- George Elder
Blue Zones and Genetics
In 2000, Micheal Poulain and Giovanni Mario Pes documented a group of locations around the world where there was an abundance of people who lived to be over 100 years old. They named these areas “The Blue Zones” and included:
Ikaria, Greece; (sometimes spelt Icaria)
Ogliastra Region, Sardinia;
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
Loma Linda, California, USA
It was suggested that a number of factors led to the longer life of people who lived there, including regular exercise, having social circles that reinforced healthy behaviors, taking time to de-stress, being very family orientated and part of a community. There was also a dietary element where it was believed that their approach to diet had a very significant impact on their longevity.
Some groups interested in diet have seem similarities between their dietary beliefs and the documented diet of blue zone inhabitants, often using this information to support their ideas and to promote their diet as healthier. Despite these areas being very geographically and separate from each other and eating quite different diets, these dietary ideas have become blue zone folklore?
Here are some suggested ideas from a recent book titled “The Blue Zones Solution” by Dan Buettner:
Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day.
Some of this advice seems very sensible but we must be very careful when trying to apply what seems to work in one place and time to something happening in another place or time. For example:
Many people living in Northern Europe drink a lot of cows milk and have done so for generations, however most Asians can not tolerate cows milk well due to a lactose intolerance which can make them sick when they consume it.
Europeans traveling into malaria infested areas of the World must take special precautions against getting bitten by the anopheles mosquito as they can suffer hugely and die from this disease if caught, while some locals appear to be almost immune from this.
Over the years diets change and the diet that sustained a centenarian in the growing and middle age years may be very different from what we see today, which could confound research. In my own case my family ate lots of delicious meat stews, and porridge as I grew up but we very seldom eat these today. We also had very limited fruit varieties and fast food was non-existent.
Another aspect of the blue zones which has been questioned is the validity of the research done. Mary Ruddick, a renowned nutritionist is married to a Greek and has lived on the island of Ikaria. She was puzzled by the lack of recognition of the amount of goat meat eaten by the islanders and the suggestion that potatoes was a mainstay of their diet. In her view the islanders eat goat meat almost daily and potatoes are not a local crop due to the poor soils. They were introduced some years ago as part of the adoption of more western ways of eating and were never part of traditional diets. Her suggestion about why goat meat is not recognized is that the questionnaires asked about “red” meat consumption and this to an Ikaria inhabitant translates to beef, which is rarely eaten. Mary shares her view on this here:
Another blue zone diet claim is that a mainstay of the Okinawa diet is sweet potatoes. During World War II these people were forced to kill and eat most of the pigs on their islands and as a result made a switch to much more reliance on sweet potatoes. The diet which centenarians ate over the years was once heavily pork based and this has changed significantly over time. Okinawa’s people are no longer in the top group. For more information about this diet confusion, take a look at the post by Angela Stanton in the link below
Another approach in dietary / longevity research is to blame genetics for some of the health problems of today. Any review of non-communicable diseases such as Type-2 Diabetes, Obesity, Macular Degeneration, Kidney Disease, Asthma, Depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart disease or Cancer reveals skyrocketing levels which have risen dramatically since the 1900’s when most of these were rare. Is it possible that some individuals have obesity genes which are turned on or turned off by the poor western diet of high sugar, refined grains and seed oils.
Genetics clearly has an impact in setting different levels of susceptibility to diseases in individuals. For a great example of how genes work, take a look at the honey bee. The queen bee and the worker bee have identical genes, but the Queen is isolated and fed royal jelly with the result being development of the only fertile female egg laying machine in the hive. Genes can clearly be turned off and turned on by external factors such as different foods.
Different population groups around the world, have responded to the western diet in different ways. Some groups have a much less healthy response to the the impact of the western diet than others. For example, the Pima Indians in Arizona are the most obese group in USA and African Americans are more susceptible to Type-2 Diabetes than people of Caucasian origin. These differences may be due to natural selection that has occurred from the impact of different major impacts on the ancestors of the group. Dr. Andrew Jenkinson in his fascinating book “Why We Eat (To Much), covers this in some detail. For example, he suggests that the susceptibility of Pacific Islanders to obesity may come from their past long sea migrations where only those who had the ability to survive these journeys with little or no food, survived to become their ancestors.
As always, for more information take a look at my book:
“Take Back Your Health”, by George Elder,
available as an ebook or paperback on Amazon.com or Amazon.com.au
Book Link: https://amzn.to/3uiehfv
Good health, www.takebackyrhealth.com