Eastern Wisdom: Japanese secrets to living longer and better.
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We all do it. Age, that is. Every one of us is older now than we were when we started this sentence. Aging is an inevitable process. However, how we experience aging is variable and individual.
One culture from which we can learn much about healthy aging is the Japanese culture. Japan has the longest life expectancy at birth in the world. In addition, the Japanese lead healthier lives. The Disability Adjusted Life Expectancy (DALE) indicator was developed by the World Health Organization and summarizes the expected number of years to be lived in “full health.” According to DALE, an average Japanese person born in 1999 has a healthy life expectancy of 74.5 years. Not surprising, since the rates of heart disease, cancer (especially in women), and diabetes are lower in Japan than in other countries. In contrast, the United States rates 24th under this system, with an average of 70 years of healthy life for babies born in 1999.
There are many theories as to why the Japanese have this increased life expectancy. Some cite genetic factors, others have correlated their plant-based diet, stress management strategies, or activity levels with their longevity. Other evidence indicates that certain compounds found in the Japanese diet can contribute to healthier lives.
Some of these natural compounds have strong bioactive properties and have been incorporated into dietary supplements. The Japanese themselves have adopted the use of these supplements in preventing and treating certain health conditions. Here is a closer look at a few of those innovative, healthy-aging Japanese ingredients.
Lychee, a small red fruit with rough skin, is widely cultivated and consumed throughout southeastern Asia. Lychee is one of the world’s most potent antioxidants, with the second highest polyphenol content of any fruit on the planet, second only to the strawberry.
Oligonol, a polyphenol in lychee, has been shown in several studies to support various aspects of healthy aging, including improved blood circulation, cardiovascular health, anti-fatigue effects, reduced wrinkles, and decreased abdominal fat associated with metabolic syndrome. Oligonol improves blood circulation by strengthening the blood vessels and decreasing platelet aggregation (thinning the blood). People with vascular diseases, cold hands and feet, atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, or high blood pressure may benefit from Oligonol.
By helping the body carry more oxygen to the muscles and the heart, Oligonol can also help reduce fatigue. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 48 track-and-field athletes showed that those taking Oligonol experienced significantly less physical and mental fatigue. In 2008, a trainer of one of Japan’s national soccer teams began recommending Oligonol to some of its players. Today, more than 30 professional athletes from Japan’s national soccer, baseball and basketball leagues use Oligonol.
Due to its ability to improve blood flow to the subdermal layer of the skin, Oligonol was also shown to have dermatological benefits. In a clinical trial of 18 women, Oligonol was shown to significantly reduce the length and depth of wrinkles as well as brown spots. Oligonol was also found to reduce the expression of adipokine genes associated with increased visceral fat and higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
A subsequent placebo-controlled clinical trial of 19 healthy volunteers showed that those taking Oligonol experienced a 12 percent decrease in visceral fat after 10 weeks. The results were presented at the European Congress of Obesity.
Oligonol has successfully undergone the FDA review as a New Dietary Ingredient. Dosages range from 50 mg to 200 mg daily.
B. LONGUM BB536
Bifodobacterium longum BB536 is a probiotic used in Japan since 1977, originally added to dairy products such as yogurt. B. longum BB536 colonizes the human intestine, increases the quantities of other beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus spp., and decreases the quantity of disease-causing bacteria. Due to these favorable characteristics, B. longum BB536 is the bestselling probiotic in Japan.
B. longum BB536 has been the subject of more than 25 human clinical studies and more than 30 animal studies. Among its studied uses are:
improvement of regularity and intestinal bacteria; prevention of occasional and antibiotic-induced diarrhea; improvement of constipation; and
reduction in disease-causing bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) C1845 and O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica.
B. longum BB536 is well researched and indicated for those concerned with healthy aging. Supporting digestion helps reduce digestive maladies associated with aging such as heartburn and constipation. Additionally, if someone is taking medications that are harmful to intestinal bacteria, a probiotic such as B. longum BB536 will help to counteract those harmful effects. The immune support from B. longum BB536 in the aging population helps to reduce the risk of infection, cancer, and allergies.
In addition, B. longum BB536 helps support the absorption of nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which are critical for preserving bone health and preventing osteoporosis. B. longum BB536 is safe and essentially non-toxic, although anyone who is significantly immune suppressed should consult with a qualified health care practitioner before beginning a probiotic supplement.
B. longum is available in formulas and as a single supplement. Dosages range from 5 to 20 billion CFUs (colony forming units) daily.
Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) is the top-selling immune-enhancing supplement in Japan, with annual sales exceeding $150 million. Immune system health is a critical component of healthy aging. Unfortunately, as we age, our immune system weakens. This leaves the older members of our population at increased risk for autoimmune diseases, infections, and cancer. Strengthening the immune system is of particular importance as we age. AHCC is one of the most reliable and well-researched immune-supportive products available. Over 100 human clinical trials, animal, and in-vitro studies on AHCC have been conducted throughout the world.
AHCC stimulates the activity of dendritic cells and natural killer (NK) cells. Dendritic cells are found throughout the body and act as sentries for the immune system—when a dendritic cell encounters a pathogen or cancerous cell, they call the rest of the immune system into action. NK cells are one of our most potent immune cells because they are efficient killers of virally infected cells and cancer cells. Dendritic and NK cell activity are often depressed in people with cancer and an improvement of these cells’ activity can improve survival. One study of people with advanced liver cancer after surgical treatment showed that treatment with AHCC prolonged their survival and improved their prognosis compared to placebo. AHCC stimulates the “surveillance actions” of our immune system, including surveillance for tumors; more active surveillance increases the likelihood that our immune system may detect and destroy cancerous growths before they develop fully into tumors.
AHCC also improves tolerance to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and reduces the toxicity from these treatments. Many cancer hospitals in Japan use AHCC routinely with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The immune-stimulating properties of AHCC are also useful in other situations. Infections are common in patients after surgery or among people who have sustained trauma. Animal studies indicate that AHCC may help to prevent these infections and should be considered as a post-surgical supplement. AHCC also reduces the severity of viral infections, and could shorten the duration and toll of the common cold or pneumonia.
Take 500 mg to 1,000 mg daily for prevention and 3,000 mg daily for treatment. AHCC is safe and without toxicity. There are no known or predicted interactions between AHCC and drugs.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone disodium salt (PQQ) was first discovered in 1979. PQQ is in many different foods and is present in high amounts in some popular Japanese foods, including green tea, natto (fermented beans), and tofu. PQQ is considered an essential nutrient because it is required for a variety of critical enzymes in our bodies. Of key relevance to healthy aging is the importance of PQQ for healthy mitochondria. Mitochondria are the batteries of our cells—literally supplying the energy that sustains life. Defects and declines in mitochondrial function are correlated with aging. PQQ is critical for mitochondrial function. Thus, PQQ could be considered an essential nutrient for prolongation of healthy aging.
PQQ also improves short-term memory, may inhibit memory loss (dementia), and helps prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. PQQ protects nerve tissue from damage and enhances nerve growth factor (NGF), which is essential for the development and maintenance of nerve cells. A deficiency of NGF is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. One of the features of Parkinson’s disease is the accumulation of alpha-synuclein in nerve cells, which ultimately causes the death of these cells. PQQ may inhibit the aggregation of alpha-synuclein, thus benefitting those with Parkinson’s disease.
A common dosage of PQQ is 10 to 20 mg per day.
One condition prevalent among aging men is prostate cancer. In fact, age is a risk factor for prostate cancer, especially in men age 50 and older. More than 70 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. For men, supporting prostate health is an important component of healthy aging.
Certain dietary supplements will improve the health of the prostate and reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. Antioxidants, particularly those found in plants in the form of flavonoids, are of particular importance. Flavonoids are pigmented compounds in fruits and vegetables that protect plants from oxidative damage triggered by exposure to the sun. These strongly antioxidative compounds exert similar effects in humans upon ingestion. Each flavonoid supports the health of our organs and tissues differently. Flavonoids found in pomegranates, green tea, and soy are especially useful for protecting the health of the prostate gland. Some of the most potent of these are isoflavones from soy.
Soy isoflavones, namely genistein, daidzein and glycitein, possess significant biologic activity. Isoflavones are estrogenic, restore elasticity and health to blood vessels, and helps induce the death of prostate cancer cells. Soy-derived isoflavones also reduce abnormal prostate enlargement, or benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). For women, soy isoflavones may help mitigate symptoms of menopause. Asian men and women have much higher blood levels of genistein due to the higher amount of soy foods in their diets, compared to Westerners. As a result, soy isoflavone concentrated supplements are a viable alternative or addition to dietary soy. When taking soy isoflavone supplements, follow dosage instructions.
Our Product Picks
GENCEUTIC NATURALS LYCHEE ADVANCED SUPER FRUIT combines lychee, along with green tea extract, resveratrol, AuroraBlue blueberry, and cocoa in one powerful polyphenol blend.
ESSENTIAL FORMULAS DR. OHHIRA’S PROBIOTICS ORIGINAL FORMULA with Bifidobacterium longum—plus a full-spectrum of other beneficial bacteria—supports immunity, nutrient absorption and more.
SOURCE NATURALS AHCC Considered a superfood supplement in Japan, this proprietary AHCC formula blends several species of mushroom mycelia, including shiitake, grown in rice bran extract.
LIFE EXTENSION PQQ CAPS WITH BIOPQQ promotes youthful cellular function with a purified, highly potent form of PQQ from Japan that is produced through a natural fermentation process.
THE VITAMIN SHOPPE MEGA STRENGTH SOY ISOFLAVONES is formulated with genistein, daidzein, and glycitein isoflavones from soybean extract, shown to combat age-related issues including prostate problems.