Want to live a long life? Ignore centenarians, watch Seventh Day Adventists

If a centenarian jumped off a bridge while eating a bag of jelly donuts and chain-smoking, would you do it, too?

That's basically the message in a new column by LiveScience's Christopher Wanjek, which looks at why the people who live the longest should not necessarily be health role models for the rest of us.

It seems that longevity goes hand-in-hand with some funny yesbuts. What you eat and how active you are doesn't seem to matter ... if you're one of the very, very lucky folks with a genetic predisposition toward surviving into extreme old age. For everybody else, there's pretty good evidence that healthy habits actually do extend your lifespan. Part of what fascinates me about the studies that show that is that they often compare Seventh Day Adventists to the general population. Why? Because Seventh Day Adventists generally don't eat meat (the first time I ever saw lentil loaf, it came from SDA cookbook), and are discouraged from booze, cigarettes, drugs, and caffeine. It also doesn't hurt that they run a massive, and well-respected, healthcare system, centered around Loma Linda University. Makes 'em easier to study like that.

For the general population, there is a preponderance of evidence that diet and exercise can postpone or ward off chronic disease and extend life. Many studies on Seventh Day Adventists — with their limited consumption of alcohol, tobacco and meat — attribute upward of 10 extra years of life as a result of lifestyle choices.

Image: Elderly People - sign on Warwick Road, Olton, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ell-r-brown's photostream

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Americans still being killed by racial segregation

How many Americans die because of routine racial segregation (the social kind, not Jim Crow)? According to calculations by the EpiAnalysis blog, it could be as high as 176,000 people per year. (Via Robin Lloyd) Read the rest

The pros and cons of irradiated food

Irradiating food doesn't make it radioactive, and it does kill dangerous bacteria, like the E.coli that killed many Europeans this summer. But it's also not a panacea against food poisoning and it's definitely not the most popular idea ever thought up. In a column in the New York Times, Mark Bittman examines the evidence behind irradiation, and how that evidence does and doesn't get considered in the choices we make about food.

When it comes to irradiation, you might need a primer. (I did.) Simply put, irradiation — first approved by the FDA in 1963 to control insects in wheat and flour — kills pathogens in food by passing radiation through it. It doesn’t make the food radioactive any more than passing X-rays through your body makes you radioactive; it just causes changes in the food. Proponents say those changes are beneficial: like killing E. coli or salmonella bacteria. Opponents say they’re harmful: like destroying nutrients or creating damaging free radicals.

Many people are virulently for or against. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, says that irradiation “could do for food what pasteurization has done for milk.” (The main difference between irradiation and pasteurization is the source of the energy used to kill microbes.) Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch — which calls irradiation “a gross failure” — told me it was “expensive and impractical, a band-aid on the real problems with our food system.”

There are a few people in the middle.

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Regulating science the way we regulate restaurant kitchens

Peer-review does many things, but it isn't built to weed out fraud. In the wake of large scandals like the expose of Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent autism study, the British government is starting to consider regulating science for fraud the same way it regulates restaurants for public health. Brian Deer, the journalist who helped expose Wakefield, supports the idea. What do you think? (Via Ivan Oransky) Read the rest

Heat waves and stimulant use

A word of caution to people who consume illegal stimulants and those who regularly take legal ones to treat the symptoms mental health issues, like ADHD or depression. Research is showing that, during heat waves, there is an increased risk of death among stimulant users. It's a small increase—Time magazine reported that "for every week that the temperature exceeds 75 degrees Fahrenheit, New York City will experience two extra cocaine-related deaths." And it seems to affect people taking particularly high doses. But, depending on the dosages you normally take, it could be a risk worth taking into account.

Heat and high doses combine in dangerous ways for a couple of reasons:

First, stimulants themselves raise body temperature, which is not what you want during a heat wave. They also interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature to cool itself down. The high body temperatures that result are one way that stimulant overdose kills—so extra heat makes matters worse.

Secondly, chemical reactions that injure or kill brain cells can occur when high doses of these drugs are taken. These may be more toxic when the temperature is higher. High doses of stimulants cause excess release of dopamine and glutamate— if these levels get high enough, the resulting chemical reactions can be deadly to cells. That process may increase overdose risk as well as contributing to long-term harm in those who survive.

Via All Things Human

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