In the early '80s, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Roy Walford, a pioneer in the field of gerontology.
Most of his time was spent in the vivarium at University of California, Los Angeles, where he experimented with various diets on animals. Make no mistake, the vivarium was not one of those horror chambers one reads about. These animals, mostly mice, were fed better than some humans and were always treated with love and respect.
In September 1991, Walford joined other scientists as the crew physician for a two-year experiment within an enclosed, earthlike environment in the Arizona desert known as Biosphere 2. Its intention was to develop technology in order to create self-sustained bases on the moon and Mars.
Walford put the crew on what he called the CRON diet, for calorie restriction with optimal nutrition. He hypothesized that calorie restriction could be used significantly to increase longevity. Everything providing good nutrition was to be grown on Biosphere 2. Chickens and goats provided the protein, a man-made lake provided fresh fish, and vegetables and fruits were grown in abundance.
After six months, Biosphere 2 crew members experienced dramatic decreases in blood pressure, insulin levels, cholesterol, triglycerides, white blood cell counts and other "biomarkers" of health. With the average U.S. life span at 78 years of age, this, it seems, could be increased simply through diet. The experimental results produced by the CRON diet appeared to slow primary aging factors.
In his vivarium at UCLA, in an experiment with mice genetically programmed to get breast cancer, the malignancy rates were reduced from an expected 55 percent to 5 percent or less when a calorie restricted diet was administered. He also found that monkeys on a calorie restricted diet live longer and healthier lives than monkeys on a regular diet.
So, what can we eat on this diet? Well, everything should be nutrient-packed for starters. The basic salad, often served at dinner and lunch, contains an assortment of highly nutritious ingredients: romaine lettuce, spinach, yellow squash, bell peppers, raw broccoli, red or yellow onions, brown rice, beans, dressed with some balsamic vinegar and some extra virgin olive oil. Fish and poultry can be eaten twice a week, and about 3 ounces of red meat once a week. Plenty of fresh fruit is also advised. Walford was way ahead of his time, it seems to me. Practically every diet book published today will say the same thing.
If you are an average-sized man, you should cut your calories to 2,000 a day, and an average-sized woman should use no more than 1,800 a day. Do this gradually. Your goal is to achieve a weight that is from 10 percent to 25 percent below your "set point," or characteristic weight when you don't overeat or under eat.
Have a physician monitor your vital signs, including your T3 hormone levels every six months. Your readings should improve dramatically if your are using the diet properly.
Walford died in his late 80s a few years ago. His diet for longevity was viewed with skepticism by many, but it has become a lifestyle for many.
If the center of what you see is blurry, faded or distorted, you may have age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly. Early detection and treatment are key. If cost is stopping you, EyeCare America's Seniors EyeCare program provides free exams and up to a year of treatment for persons 65 or older. Call 1-800-22937 to learn if you qualify.
For those of you who wrote to me regarding the death of my beloved "Keesha," thank you. It is heart-warming to know that there are owners of pets who love them as much as I did mine. I shall write to all of you in the next few weeks.
Margaret Nesbitt is a Star columnist. She welcomes comments and suggestions about subjects of interest to seniors. Letters can be sent to Unlimited Horizons, c/o Karen Hibdon, Ventura County Star, P.O. Box 6711, Ventura, CA 93006-6711.
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