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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

To live past 100 years

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

The key to a long life, experts agree, is moderation and involvement.

AFTER celebrating his 100th birthday in Sacramento, California, with friends and family, Lou Weintraub headed to sea for a 10-day cruise with his wife.

"You should have seen the number of older people on the cruise," said Weintraub, who retired from work as a non-profit executive in 1979.

"They weren't older than you," said his wife, Roz Levy-Weintraub, 82, who still works selling real estate.

"But they looked older," said Weintraub.

"And they seemed older," agreed Levy-Weintraub.

He was born to Polish immigrant parents in New York on Jan 25, 1914, the middle of their three offspring. Weintraub was a child of the hard Depression years, and later, as a young man, he served as a clinical psychologist in the military during World War II.

Sharp and involved in the community as a volunteer even today, he remembers it all.

As a centenarian, Weintraub is part of another significant moment: the rapid demographic shift into very old age.

According to the 2010 US census, America is home to the world's largest population of centenarians, more than 53,300 people 100 years old and older.

That number represents an astonishing 66% increase over the nation's centenarians in 1980. During the same time, the country's total population grew by 36%.

And California leads the way with the oldest of the old: In 2010, according to the census, the state was home to 5,921 centenarians, or more than one-tenth of the US's total population 100 years old and older.

Celebrating a 100th birthday – that special milestone for centenarians – is becoming statistically commonplace.

"We've seen life expectancy make gains in the past 100 years," said Joe Rodrigues, long-term care ombudsman for the California Department of Aging. "We used to say the fastest-growing segment of our oldest adults was 85 and older. Today, it's 100 and older."

People are paying attention to that statistical reality: To recognise people turning 100, Assembly member Mariko Yamada of Davis, California, established what she calls the Century Circle of centenarians in her district.

Since 2010, her office said, she has honoured 91 100-year-olds.

And there are enough people living to 100 that the Social Security Administration has created the Centenarian Project, which seeks to verify that centenarians receiving benefits are really still alive.

Experts on ageing know that centenarians are most likely to be female and white, residents of the West or the South, and living on their own or with family members, not in nursing care.

But why are so many more people today living so much longer?

Winning the genetic lottery plays a big role – Weintraub's older sister, for example, lived to age 102. But genes aren't the whole story.

"Genes are 30% of healthy aging," said Cheryl Osborne, chairman of the California State University-Sacramento gerontology programme. "The other 70% involves what we do with what we've got.

"To live to 100, you have to be well physically and socially and psychologically and spiritually. These are not people who are dying in skilled nursing. They're actively living in the community."

And they've been lucky. To live to 100, today's centenarians had to survive their earliest years: More than 25% of children born in the early 1900s died before they reached school age.

Life at the turn of the last century was hard, and often, it was short. The average life expectancy was 47.

Today's centenarians had to survive the war years, as well as the diseases that in the 1960s struck down so many of their generation in middle age, such as heart attack and cancer.

"We've seen many advances in medicine," Rodrigues said, "and we've seen people manage chronic disease with medication. Now we're living longer but we're living with more chronic conditions, like heart disease and arthritis – but those conditions are managed with medication."

To live to 100, the oldest Americans long ago learned to keep going, to walk and garden, to spend time with family and friends. The key to a long life, experts agree, is moderation and involvement.

"In every centenarian study I've seen in the past 20 years, the data is consistent," Osborne said. "You've got to believe in something beyond yourself. You have to take care of yourself. You've got to exercise in some way. You need to be around people and give back to your community.

"You have to have a purpose for getting up every day."

Lou Weintraub does. Really, he always has.

A long-time executive with San Francisco's Jewish Community Federation before he retired, he has served on the board of a number of commissions and non-profits in Sacramento, where he moved in 1989.

His eyes bother him a bit these days. He was diagnosed with macular degeneration at age 98. That's when he gave up his driver's license and stepped back a bit from some of his activities.

But he still works out at the gym three times every week, and he still attends Renaissance Society classes on the CSUS campus. He goes to meetings with his volunteer groups and does his own taxes.

"What I see about Lou is that he cares more about other people than himself," his wife said. "He's always caring about somebody else."

Weintraub's congregation, Mosaic Law, honoured his birthday during a shabbat service and lunch afterward.

"Mr Weintraub has the energy of a 50-year-old," Rabbi Reuven Taff said. "He's not somebody who looks for honours. He's one of the most humble guys but he possesses tremendous strength of character."

But Weintraub doesn't pretend to have answers for his longevity.

"People ask how I've lived to be 100," he said. "You can say you've had the best medical care, but so have others.

"You trust. You have to believe. All I can think is, someone up there has said, 'Stay alive.'" – The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The super broccoli

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

A new technique boosts broccoli's shelf life and health benefits.

BROCCOLI has long been celebrated for its many nutritional benefits, including its anti-cancer properties.

In addition to ongoing research involving the veggie's use in preventing cancer, researchers at the University of Illinois, US, have found a way to prolong broccoli's shelf life.

The research, recently published in the medical journal PLOS ONE, details a reportedly natural, inexpensive way to produce broccoli that won't spoil quickly and features even more health benefits.

Jack Juvik, a University of Illinois crop sciences researcher, discussed how a combination of two plant compounds not only increased "the presence of cancer-fighting agents" in the vegetable, but also contributed to longer shelf life.

"We had figured out ways to increase the anti-cancer activity in broccoli, but the way we figured it out created a situation that would cause the product to deteriorate more rapidly after application," Juvik said. "If we could figure out a way to prolong the appearance, taste, and flavour long after harvest and maintain the improved health-promoting properties, that's always of great interest to growers."

Researchers began by spraying broccoli plants with methyl jasmonate (MeJA), a reportedly non-toxic plant-signal compound, four days before harvest.

This compound intensifies the vegetable's cancer-fighting properties by triggering gene activity associated with the biosynthesis of glucosinolates (GS), compounds found in broccoli and other brassica vegetable tissue.

Glucosinolates are considered anti-cancer agents due to their ability to induce detoxification enzymes, which cleanse and remove carcinogens from the body.

While MeJA increases the veggie's cancer-fighting abilities, it also "signals a network of genes" that release ethylene, thus causing plant decay.

Researchers then applied recently developed compound 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) to the same broccoli plants, as the compound, also said to be non-toxic, interferes with receptor proteins sensitive to ethylene, thereby stopping or slowing the decay.

"It's very cheap, and it's about as toxic as salt," Juvik said of 1-MCP. "It's volatile and disappears from the product after about 10 hours," he claimed, also noting the positive effect these treatments could have.

"These are not pills that go in and take away or change damaged tissues, but it's a way to protect people by reducing the risk they currently have to different diseases," he said.

Meanwhile, since 2011 shoppers in the UK have been able to buy a so-called "super broccoli" called Beneforté. Developed by British researchers using conventional breeding techniques, it is said to contain extra potent levels of glucoraphanin, thought to help lower the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Late in 2010, controversial agribusiness giant Monsanto and Apio Inc quietly launched a US-grown version of the super broccoli. – AFP Relaxnews

Diabetes: Making the right choices

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:00 AM PST

Does having diabetes mean you have to forgo all that delicious food?

MALAYSIA is renowned as a food haven. We have a diverse range of cuisines to tease our palates.

Can delicious food still be a choice for people with diabetes? To answer this, let's review how diabetes is managed with dietary modification over the past 30 years.

Healthy eating is part of an important component of a healthy lifestyle for people with diabetes. Do they need to choose foods differently from the general population? Not really.

If you were to compare the dietary recommendations for the general population and those for people with diabetes, you will find that they are actually similar.

Both recommend foods that are low in fat, salt and sugar, and high in fibre. Foods are to be chosen from all major food groups – grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein-rich foods. The key principles in making healthy food choices are balance, variety and moderation.

A major difference between the two dietary recommendations is people with diabetes must regulate their carbohydrate intake carefully.

Carbohydrate from food gets digested to form glucose, and this results in an increase in blood glucose.

Food rich in carbohydrate include grains, rice, noodles, bread, starchy vegetables, fruits, beans, milk and sugary foods.

Thus, consuming a consistent amount of carbohydrate distributed throughout the day with regular meals helps to keep blood glucose levels more constant.

People with diabetes should avoid skipping meals. They should also not have double servings of carbohydrate rich food, e.g. two bowls of rice instead of one for lunch, and adjust for it following dinner with no carbohydrate intake.

This helps prevent wide and undesirable fluctuations of blood glucose levels. Thus, regular food quantity and timing is as important as the amount of food consumed.

Is sugar allowed?

What about sugars and sweets? For many years, people with diabetes were told to avoid sugar, sweets and some starches. Now, it is known that a small amount of sucrose or table sugar can be incorporated into a healthy eating plan, provided the carbohydrate contribution is accounted for.

When table sugar is used judiciously, it can help to make some food more appealing and improve its palatability, for example, adding half a teaspoon of sugar in a bowl of oats porridge with skim milk.

Research has shown that small amounts of table sugar does not raise blood glucose as rapidly as we used to think. However, foods or drinks concentrated with sugar are not encouraged as they do not provide much nutritional value. This is more so for those who are overweight or have high triglyceride (a certain type of abnormal blood cholesterol pattern) in their blood.

Carbohydrates – the new sin?

Carbohydrates from different types of food are absorbed into the blood stream at different rates. Complex carbohydrates, e.g. whole grain, is absorbed slower than simple sugars, and do not spike up blood glucose level after eating.

Nevertheless, total carbohydrate intake rather than the type of carbohydrate has a greater impact on blood glucose. Hence, people with diabetes need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrate they consume to keep to the recommended portions within the meal plan.

It is best to choose healthy carbohydrate-rich foods, with at least half of the carbohydrates as whole grains. Regular fruit intake is also encouraged.

Monitoring carbohydrate intake by carbohydrate counting, or experience-based estimation, remains a key strategy in blood glucose control. Use carbohydrate food exchange lists, nutrition information on food labels and nutrition food databases as tools to help in carbohydrate counting.

You can also use a healthy food plate model as a visual concept to help control carbohydrate intake through portion control and balance. (See illustration – Healthy Food Plate Model).

A healthy balanced meal should include plenty of vegetables, with moderate amounts of carbohydrate and some protein.

Food choices should be low in fat, especially saturated fats (e.g. curries rich in coconut milk, fatty meats).

Saturated fats, trans fats (which act like saturated fats) and cholesterol from food increase blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart problems, a major cause of death for most people with diabetes.

In addition, gram for gram, fats provide more than double the energy compared to protein and carbohydrates. All types of fats (including healthy unsaturated fats) are dense in energy.

For those who need to reduce weight, reduce caloric intake by lowering fat intake. Choose foods prepared with little oil or fats, and those of a lower fat alternative, e.g. skim milk or low fat milk replacing full cream milk.

Over the past 30 years, dietary recommendations for people with diabetes have been revised. Current recommendations have moved away from focusing on what foods to avoid, to adopting smart healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Make the right food choices at the right portions and have them regularly at the right time. For the change to be sustainable, foods should remain interesting, appealing, and taste delicious.

Lee Lai Fun is dietician and diabetes educator. Dr Hew Fen Lee is a consultant endocrinologist. This article is contributed by The Star Health & Ageing Panel, which comprises a group of panellists who are not just opinion leaders in their respective fields of medical expertise, but have wide experience in medical health education for the public. The members of the panel include: Datuk Prof Dr Tan Hui Meng, consultant urologist; Dr Yap Piang Kian, consultant endocrinologist; Datuk Dr Azhari Rosman, consultant cardiologist; A/Prof Dr Philip Poi, consultant geriatrician; Dr Hew Fen Lee, consultant endocrinologist; Prof Dr Low Wah Yun, psychologist; Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; Dr Lee Moon Keen, consultant neurologist; Dr Ting Hoon Chin, consultant dermatologist; Prof Khoo Ee Ming, primary care physician; Dr Ng Soo Chin, consultant haematologist. For more information, e-mail The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel provides this information for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel disclaims any and all liability for injury or other damages that could result from use of the information obtained from this article.


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