Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fountain of Youth

Are hormones the fountain of youth? 

By Peter Ragnar

The world is awash in stories and myths of sages who have secreted themselves away from the world. In the Taoist tradition, you’ll hear them described as immortal. The term “immortal” was actually translated from “mountain man.” This referred to people who sought out personal solitude to practice spiritual discipline, and for a very small minority, to seek the elixir of youth. 

Can such a thing be found? After all, the search for the fountain of youth is thousands of years old. Has anyone yet come close? Oh, yes, allegations abound about unknown persons from an unknown time who shattered known (or assumed) scientific limits. However, allegations don’t erase facts. But what actually are the facts? 

According to anthropologists, primitive man was fortunate to live 18 years; according to historical records, that’s a pretty good approximation of the average life span in Europe during the Dark Ages. Some healthier people might have made it to the ripe old age of 25 or 30. In the United States of the 1800s, the average life span was 25; a hundred years later, it had soared to 47; and in the year 2000, the figure had shot up to 80. Wealthy Asian-American women slam-dunked the other countries of the world with an average life expectancy of 95.

Of course, an unequivocal study accepted by the scientific community acknowledged that a French woman, Jeanne Calment, almost made it to 123. But this is a far cry from the assertion made in the New York Times that Chinese herbalist Li Chung Yun was 256 when he died in 1933. Old Li’s age was confirmed by Professor Wu Chung Chich, the dean of Chang Tsu University. It was said that Li was born in 1677 in the province of Szechuan, China. He received a special recognition from the government in 1827 on his 150th birthday, and again in 1877 at age 200. On his 200th birthday, he was lecturing about the power of wild foods and herbs at the University of China. 

Now, of course, without a photo ID and a provable birth certificate, all this is considered nothing but a fanciful claim. After all, I can’t even prove who I am. Don’t you just hate it when some official shouts, “Show me your papers!”? I guess that’s why people scoffed at Harvard professor Dr. Alexander Leaf, an accomplished gerontologist, whose January 1973 National Geographic article claimed the life spans of Georgian Russians to be well beyond 120. As an example, Shirali Mislimov believed he was 168 and his wife, 120. They had been married for 102 years at the time. If 50 years is a golden anniversary, what would 100 be?

Okay, so we don’t really know any of this for certain. But what we do know is that all the long-lived people of the world had a fondness for wine, herbs, and tea as well as a slower pace of life. In Dr. Leaf’s article, Mrs. Khfaf Lasuria, who believed she was 141 years old, said she worked as a tea leaf picker up to age 139, so she must have consumed a lot of green tea!

It is now confirmed that green tea alters hormone levels and reduces breast cancer risk. I found it quite interesting that green tea affects the body’s hormone levels in a beneficial manner. (See the 1998 study by Nagata, Kabuto, and Shimizu, published in Nutrition and Cancer, on how green tea and caffeine affect serum concentrations of estradiol and sex-hormone-binding globulin in premenopausal Japanese women.) This is especially powerful if the tea is handpicked and only the top two leaves and leaf bud are used. The first spring leaf buds, called the first flush, are the most potent and the finest quality.

Back in the early 1900s, German physiologist Max Rubner came up with a rate of living theory. In simple terms, he thought that living a slower-paced life appeared to slow energy consumption, increasing longevity. Today, we understand this relationship in terms of the stress hormone cortisol and how it affects other life-extension hormones such as human growth hormone, DHEA, gonadotropic hormones (sex hormones), and melatonin.

Increased stress decreases our youthful hormone levels. As an example, when cortisol goes up, memory goes down, sleep patterns are interrupted, and bodily growth and repair cycles are interfered with. After just twenty-four hours of stress, your thymus gland, the seat of your immune system, can shrink to half its former size.
Human growth hormone, or somatotropin, is like the umbrella under which all the other hormones function. It peaks at around age twenty, and by the time you get to be sixty or seventy, you have only about fifteen percent left. The difference between a youthful, vital person and an aging, frail, decrepit person is now believed to be simply the body’s hormone levels.

Li Chung Yun claims to have met a five-hundred-year-old sage who instructed him to make a tea with an herb called ho shou wu. He also consumed copious amounts of ginseng. There is no greater hormone replacement therapy than good, wild-crafted ginseng. When pioneering Russian scientist Georges Lakhovsky (1869–1942) went to Manchuria, he was told about a radioactive ginseng, wild tung pei. Tung pei roots emit a “gurwitch” or mitogenic ultraviolet light, as well as ginsenosides, which improve sperm levels, hormone levels, and memory. These types of herbal elixirs are legendary among long-lived peoples, and scientists have now awakened to the beneficial effects of certain herbs on our hormones.

In fact, with anti-aging knowledge doubling every three and a half years (since 1997), by the year 2017, we will know sixty-four times more about how to stop and reverse aging than we do now. That may sound like a mouthful, but here’s what Harvard biologist and professor Edward O. Wilson, a National Medal of Science and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, had to say when asked if we can live forever: “I see no reason why humanity and the species as a whole cannot be immortal!”

The same question was posed in a New York Times article, “Pushing Limits of the Human Life Span.” The article states, “The question is no longer ‘Will it happen?’ but rather, ‘When?’” The founder of Human Genome Sciences, Inc., Dr. William Haseltine of Harvard University, states, “I believe our generation is the first to be able to map a possible route to individual immortality.” Dr. Ronald Klatz of the American Academy of Anti-aging Medicine believes that “human immortality is achievable by the year 2029.”

Yes, these are quite optimistic statements made by respected experts in the field. They all agree that death is a biological problem requiring a biological solution. While there is much research into many areas, the possibility that hormones may hold the secret to the fountain of youth is certainly on their minds. One thing we do know for certain is that when hormone levels become depleted, we age; when they are replenished, we don’t.

In conclusion, I’d like to inject one more point: Our willful surrender to aging and death is a perversion of our natural instinct for self-preservation. I believe we already possess the tools for an open-ended longevity growing in forest and meadow. If we only expand our conscious awareness of the preciousness of life, savor it, honor it, celebrate it, and feel it pulsing through us, we can expand it. Expand it just a little, and you’ll have the confidence to expand it a lot. Once the juice of your hormones flows like a river, you’ll be the biggest scandal in your neighborhood when they find out that you plan on living forever!

Peter Ragnar is a natural life scientist, modern-day Taoist wizard, and self-master par excellence. A martial arts practitioner for over fifty years, he is renowned for his teachings on optimal health and longevity. He is the author of twenty books, including How Long Do You Chose to Live?

*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.

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