Archive for the ‘longevity’ Category

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A startling article that appears today in the science journal Nature, shows that reactivation and restoration of DNA telomeres was sufficient to reverse the aging process! From the article:

Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice.

Accumulating evidence implicating telomere damage as a driver of age-associated organ decline and disease risk1, 3 and the marked reversal of systemic degenerative phenotypes in adult mice observed here support the development of regenerative strategies designed to restore telomere integrity.

Love yourself, love your DNA – especially the telomeres ! For more on this topic, see a few weeks back, when I covered a research article by Nobel Prize winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn on meditation, telomeres and longevity.

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Stick model of NAD + , based on x-ray diffract...
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Yogis are by far the healthiest eaters I have ever met.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably one of them – faithful in the observance of your Yamas and Niyamas – leaving me  reluctant to confess my own (pre-yoga) pizza-scarfing, soda-swilling ways.  Please don’t hold it against me.  I’ve changed, really.

Here – as plain as I can make it – is the scientific reason why eating a low-calorie vegetarian diet is a good thing.  Good, as in living longer and cancer-free.

All you need to know is that when you eat less, your levels of Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD – the contorted, yogic-looking molecule shown at left) are HIGH – and this increases the activity of the “longevity gene” SIR2. The amazing life-extending effects of the NAD-dependent SIR2 genes are described in detail on Leonard Guarente’s website at M.I.T.:

The discovery that Sir2p requires NAD for its activity immediately suggested a link between SIR2 activity and caloric restriction. This link was strengthened by the observation that life span extension by caloric restriction requires Sir2 protein. Caloric restriction is likely to reduce the carbon flow through glycolysis and result in more free cytoplasmic NAD. SIR2 could act as a sensor of NAD levels within the nucleus. Under conditions of caloric restriction, NAD levels are high, SIR2 is activated, and the rate of aging is decreased.

The hard science link between cancer and NAD is more recent – this week in fact – with the release of a study entitled, “Transcriptional regulation of BRCA1 expression by a metabolic switch” [doi:10.1038/nsmb.1941].  Here the researchers found that NAD/NADH levels via binding to CTBP1 can regulate the anti-tumor properties of BRCA1.  In a nutshell, a high-calorie diet leads to LOW levels of NAD which has the net effect (via CTBP1) of turning OFF the anti-tumor gene BRCA1 (a bad thing).  From the article:

The elevated expression of estrogen in the context of higher levels of NADH or lower NAD+/NADH ratios due to high caloric intake and/or obesity could establish a state in which the pro-proliferative effects of estrogen are not completely balanced by the protective functions of BRCA1 that would normally restrain estrogen-induced proliferation and heighten genome surveillance.

I realize that most yoga folks need no such hard science to convince them of the merits of a low-calorie, healthy diet.  In the science-world however, empirical evidence can take decades to gather, so its an important milestone to now have established causal links between caloric intake, longevity and cancer risk.

For (former) junk food junkies like myself, there is no room to debate or side-step the issue.  Eat less, eat healthy – live longer and cancer-free.  More on yoga and aging (here, here, here).  Now, off to the shala for NADasana pose!

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Hindus believe in reincarnation, the process w...
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The concept of “immortality” lies deep in the core of Indian spirituality and the religious traditions of many other cultures.  Its probably not a coincidence that one of the first and, still, most influential books on the history of yoga is entitled, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade (you can read the book online here)

Most of the time, this refers to some part of a person – the soul, spirit or otherwise – that lives on forever after the physical body decays.  That we are able to recognize and ponder our mortality and the suffering of the physical body, is an integral part of why, in the first place, we seek to practice religion  (covered here).

I mean, no one ever took the concept of immortality LITERALLY, did they?  Perhaps not.  Until now.  Check out the trailer for a new movie that opens tonight in New York City on the science of Aging:  To Age or Not To Age – a film by Robert Kane Pappas. At the center of this film is likely the so-called longevity gene known as SIRT1 (covered earlier here).

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As I’ve mentioned, I’m a new yoga student – very new – very, very far away from the archetypal, experienced yoga practitioners one often sees in books and videos (ok, maybe not these guys).   I’m inspired, and do realize the journey will be a long one.   However, is the journey a straight path?   Does it have twists and turns?  What IS the endpoint anyway? and how do I know I’m there?

According to Patanjali‘s yoga sutras:

“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness”  (I.2  yogah cittavritti nirodhah).

This is echoed in David Gordon White’s The Alchemical Body (Chapter 9):

Reduced to its simplest terms, yoga (“yoking”) is concerned with impeding movement, with the immobilization with all that is mobile within the body.

Ultimate stillness.  The kind demonstrated by the elderly yogi who was able to voluntarily slow his heart for 8 days (covered here).   So this is where the practice ends – in physical and mental stillness – awareness with stillness. 

More compassionate?  More patient?  Healthier? Perhaps this comes with the stillness?  My gut and experience so far says yes, this is where I want to go.  Not to withdraw from life, my family and friends like a lone yogi on a mountaintop, but to acquire a more peaceful and patient disposition that helps myself and others to better cope with life’s twists and turns.

However, David Gordon White’s The Alchemical Body suggests that the pathway is anything but a straight downhill ride to samadhi.   There are myriad natural bodily desires and mental tendencies that push against this pathway, making it an arduous journey where the student can be bucked sideways while fighting against the tide.  As DGW interprets the ancient texts in Chapter 9:

One first immobilizes the body through the postures; next one immobilizes the breaths through diaphragmatic retention; one then immobilizes the seed through the “seals” [bhandas]; and finally one immobilizes the mind through concentration on the subtle inner reverberations of the phonemes.

What a difficult, even heroic undertaking the immobilization of the body constitutes, yet what fantastic results it yields!  For immobilization leads to reversal, reversal to transformation, and transformation is tantamount to bodily immortality and, precisely, to the [supposed] supernatural ability to transform, reverse, or immobilize whatever one desires in the physical world (siddhi).

Reversal?  Transformation?  Much to explore here in the years to come.

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One thing that draws me to yoga, apart from other pure meditative practices, is that it places an emphasis on the body and mind, and not just the mind alone.  By paying attention to one’s diet, working diligently on postures and breathing, etc., there comes a transformation (still many years away for me) of both the body and the mind.  The concept of Kundalini seems to capture this – wherein a kind of psychic energy is awoken and driven slowly up through the spinal column and into the brain – releasing all sorts of desirable cognitive and physical benefits.

Transform the body and the mind will follow?

Today I was reminded of this when I saw a research article entitled, “A novel pathway regulates memory and plasticity via SIRT1 and miR-134” that was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.  In this article, the researchers examined a gene called SIRT1 which encodes a small protein that regulates the structure of chromosomes in response to the overall energy state of cells.  Most famously, it has been shown that SIRT1 mediates the longevity, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory health benefits that occur when individuals observe a diet that is calorie restricted.

In his book on Ayurvedic medicine and Kundalini yoga, Sri Swami Sivananda remarks, not on SIRT1 (obviously), but on the importance of a calorie-restricted diet as a part of the long-standing commitment to certain virtuous observances or Niyama:

A glutton cannot at the very outset have diet regulations and observe Mitahara. He must gradually practise this. First let him take less quantity twice as usual. Then instead of the usual heavy night meals, let him take fruits and milk alone for some days. In due course of time he can completely avoid the night meals and try to take fruits and milk in the daytime. Those who do intense Sadhana must take milk alone. It is a perfect food by itself. If necessary they can take some easily digestible fruits.

Indeed, a restricted diet (but not a fasting state) is a part of the yoga practice.  This observance has long been known to confer tremendous bodily health benefits – that, it turns out, are mediated by SIRT1!  Indeed, if ever there were a “longevity gene” SIRT1 would be it.  When it is over-expressed (in mice) the mice show many of the same health benefits as seen in mice that are on calorie-restricted diets (even though the mice can eat as much as they want).  Conversely, when the gene is inactivated, the mice die early and are in poor health.

In any case, today’s research article takes the SIRT1 story from the body and pushes it upwards (like the awakening kundalini) to the mind.  The article demonstrates that overexpression of SIRT1 improves cognitive function while inactivation of SIRT1 in the brain lessens cognitive function.

So it seems that body and mind are ever more unified and that – even on the molecular level – what is good for one has benefits for the other.

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