soluble carbohydrates have no fibre, and are absorbed through the gut fast. They are the soluble sugars, deserts, chocolates, sweets, etc. They are bad for you. These sugars are metabolised in the liver and the excess is converted into fat. Fructose in fruits are good for you, as they are converted into sugar much slowly before metabolised.

Then comes the proteins. There are the animal proteins and vegetable proteins. Vegetarians need to eat more quantities of lentils, legumes, beans, to supply the extra protein requirements. All meats have plenty of fat on the surface and within the muscle tissue. Fat should be trimmed off the surface to obtain lean cuts of meat, chicken and turkey without the skin are preferred. Fish is an excellent protein. Fish contains over 20% of fat. This is good fat, I shall talk on that subject in a moment. These animal protein foods needs to be cooked by baking, poaching, stirfrying, or steaming to drain the fat content. Avoid frying as much as possible, as it adds calories, and adds to the toxic loads of the body.

Now letís talk about fats. Fats in food are classified as 1) saturated fats 2) Unsaturated fats. The latter is further split into mono unsaturated and poly unsaturated fats. The third variety of fats are called essential fatty acids.

Saturated fats are mainly in meat. There are saturated fats in vegetables also, such as in coconut, and palm. Avacados is also a rare fruit containing fat, but fortunately it has unsaturated fat. The saturated fats are absorbed through the gut into the liver, and the excess is stored as fat under the skin, around the heart and kidneys, in the liver (fatty liver) and also in the tissue called omentum which is a thin membranous tissue of the shape and size of a ĎGodamba Rotií hanging from the margin of the stomach. Ofcourse along the blood vesselís inner lining they settle down as plaques, which occludes the lumen of the vessels, obstructing to the free flow of blood supplying the tissues and organs of the body, and the extremities.

In over weight situation, one must reduce the consumption of this fat. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. A fatty acid that has its full quota of hydrogen atoms is a saturated fatty acid. The body also produces saturated fats from sugars. One gram of fat has 9 calories, whilst the same quantity of protein has 4 calories.

Cholesterol is a type of fat that your body needs to make hormones and essential cell components. It is manufactured in the liver from the consumed saturated fat. The excess cholesterol is deposited in arteries, especially the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen.

There are several types of cholesterol. High density lipo-protein (HDL) is the good fellow, does not get deposited on the walls of the arteries, but removes the bad cholesterol-(low density lipoprotein) which is waxy and adheres to the walls of the arteries. Triglycerides are the other variety which harms you. Diabetics, and those who consume excess alcohol and sugar has high levels of this fatty acid. This fatty acid also lowers the amount of good fellow (HDL) and also prevents the good fellow clearing the bad fellow (LDL) from the arterial inner lining.

So I would like to emphasise the fact that by reducing the saturated fat in your diet you can lower your level of blood cholesterol. The liver makes most of the cholesterol in the blood from the saturated fat that we consume. Small quantities of polyunsaturated and mono unsaturated fats are good for our health. Saturated fats are found in sausages, fatty meats, full cream dairy products, biscuits, cakes, pastries, chocolates, crisps, chips and coconut.

Now letís talk on the controversial subject about cholesterol and coconut fat.

First of all let me discuss the health benefits of coconut fats to the human body. Coconut oil is recognised as a health oil in Ayurvedic medicine almost 4000 years ago.

The same health benefits were found in Sanskrit medicine for motherís milk. Mention was made that freshly expressed human milk was used as an antibiotic after eye surgery. Modern research has found a common link between these two natural health products, their fat or lipid content.

Studies have revealed that fatty acids and monoglycerides found in motherís milk and coconut oil have had extra-ordinary anti-microbial effects, and healing powers.

It is rare in the history of medicine to find such useful properties, and still be without toxicity and harmful side effects, states Jon J. Kabara Ph.D.

Coconut oil has a highly purified mono-glyceride known as Lauricidin. This mono glyceride has found use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and in clinical medicine. Mono lauricidin as a dietary supplement has shown extraordinary and exciting results as an antibiotic and an anti viral agent. The latter property against lipid coated viruses was first demonstrated by Hierholzer and Kabara more than sixteen years ago. Today mono laurin in coconut oil is appearing at an increasing rate showing applications in dental cares, peptic ulcers, benign prostrate enlargements in men, genital herpes, hepatities C and HIV/AIDS.

At one time coconut oil received negative press in the US because of its high level of saturated fat content, and the bad publicity from the Soy industry. However, modern research has shown that not all saturated fats are alike and that the fatty acids in coconut oil, the medium chained triglycerides, do not raise serum cholesterol or contribute to heart disease like the long chain triglycerides found in seed oils.

Also most research done on coconut oil in the past was done on hydrgenated coconut oil, which has been altered from its original form. Coconuts are not grown in the US and there was no authority to counteract the negative publicity. Dietary coconut oil reduces oneís need for vitamins. It does not contain cholesterol, does not increase blood cholesterol level, does not promote platelet stickiness, thereby reducing the incidence of intra arterial blood clots. Further, coconut oil does not contribute to atherosclerosis (thickening of arteries), or heart disease.

Furthermore, studies have shown that it helps control diabetes, supports immune system function, helps osteoporosis (softening of bones in old age), provides an immediate source of energy, and supplies fewer calories than other fats.

In short, coconut oil has been called the healthiest dietary oil on this planet. It helps the health of mankind. It helps in Crohns disease, which is an auto immune condition causing inflammation of the large bowel.

In addition to lauricidin, coconut fat contains about 7% of capric acid, another fatty acid which has antiviral, works against HIV, herpes, and against sexually transmitted diseases, helicobacter pylorus a bacterium responsible for the majority of stomach ulcers.

If you need an oil you could use for your daily cooking needs that helped protect you from heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative conditions, strengthen your immune system, and also help lose excess weight, I would put my first bet on coconut oil.

Let us now discuss the unsaturated fats that are friendly to all of us. Unsaturated fatty acids tend to be liquid at room temperature. Most vegetable oils are unsaturated. Unsaturated means some of the atoms of fatty acids are not filled with hydrogen. When a fatty acid lacks only two hydrogen atoms, it is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid. These fats are considered very important to health because of their ability to lower blood levels of Ďbadí cholesterol and raise the levels of Ďgoodí cholesterol. Olive oil is high in mono unsaturated fats and as such is a good cooking oil. It is used for salads world wide. Oils high in polyunsaturated fats include canola oil, as well as oils from pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. These oils are also rich in omega 3 oils. A fatty acid lacking four or more hydrogen atoms is a polyunsaturated fatty acid.

The essential fatty acids are not manufactured in the body. Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils are the two principal types of essential fatty acids, and a balance of these fatty acids are important for good health.

Fish oils, such as salmon, cod and mackerel, contain Omega 3 oils. These essential fatty acids once in the body are converted to prostaglandins, that affects smooth muscle function, inflammatory processes, constriction and dilatation of blood vessels.

Finally, I would like to talk on free radicals and antioxidants that help fight ageing.

As we all know we cannot stop ageing, but today we know much about the factors that are responsible for ageing and how we can partly delay the process by doing the right things.

Free radicals are formed in active cells during life, and they have lot to do with the ageing process. They are also responsible for diseases like heart disease, degenerative conditions and cancer. They cause damage to our living cells. The term oxidant is used to include such damaging radicals, as the damage is done through some oxidising agents formed during tissue reactions.

On the other hand anti-oxidants are substances which are believed to prevent damage to cells and tissues by oxidants, such as heart disease, cancer, etc. The common anti-oxidants are Vitamin E, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Iycopene, isoflavones, and a few others. These antioxidants are found mainly in fruits, and vegetables. Vegetarians are fortunate that they live longer than non-vegetarians. Meat has no antioxidants unlike the plant foods. Vegetarians also consume much more vitamin E than non- vegetarians, which is contained in the membranes of plant cells combined with polyunsaturated fats. Vitamin E destroys or traps these radicals and prevent the ageing process within the cells.

As I mentioned earlier it is the oxidation of fats that eventually destroys our body cells, and the antioxidants protect us from such damage.

So now you could appreciate the part played by the antioxidants in our longevity. Go for those foods and fruits that contain antioxidants, and consume plenty of nuts, fish for our requirements of Omega 3 and 6 essential oils, and stick to a very low fat diet, with daily brisk 30 minute walk.

May I wish you long life.