[COLUMN] The elixir of youth

THE famous search for the elusive fountain of youth, which Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon undertook in 1513, started during the first European expedition (and others before him), shows that man has always been fascinated with the idea of slowing down aging, or, at least, looking (and feeling) younger than his natural age.

With the advent of the informational age, where vast data could be at our fingertips in seconds (versus our manual use of the volumes of the archaic encyclopedia from our bookshelves in yesteryears), everyone now has convenient and rapid access to more scientific resources and valuable tools for our quest for a healthier lifestyle, disease prevention, and maximal longevity.

Most of the data related to man’s obsession with the elixir of youth are from studies and discoveries about diet and physical activities that date back to biblical times and earlier periods.

Jesus and MedDi

Jesus Christ, for instance, is claimed to have been on the Mediterranean Diet (MedDi), or a version very similar to it, popular in the culture and tradition from 12th century BCE and before. The modes of transportation then were walking or donkey-riding, and manual labor dominated the activities of man. So, people had a lot of physical exercise and significantly less stress, on top of MedDi, providing people with an overall healthy lifestyle. This translated to having more protection against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and cancer, which “medical records” and autopsies on mummies revealed.

The basic foundation of the Mediterranean Diet is its being a plant-based diet, one almost devoid of red meat (except for once a week or so), and protein derived mainly from fish, seafood, legumes, and nuts. Red meat, according to various multi-national studies, is associated with a high risk for cancer and cardiovascular illnesses.

The modern concept of the plant-based MedDi as we know it today was first publicized in 1975 by biologist Ancel Keys and his chemist-wife, Margaret Keys, in their book “How to Eat Well and Stay Well.” It somehow failed to gain recognition until the 1990s.

The age of information and lightning speed communication (the internet was born January 1, 1983) and social media (which started in 1997) may have educated and inspired people to be more health- (and diet-) conscious, which helped finally propel the MedDi to popularity.

However, as medical science advances, we now know that some of the items in the MedDi are actually not healthy. These are the foods in MedDi that contain gluten and lectins, two proteins that are harmful anti-nutrients and inflammation-inducers, especially in their raw state (some fruits, nuts, and vegetables), and which could wreak havoc on our guts, our digestive system. Dr. Steven Gundry, professor and chairman, cardiac surgery at Loma Linda University, is a strong anti-gluten, anti-lectin proponent.

Harmful lectin and gluten

Lectins interfere with the absorption of iron, phosphorus, zinc, and calcium, among other minerals and vitamins. Gluten, which is found in all whole-grain wheat (except for lectin-free, low-gluten white sourdough, practically all bread has gluten and lectin, which are significantly reduced by baking), rye, and barley, is foreign to the human gut, difficult to digest, irritant and destructive to the lining of the gut (causing inflammation, making it leak), may impair the immune system, and could trigger a full-flown allergic reaction.

Cruciferous veggies, peanuts, soy, and strawberries could mess up the absorption of iodine to cause potential goiter problems. Both gluten and lectin negatively impact the microbiome, the community of 100 trillion microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes that naturally live in our bodies, 85 percent of them beneficial to our health) that are so essential in big ways to human health and wellness.

Some of the items which contain gluten and lectins are bread, pasta, kidney beans, legumes in general, nightshade vegetables (potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper, paprika – aggravators of arthritis), ripe bananas, watermelon, zucchini, carrots, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, lemons, plum, sweet oranges, tangerines, pomegranates, dates, beets, blueberries, black berries, and dairy products from cows and chicken raised on corn and soybeans.

Minus the ingredients loaded with gluten and lectins, the MedDi would be the healthiest diet on earth, especially with the liberal use of virgin and extra virgin olive oil in this diet.

Lectin-free foods

Some of the lectin-free items include fish, seafood, pasture-raised poultry, grass-fed beef, buffalo, goat, sheep dairy products, avocado, blueberries, sweet potatoes, some cruciferous veggies (arugula, Bok choy, chard, kale, rutabaga, turnip, watercress), pistachios, pecan, hemp seeds, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, flax seeds. Apple, strawberry, broccoli, celery, cabbage, have low lectin levels.

Minimizing lectins and glutens

Besides avoiding them, foods containing gluten and lectin could be soaked overnight, fully cooked, baked, or fermented to severely reduce the gluten and lectin in them. This is our saving grace. This is how the level of gluten and lectin in food items is severely reduced, allowing most people to enjoy them. For tomatoes, peeling the skin and removing the seeds where the pectin is, will remove the lectin.

This strategy of minimizing gluten and lectin in our diet has prevented disruption of our microbiome, destruction of our gut lining, and impairment of our immune system, allowing us, in various countries, to enjoy our various traditional food staples, with minimal or no side-effects.

Knowing well what we eat and drink and exercising moderation in the quality and quantity of what we ingest is fundamental, not only for weight management but for overall health and longevity, not necessarily an elixir for good looks, but for wholesome living and well-being.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, presented by then Indiana Governor, US senator, and later a presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].


Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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