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Does food have an impact on our life expectancy or is “how long we live” predetermined by our genes?

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Only 10% of countries in the world have a life expectancy of 84 for women (the U.S. is not one of them): Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Singapore, Andorra, Spain, Monaco, France, Iceland, Australia, Israel, Sweden, Canada, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Austria, Greece, Finland, South Korea (U.S. is 81 years - same for Qatar and Columbia; Russia is 63)

For men, only 6% reach 80 (U.S. is not one of them): Qatar, San Marino, Iceland, Switzerland, Italy, Singapore, Australia, Israel, Sweden, Canada and Kuwait
(U.S. is 76 years - same for Lebanon; Russia is 75)

Article from the Journal of Vascular Health and Risk Management:
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in the United States (US), and certain populations, such as South Asians, African Americans, and Hispanics, carry a disproportionately larger burden of CAD. The mortality rates from CAD in South Asians are reported to be two to three times higher than those for Caucasians, irrespective of gender, religion, social class, dietary practices or country of residence. This higher prevalence is seen in South Asian immigrants (SAIs) in the US as well as in those living in India, and rates are similar among vegetarians and nonvegetarians.
The CAD rates in the US, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, and Finland have declined to half over the past 30 years. These vast reductions in CAD mortality are generally attributed to nationwide changes in specific risk factors... with modest contributions from advances in treatment. Ironically, during this time, the CAD rates doubled in SAIs.
Migration is an important factor in determining the increased risk of CAD; however, other migrating populations do not have an increased risk of CAD compared with the indigenous population. Thus, other specific factors must apply to SAIs
====

I am a true believer in eating healthy, not smoking, exercising and “everything in moderation”. I believe that living in such a manner will raise the quality of life. However, taking “quality of life” out of the equation and looking only at life expectancy… does food intake (nitrates, MSG, cholesterol, trans fats) even play a role in our life expectancy or do our genes predetermine how long we will live?

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  1. It's both -- all the great genetics in the world won't save you from making all the wrong choices...

    ...and all the right choices won't erase genetic predispositions. (It'll help, but it won't erase them)

    I've known people who have been both winners and losers, in both of those lotteries.

    9 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      And then you have those that do everything right and get run over by a bus. There are no guarantees, better not to obsess on this subject; just live your life to the fullest. Quality over quantity.

      1. re: coll

        Or you have a vegan, non-drinking, non-smoking, yoga-practicing friend who needed a quadruple bypass....

        If your genes suck, there's not a hell of a lot you can do.

        1. re: linguafood

          I may just start thinking that.
          I live my life similar to your friend (watch my weight, exercise, eat healthy, don't smoke, drink only one glass of red-wine a day... yada yada yada). My son brought this article to me during winter break, and said that I should stop being so strict with my diet, because in the end it doesn't matter. I read it, and don't have an answer.

          1. re: acssss

            Well, I'm certainly not advocating for you to take up smoking or drinking heavily.

            I'm just saying that there is only so much one can do. If you eat a balanced diet (without denying yourself pleasurable experiences on a regular basis -- after all, YOLO, duuude!), exercise, and have the occasional glass of wine, you *should* be ok.

            But you can still get hit by a bus any damn day of the week.

            Carpe diem.

            1. re: acssss

              Don't let one article persuade you. There are numerous factors that contribute to physiological changes in the human body. Chronic stress and cortisol can and do wreak havoc. I am an R.N. ( I recently retired) and I was trained in the holistic style of nursing. I have not read the article you posted so if there is a way for you to provide the title ..authors... year published etc. I would like to try to find it and read it.

              1. re: MamasCooking

                I am never persuaded by one article :-)
                BTW - I think that nursing is one of the most difficult jobs in the world - so thank you!

                1. re: acssss

                  Oh thank you! I loved every minute of it to be honest but I am recently retired and I love every minute of this too:)

        2. re: sunshine842

          Sunshine - How strict are you with regards to your diet and exercise?
          I am pretty strict with myself.
          But now... I am not so sure
          "attributed to nationwide changes in specific risk factors... ironically, during this time, the CAD rates doubled in SAIs"

          1. re: acssss

            I walk every day with the dog, and eat very little processed anything -- mostly everything in moderation, including moderation.

            Beyond that, I don't fuss too much.

            I am descended from extremely long-lived stock (late 80s to early 90s, with no chronic health conditions), and they all had normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

            Even the grandfather who ate nothing more healthy than deepfried grease washed down with bourbon and a handful of smokes make it to 89 before lung cancer overtook him. (and his bp and cholesterol were both normal....)

            So I'm comfortable in the knowledge that I have great genetic playing for me....but I don't care to tempt fate too awfully much!

        3. You can't fight genetics, you can only speed its course with bad choices.

          7 Replies
          1. re: ferret

            I can't argue, because I have been living my life accordingly. However, the article states that the higher rates of CAD are irrespective of gender, religion, social class, dietary practices or country of residence, vegetarianism.
            The countries' life expectancy above demonstrate that food, level of poverty, level of hospital care and dietary practices don't play a role.

            So what are "bad choices"?

            Butter is a food group in France, but their life expectancy is higher than the U.S. - so is eliminating butter from your diet nonsense?

            1. re: acssss

              <The countries' life expectancy above demonstrate that food, level of poverty, level of hospital care and dietary practices don't play a role.>

              Either we don't understand the article or something got lost. At the very least, we know level of poverty and level of hospital care matter. These are the reasons why human life expectancy has increased in the last 50 years. This is why the richer regions of China, like Hong Kong and Macau, have longer life expectancy than the poorer part of China.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                If "hospital care" mattered, why isn't the U.S. life expectancy higher than Lebanon?

                (I am not trying to argue with you; in fact, I agree with you. I am just trying to examine this article).

                1. re: acssss

                  <If "hospital care" mattered, why isn't the U.S. life expectancy higher than Lebanon?>

                  You know this question assumes that the only difference between US and Lebanon is only in hospital care, which is definitely not the case.

                  1. re: acssss

                    The US is very diverse in terms of class and income, and some subgroups don't have access to good medical care or good hospitals.

                    If you just look at urban dwellers in the US with incomes above the median, you'll find a similar longevity index to the other developed countries on the list.

                    But pockets of poverty, poor communities with inferior medial care, bring our average down.

                    Looking at the top ten, it looks like per capita income is the driving force.

                    1. re: femmevox

                      Chronic stress and cortisol are also factors in the disease process.

                2. re: acssss

                  Butter is not bad for you, recently published medical research has confirmed it. The whole " butter and eggs are harmful" mantra has been definitely debunked. Margarine is actually terrible for you.

              2. sunshine is correct. It is both.

                To some extend, modern medicine has somewhat marginalized the food choice a bit, but not completely. For example, you have mentioned about quality of life. People who used to get diabetes and easily die, but now they have medicine (from GLP-1 inhibitors to insulin to humanlin to extend their life)

                Still, bad food choice, especially very bad food choice, and speed up the clock.

                On the other hand, if you have bad gene, you may die early regardless.

                15 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I agree with you and sunshine, however I am questioning my reasoning and wondering if food has any impact because article states:
                  "The CAD rates in the US....have declined to half over the past 30 years. These vast reductions in CAD mortality are generally attributed to nationwide changes in specific risk factors... with modest contributions from advances in treatment. Ironically, during this time, the CAD rates doubled in SAIs"

                  1. Advances in treatment have a modest contribution.
                  2. For some groups, these same changes in "risk factors" (probably eating better, exercising, etc) have had no impact and, in fact, their rates have increased.

                  So, should I be changing my eating habits and saying 'to hell with it all?'
                  I wonder.

                  1. re: acssss

                    <1. Advances in treatment have a modest contribution.>

                    True.

                    <2. For some groups, these same changes in "risk factors" (probably eating better, exercising, etc) have had no impact and, in fact, their rates have increased. >

                    < Ironically, during this time, the CAD rates doubled in SAIs. >

                    This is a tough thing to say. I am going to say something and it may offend some people, but this is the truth I know. Part of the reasons you see a "the CAD rates doubled in SAIs" is that many South Asian Immigrants are eating much "richer and wealthier food". Food with a lot of oil for example.

                    South Asia Immigrants did not just suddenly got bad gene in the last 30 years and doubled their CAD. Human gene pool does not change in 30 years. They eat worse in the last 30 years.

                    For example, a somewhat related issue. India is expected to double or even triple in diabetes in the next 20 years. Why? This prediction is based on the fact that India is getting wealthier and people will likely to eat worse (health-wise).

                    http://www.nyas.org/image.axd?id=7a6e...

                    http://www.ijem.in/articles/2011/15/2...

                    If anything, this prediction is saying that diet/food has a huge effect.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      If you are right, then what type of food to eat? Look at the countries where life expectancy is highest. No correlation in the food they eat (or their life style, hospital care, wealth, exercise habits, etc.)

                      I, too, believe that food/diet has a huge impact which is why I am so strict. But should I be?

                      1. re: acssss

                        No. Life is too short. And it shouldn't *feel* longer because you are denying yourself.

                        1. re: acssss

                          Food, diet, exercise all have an effect, but there is only so much you can do. What I will say is that you don't need to be super-healthy, but you should maintain a certain level of health. Watch your numbers. Just make sure they are not crazy.

                          http://arizonahealthspot.org/2012/11/

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            By the way, Italians eat with a ton of oil and they are very high on the Life Expectancy chart

                            1. re: acssss

                              That's because fat isn't bad for you.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                Especially olive oil fat.
                                I was replying to the comment about Indian food being oily and unhealthy. I don't think their food is to blame for their life expectancy, nor any other country after reading this article.

                              2. re: acssss

                                You ask me a question, and I gave you an answer, but you are expanding too much. If your question is about a specific group (SAI), then let's look at the specific group (SAI). When you look outside, then there are too many things to reconsider.

                                So let me ask you this then. Why do you think the CAD doubled for South Asian decedents then? What is the driving force? Do you have an answer? I can tell you it is not the gene. Gene within a group cannot possibly change so fast that the CAD doubled in 30 years.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  "You ask me a question, and I gave you an answer, but you are expanding too much."

                                  Perhaps you can let people discuss a topic in whichever way they like, particularly when they're the OP? I mean, you clearly have *lots* of time on your hands to refute and argue any discussion ad finitum, but.... it's not just "your way or the high-way", chem.

                                  Really. Take a deep breath and go for a walk some time. There's a whole big world outside there waiting to meet you.

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    I am asking the topic of discussion to be focused if we really interested in the reasons. If the question is about why South Asian CAD rate has doubled, then just looks at that, and not expand into another group. There is nothing wrong with asking to stay on a sub-topic.

                                    The original poster are looking at the 2008 article on Vasc Health Risk Manag. In it, it cites the 2000 article from Enas et. al. for CAD doubling among SAI.

                                    Enas et. al, article has cited diet along with lifestyle as the major contribution of this increasing CAD.

                                    "the CAD rates doubled in India during the same period, primarily due to dietary changes associated with epidemiological transition from a rural sustenance economy to an urban market oriented economy"

                                    <I mean, you clearly have *lots* of time on your hands to refute and argue any discussion ad finitum>

                                    You do know that you have posted more than I have in the last couples of days, and probably got in more arguments than me as well.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Not by a mile, hon :-D

                                      http://boardreader.com/site/Chowhound...

                                      Now go explore that world out there! And eat something nice. And/or healthy.

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        Ok, I won for last week, but I really think you won for the last two days. :)

                                        http://www.chow.com/profile/116513/posts

                                        Your last post on that page was 23 hours ago. My last post on that page was 2 days ago.

                                        Anyway, I do have to do. See you.

                                        http://www.chow.com/profile/1110551/p...

                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    How about changes in food habits TOGETHER with the genetic predisposition for SAI to get CAD or other diseases? There are some studies that suggest that people from particular ethnicities are more prone to certain diseases, such as this one:

                                    http://icmr.nic.in/ijmr/2007/march/03...

                                    "There appears to be certain genes which predispose Indians to diabetes while other genes which afford protection against diabetes and insulin resistance to Caucasians, do not appear to protect Indians."

                                    In other words, the same shift towards the less healthy lifestyle habits (including dietary) may be more likely to result in the disease for those of SA descent than for Caucasians.

                                    1. re: vil

                                      <How about changes in food habits TOGETHER with the genetic predisposition for SAI to get CAD>

                                      I am not saying that the genetic predisposition is not important. In fact, VERY important. I think you have mistaken me.

                                      What I was focusing is this statement/finding: "during this time, the CAD rates doubled in SAIs."

                                      So if the question is "Why did South Asians doubled the CAD in that time frame?", then the answer will focus on what have changed and what are likely responsible. Of course, genetic make up is very important. Please also read my other responses, so you will see that I have in fact repeated the important of genetic makeup many times.

                                      "Ironically, the CAD rates doubled in India during the same period, primarily due to dietary changes associated with epidemiological transition from a rural sustenance economy to an urban market oriented economy. The impact of such changes appears to be greater in Indians than in other populations due to a genetic predisposition. Significant decline of CAD is readily achievable in India, by adopting a combined population-wide and high-risk primary prevention strategy. This requires concerted action by the medical profession, govemment, media, and the public."

                      2. Happily, I have discovered that a dissolute life can compensate for even the most excellent of genes.

                        1. I live a completely self abusive lifestyle. If I weren't an "adult" someone should probably have me removed from my care. However, I'm a very realistic adult and realize someday I will most likely pay a price for the excesses of my life style. This also includes a stress level that I'm sure is doing more damage than most of my other abuses........but as someone else has said, quality over quantity?

                          If I am to meet what is considered an early demise there won't be one person at my memorial service that will say "Poor Jr, he should have lived a little more". I will rest in peace knowing I grabbed my life by the b*lls and hung on for deal life, however long that ride will last is the magical question, but I'm ok with that.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jrvedivici

                            I reduce my stress by not worrying about diet and exercise.

                          2. Nir Barzilai has been doing research on what he calls a "longevity gene". One of the women in his documentary (on you tube) says at the age of 104 that she stopped smoking at the age of 100, thinking that it wasn't good for her health :-)

                            I don't overdo anything in life. I'm balanced in most everything I do; however, I do select healthier foods over tastier ones - always. I am sure my sons/husband will remind me of this article next time I do that.

                            In any case, I thought it to be extremely interesting.

                            1. Both, plus other factors.

                              1. Both.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: WishyFish

                                  Which would you say had more? or is it 50-50?

                                  1. re: acssss

                                    it depends on so many factors that there is absolutely no way to quantify a percentage.

                                    I knew a woman who treated her body like a temple, and was in every way the picture of health -- until ovarian cancer took her from her school-age children when she was just 36.

                                    My grandfather smoked, drank, and ate fried food every day of his life -- and lived to be 89, and only then succumbed to lung cancer -- not anything to do with his diet or lack of exercise.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Of course it depends on many factors. I am asking - not because I think there are any specialists among us, but I am asking for opinions.

                                      In both your examples, it seems that you think genes matter more... or did I read it wrong?

                                      1. re: acssss

                                        you read it wrong --

                                        all the great genetics in the world won't save you from making all the wrong choices...

                                        ...and all the right choices won't erase genetic predispositions. (It'll help, but it won't erase them)

                                2. It's a complex mix, in general.

                                  Diet does affect health, on both sides (you can starve yourself to death, or die of nutritional deficiencies, as well as eat your way into Type 2 diabetes). And genes play a role in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and all the other diseases of an agricultural society.

                                  The interplay between the two, however, is complicated, quite interesting, and not well understood. You can feed two people the same diets and get vastly different results, based on different genes. The environment can also play a role in what genes get turned on in the first place, so the same genetic makeup in different environments can produce different genetic risks.

                                  In addition, medical science doesn't fully understand the effects of various food stuffs on health. It's a tricky thing to study - there are multiple factors entwined with diet (exercise, environment, poverty effects), and the science gold standard of a controlled experiment is not generally possible (or ethical). So you get messy studies, which rely on self reporting, or only study a small slice of time. Plus the usual caveat that correlation does not equal causation - the fact that people drink red wine have lower rates of heart trouble does not necessarily mean that drinking red wine prevents heart disease - it could simply be that people who drink red wine tend to be more affluent, and therefore in better health.

                                  There are people who smoke and drink and eat fatty foods and live to be 100, and people who are vegan low fat teetotallers and die at 50 of a heart attack. And the people who live to be 85, but only because they were very careful with their diet, and ones who died at 50 as a direct result of terrible health habits.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    Yes, there are definitely many factors, some even fascinating, that can affect life expectancy. For example, this one that finds a correlation of higher death rates, for those who live on lower floors in a high-rise building:

                                    "Overall, those on the ground floor had a 22 per cent greater chance of dying earlier from all causes than those in flats eight floors up or more. Lung and heart-related conditions were the most likely cause but there was no apparent link with cancer."

                                    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/art...

                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                      "the science gold standard of a controlled experiment is not generally possible (or ethical)"

                                      Bingo. The real science gold standard is a DOUBLE BLIND controlled experiment. This is really impossible, not just unethical, with regard to testing the effects of diet and exercise. It's not that doctors don't think diet and exercise are important, it's that you can't test those things the way you can test a pill.
                                      I have a few friends who've worked for years at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and questions about diet, exercise, job, etc. don't make up any really significant part of the patient intake questionnaire. It's all family history stuff. So they have a really impressive amount of data regarding genetics, but not much on other factors. Again, I don't think it's because they think non-genetic factors are unimportant, just much harder to study.

                                      1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                        Even with pills it's tricky. To reduce complicating factors, tests tend to be done on a fairly homogeneous sample - white men between the ages of 25 and 40, for example, and over a limited amount of time. So they can find out later than a drug has different effects on women, or Asians, or has long term effects that only show up after decades.

                                        Lifestyle stuff is generally self-reported, and people are notoriously bad at self-reporting behaviour that can be deemed virtuous or naughty. So they'll say they exercise and drink less. Statistically, if not corrected for, this would over-estimate the effects of bad behaviour.

                                        One lovely case I read about occurred when studying college drinking. They asked students how many drinks they had, but no-one had bothered to calibrate what they thought a single drink was. Turns out, what students where calling "one drink" was usually at least two drinks by the standard definition.

                                        Mind you, I would in a discipline that doesn't actually get to do experiments for practical, not ethical reasons - all we can do is watch what happens, and try to piece it togehter.

                                    2. I'm in the both camps but you can increase your odds tremendously with a big helping of how you handle the little things in preparation for the inevitable bigger things.

                                      If you want to predetermine anything about living determine how you handle failure, disappointment and expectations. Those who live a fuller, longer life tend to learn how to handle their worst days better than the great ones.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        ..in that case, I am going to live to be 120!

                                        1. re: acssss

                                          that's the spirit!