Supplementation can be used for growth hormone stimulation, antioxidant effects and/or general nutritional support, and I will deal with each in turn.
Stimulating growth hormone
The recent experimental treatment of ageing in the US using artificial growth hormone (see Chapter 7) has revived interest in the methods first strongly promoted by Pearson and Shaw in the early 1980s. These approaches certainly slowed, and indeed seemed to reverse, the appearance of ageing. However, there is no evidence in animals or humans, as yet, of any increase in life span as a result of growth hormone (GH) stimulation or replacement.
GH production is stimulated by sleep (release occurs about an hour and a half after you fall asleep, with none appearing if your sleep is restless or disturbed), aerobic exercise and fasting, and by specific amino acid supplementation. GH production is slowed down by insulin, which is produced more prolifically when sugar is eaten in any quantity – another reason for not eating much of this substance.
The methods suggested by Pearson and Shaw (Life Extension, 1983) are echoed by Leslie Kenton in her superb overview Ageless Ageing (Century Arrow, 1986), in which she says:
Both arginine and ornithine (amino acids) are currently being used to encourage growth-hormone release from the pituitary . . . stimulating protein production in muscles by increasing the transport of amino acids into the cells, causing fat cells to release fatty acids, and encouraging the liver to increase the rate at which it burns fat . . . it appears to improve immune functions and may therefore improve the body’s resistance to illness and premature ageing.
Arginine is found in many proteins, but in greater quantities in soya beans, chickpeas and sunflower seeds. It can be taken supplementally in daily quantities of up to 8 grams, for a period of a month to six weeks at a time, in order to trigger growth hormone production by the pituitary. Or it can be taken at the same time as ornithine (so that half the 6 to 8 grams is made up of ornithine and the other half of arginine) in two doses daily, one an hour before breakfast and the other before a period of active exercise. If there is no such exercise period, take the second dose an hour before one of the other meals, with water only.
After a six week period on these supplements it is suggested that a similar period of rest be taken, before repeating the supplementation, if you wish.
- No-one with a history of herpes should take arginine, as it encourages flare-ups of the condition. In this case all the supplementation should be with ornithine, which has no such effect.
- Neither of these amino acids should be supplemented by anyone who has not completed their full stages of growth.
- If your skin appears to become thickened after supplementing for a while, the condition will reverse itself when supplementation ceases. This is highly unlikely on the dosages recommended.
- Neither of these amino acids (arginine or ornithine) should be taken by anyone with a history of schizophrenia.
Growth hormone stimulation seems to be a somewhat peripheral issue in life extension, giving the appearance of anti-ageing without the reality. However, there is much to be said for enhanced protein production and for looking younger and creating some of the attributes of youth, such as was achieved in the US trials mentioned in Chapter 7.
The fat intake provided by the 1,800 and 2,000 calorie diets, as described in Chapter 12, amounts to around 20 per cent of the total calorie intake, which is well in line with targets set by expert nutritionists such as Dr Elmer Cranton, whose work on free radicals was quoted in previous chapters. This relatively reduced fat intake, compared with ‘normal’ diets, relates very much to the tendency for fats to oxidize (peroxidize), a process which triggers a vast amount of free radical activity. The pattern of eating in a calorie restriction diet also reduces free radical activity, as does the inclusion of large amounts of vitamin and mineral-rich raw and unprocessed food.
Additional antioxidant help can be gained by judicious supplementation using the army of antioxidant nutrients now available. Many of these substances literally sacrifice themselves when confronted by a free radical, combining with them to deactivate the damaging chain reaction. The resulting combination of free radical and antioxidant is then easily eliminated.
The main antioxidant nutrients include: vitamins A (or its precursor beta carotene), C, E, B’, B3, B5, B6, B12 the mineral selenium and the amino acid compound glutathione. To go into detail on why each of these is needed would take a great deal of space, so suffice it to say that ample evidence exists for their use; and further reading on the subject is readily available. I do, however, include a brief resume of the value and indications of some of the more important of them in the dosage suggestions which follow.
Vitamin A (or beta carotene)
Vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient, excessive amounts of which can be toxic, which is why the recommendation for supplementation is to use its precursor, beta carotene, instead, as this is totally non-toxic. The ability of vitamin A to act as an antioxidant is strongest in the linings of tissues, where it protects the mucous membranes of the lung, intestinal tract and bladder, as well as the skin. It has been shown experimentally to prevent cancer formation in such tissues. It is also a vital factor in protecting the thymus gland, one of the immune system’s most important organs
Beta carotene not only turns into vitamin A in the body but is itself a quencher of that most powerful of free radicals, singlet oxygen, which it deactivates without damage to itself. While not toxic, too much beta carotene will turn you slightly yellow, and so a reasonable amount only should be supplemented, especially if you are also eating large amounts of yellow/orange and dark green vegetables which are rich in it.
The suggested dosage of beta carotene is between 15 and 50 milligrams daily. If vitamin A is taken it is suggested that no more than 15,000iu of this is supplemented daily. This is a perfectly safe dose for anyone.
We do not know the real human requirement for vitamin C, partly because it varies from person to person (biochemical individuality) and partly because the research still has not been done to prove all of vitamin C’s functions. All the evidence to hand points to a far greater need than that provided by the current RDA, which is well under 100 milligrams per day for an adult. Most life extension experts seem to suggest a range of intake of between 5 and 15 grams daily.
Vitamin C is almost totally non-toxic (mild diarrhoea is the worst to expect if you overdose) and is one of the most important protective substances we have. It has anti-tumour, anti-viral and anti-bacterial potentials; it stimulates immune function and increases the strength and integrity of collagen the tissue which literally holds us together. Its antioxidant function is strongest when combined with the amino acid cysteine (found in garlic).
It offers protection against many highly toxic substances which produce free radical activity, as well as enhancing the antioxidant potential of other substances such as vitamin B5 and cysteine.
Dosage of vitamin C is suggested at not less than 1 gram daily, with the strong recommendation that 5 grams daily be taken. This is best taken as ascorbic acid (in powder form) dissolved in liquid at different times of the day, between meals.
Vitamin E is the best natural nutrient protector against fat peroxidation and so is a defender of the integrity of all cell membranes which have a large lipid content. It also protects other fats in the body from peroxidation and all the damage to cells which that can lead to. It is particularly effective in reducing cross-linkage damage such as is seen in wrinkled tissues, and lungs damaged by cigarette smoke. Vastly increased resistance to cancer and a range of chronic diseases have been shown when vitamin E is supplemented regularly. As I showed in Chapter 8, there is also evidence of life extension in some animals when vitamin E alone is supplemented, especially early in life.
While vitamin E has not been shown to have toxic effects in any dosage, its supplementation is contraindicated in high dosage (above 400iu daily) in cases of breast cancer because of its almost hormonal effect. Supplementation dosages are suggested at levels of 500 to 1,OOOiu daily, starting with a dose of lOOiu daily and building on this by increasing the daily intake by lOOiu each week until your target is reached.
The mineral selenium is known to work symbiotically with vitamin E and should be supplemented in any antioxidant approach to ageing or better health. Selenium is an antioxidant mineral and is used in the body as part of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which effectively switches off peroxide
activity. Its protective functions are known to lessen the chances of heart disease and cancer (conditions which are greatly increased in areas of the world where selenium levels in the soil are low).
Dosage of 100 to 200 micrograms daily of selenium are suggested at the same time as vitamin E. Excessive selenium is toxic and this dosage should not be exceeded.
Note: Many excellent supplements are now available in which vitamins A, C, E and selenium are combined into one tablet for ease of use.
A number of the individual B vitamins have good antioxidant potential. It is suggested that a good quality B-complex supplement be taken which contains not less than 50 milligrams each of the major B vitamins (B’, B2, B3, B5, B6). One of these should be taken daily with a meal as part of an antioxidant strategy in any life extension programme.
This is a combination amino acid – made up of cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine – having powerful free radical scavenging effects through its ability to stimulate production in the body of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase (which also needs selenium as one of its constituents). The enzyme protection which is offered by glutathione peroxidase (and others such as superoxide dismutase and catalase) is at the front line of defence against free radical activity, unlike the quenching antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E which have their effect later in the operation.
Supplementation with glutathione is suggested in doses of 1 to 2 grams daily, with water and away from meals.
How essential is antioxidant supplementation in the life extension programme?
This is a matter of personal choice. Many experts believe that supplementation adds a great deal to such a programme, especially in view of the degree of environmental toxicity to which we are exposed. On the other hand, there is only limited evidence to support any life extension potential in antioxidant, anti-free radical supplementation (as against the enormous load of evidence for its value in health promotion). So the decision must be yours.
Applying the diet will offer a good deal of protection against free radical activity, since it reduces the degree of oxidation in the system, as well as providing a reasonably high dietary supply of antioxidants. Whether or not you are convinced that supplementation is also a reasonable preventive tactic is up to you.
What about artificial antioxidants?
In their comprehensive survey of life extension methods, Pearson and Shaw (Life Extension, 1983) extol the virtues of using a number of artificial antioxidant substances, many of which are currently in use in food preservation. They point out that some of these have a far greater free radical deactivation capacity than the nutrient antioxidants which are described above. They describe experiments on mice in which artificial antioxidants, such as ethoxyquin, commonly used in chicken farming, were able to extend the life spans of the offspring of female mice which had consumed this product before becoming pregnant. It is thought that reduction in free radical activity in eggs and embryos were the reason for this life extension effect.
These and other studies have led some experts to advocate use of artificial antioxidants as part of human life extension programmes. John Mann in his Secrets of Life Extension (Harbor, 1980) says: ‘For some years now, people have been worrying about the chemical preservatives in commercial food. Now we are learning that some of these preserve not only our food, but our health and our youth as well.’ He points to studies conducted by Dr Denham Harman at the University of Nebraska, in which mice fed normal diets containing 0.5 per cent (5 grams per kilo of food) of BHT (a synthetic antioxidant: butylated hydroxytoluene) lived 50 per cent longer than animals not receiving this addition (but not beyond the normal life span available to these animals, therefore not true life extension, merely preservation into old age).
Harman’s estimation is that adding synthetic antioxidants such as this to human diets would increase our life span by between 5 and 30 years. But is this really so, and is artificial antioxidant therapy safe? Allergic sensitivities to them, although rare, are not unknown, with dermatitis resulting. Some studies show them to react negatively with natural antioxidants such as vitamin E, and in 1972 scientists at 1~yola University reported brain damage to the offspring of pregnant mice receiving high doses (1,000 times chat supplied in Harman’s study) of BHT.
The US Food and Drug Administration subsequendy decided chat research was needed to establish any harmful relationship which might develop between BHT and various natural hormones. For this reason, and until clarification of doubt doubt, anyone taking contraceptive medication, or hormone replacement therapy, or steroid medication, as well as pregnant women, was advised to avoid use of BHT-type substances, or to keep intake very low.
It is doubts such as these which highlight the need to keep supplementation natural, although excessive quantities of natural nutrients can themselves prove every bit as toxic as synthetic ones. The advantage which natural substances have is that they have been part of our human body economy for millions of years, and to a large extent we understand what they do and how they work. This cannot be said for synthetic substances, however attractive their use might appear at first glance.
The recommendation is chat any use of artificial antioxidants in a life extension programme should be seen as experimental at best and dangerous at worst.
General nutritional support
Even if you are not convinced of the need for antioxidant supplementation, it is still necessary to insist that any calorie restriction diet should be accompanied by the taking of one strong multimineral and one strong multivitamin capsule/tablet daily. These are essential to prevent any chance of deficiency from developing, something which would reduce the effectiveness of the diet dramatically. It is suggested that these supplements contain at least the current RDA levels for all the major nutrients, so that together with those nutrients derived from the diet you are absolutely certain of meeting your personal needs nutritionally.
Weindruch and Walford investigated the current state of nutrient deficiency in one or more essential vitamins or minerals which prevails in most population groups in Western society, despite high calorie dietary intakes, and they concluded: ~Either the foods (on the diet) must be carefully selected or the diet supplemented so that intake approaches RDA for all essential nutrients, at whatever calorie level is found to achieve slow bodyweight loss towards a maintenance level’ This is unequivocal.
If you are going to follow a low calorie diet, as described in Chapter 12, with optimal intake of protein and fat, you must supplement with essential nutrients in order to avoid risk of serious imbalances.
The special needs of post-menopausal women
The near-epidemic of osteoporosis affecting post-menopausal women deserves a special mention as it is largely preventable. A balanced restricted calorie diet provides adequate calcium, as shown in Chapter 13. However, as an added insurance measure it is suggested that any woman approaching menopause who is intent on applying calorie restriction methods should supplement daily with 1 gram of calcium and 0.5 gram of magnesium. (These should be in the form of calcium citrate or calcium orotate and magnesium orotate, if possible. Ask at a good health store for advice.) It has been shown that regular supplementation enhances bone density in menopausal women, the most vulnerable of whom are those already underweight and white (for reasons which are not dear people of coloured origin and those who are above average weight are less prone to osteoporosis).