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Dean Pomerleau

Discover Magazine Negative Blurb on CR

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Note - this is a post that IMO falls between the cracks of our current set of forums - its about CR (so I don't think belongs in "Chitchat"), but not about either CR Science directly or CR practice directly. I chose CR Practice since it talks mainly about how worthwhile it may be to practice CR...

 

This month's issue of Discover Magazine has a section on healthy aging, and in it they have a blurb about CR - i.e. whether its worth pursuing for those who want to live a long and healthy life. Their basic conclusion is "don't count on it" - based largely on the mixed results from the NIA / Wisconsin primate studies. Here are some highlights (or lowlights) from the full text (paywall) of the discussion:

 

Healthy Aging Claim:
 
Can eating like a bird add years to your life?    Don't count on it.
 
Since the mid-20th century, researchers have noted that calorie-restricted lab animals live longer than their well-fed counterparts. Naturally, some self-proclaimed health gurus have seized on these studies as evidence that humans could reap the same benefits by slashing their food intake. That prospect has inspired calorie-restricted diets that feature arcane ingredients like brewer’s yeast and psyllium husk and may total less than 1,200 calories per day.
 
Despite these dieters’ herculean efforts — forgoing dessert in favor of processed whey protein is a pretty drastic move — there’s still no solid evidence that slashing calories will extend human lives.
 
Rats do live about 40 percent longer on a calorie-restricted regimen, and roundworms live up to 50 percent longer. But evidence is mixed in monkeys, whose responses presumably mimic ours. In a University of Wisconsin study published in 2014, older rhesus monkeys that ate spartan diets for years were less likely to die, while scientists at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) reported in 2012 that calorie-restricted rhesus monkeys lived about as long as those on a normal diet.
 
Calorie restriction does seem to forestall aging, at least somewhat, on the cellular level. University of Washington researchers have found that a calorie-restricted diet reduces the activity of a cell-signaling protein called TOR-1 that may speed up cell aging. And scientists at Harvard Medical School, the NIA and elsewhere have shown that caloric restriction drives expression of proteins called sirtuins, which help promote cell survival.
 
Such research may help scientists understand the mechanisms that underlie aging and identify promising drug candidates that mimic the health-promoting effects of caloric restriction, says NIA’s Felipe Sierra.
 
Right now, though, “people are subjecting themselves to these very harsh regimes, [but] I don’t suggest anyone follow any of the leads that we have,” Sierra says. Essentially, caloric restriction involves a lot of pain for no sure gain. — ES
 
You can't really fault the article's characterization of the scientific results on longevity, but the emphasis on the weirdness of the diet (whey protein - really!?) and its associated hardship is disappointing and largely misses the mark. Plus it totally ignores all the health improvements that CR practitioners enjoy, as demonstrated by research like that of Luigi Fontana. 
 
To age well, they endorse exercise, healthy eating & obesity avoidance, stress management, and drinking red wine. The last is particularly disappointing, since they cite resveratrol and its impact on the sirtuins as the evidence in favor of wine - despite the fact that CR (which they dismiss) has been shown to affect this same biochemical pathway much more dramatically than wine.
 
Overall pretty disappointing, but par for the course in our culture. 
 
--Dean
Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Thanks, Dean! "All press is good press?" Maybe not, but perhaps a letter to the editor is in order?

 

About "falling through the cracks": no system will be perfect. (I think Wittgenstein shows that pretty convincingly.) But I think we can revisit the question of forum organization once we've all had more experience here.

 

- Brian

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Perhaps a letter to the editor is in order?

 

OK, you goaded me into it. Below is the letter to the editor I sent Discover Magazine. Let's see if they publish it...

 

Dear Editors,
 
I was greatly disappointed to read the dismissive and disparaging remarks about the practice of calorie restriction as a means to a longer, healthier life in the article about "The Science of Aging Well" in your Oct '15 issue. 
 
As a long-time practitioner of calorie restriction with optimal nutrition (CRON), I can attest to the benefits of CRON for health and vitality, and assure you that few of us eat whey protein and other "arcane" ingredients as suggested in the story. In fact, we are a group dedicated to putting into practice perhaps the best dietary advice of all time, by Michael Pollan, "Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly plants."  
 
There is growing scientific evidence (e.g. studies [1] and [2]) that the CRON approach to eating is helping us to stay younger and healthier, and to avoid our country's top two killers, heart disease and cancer. In fact, we long-term calorie restrictors have heart health that is equivalent to people 20 years younger who eat a standard diet [3].
 
In a society where obesity is at epidemic proportions, and people are constantly on the lookout for ways to validate their bad habits, you do a disservice to your readers with the misleading conclusion that "essentially, caloric restriction involves a lot of pain for no sure gain."  The gains from calorie restriction in humans are clear and well-documented, if you'd just look carefully at the available science.
 
Dr. Dean Pomerleau
Member, Calorie Restriction Society (CRSociety.org)
 
--------
[1] Luigi Fontana, Timothy E. Meyer, Samuel Klein, and John O. Holloszy
Long-term calorie restriction is highly effective in reducing the risk for atherosclerosis in humans
PNAS 2004 101 (17) 6659-6663; published ahead of print April 19, 2004, doi:10.1073/pnas.0308291101
 
[2] Fontana L, Weiss EP, Villareal DT, Klein S, Holloszy JO. 
Long-term effects of calorie or protein restriction on serum IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 concentration in humans. 
Aging cell. 2008;7(5):681-687. doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2008.00417.x.
 
[3] Stein PK, Soare A, Meyer TE, Cangemi R, Holloszy JO, Fontana L. 
Caloric restriction may reverse age-related autonomic decline in humans. 
Aging cell. 2012;11(4):644-650. doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2012.00825.x.
Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Dean, thank you!! It's late at night here and I've got to try to get some sleep; will reread tomorrow. I think the quality of the letter, plus the "Dr.", will make it very likely that it will be published.

 

- Brian

 

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I think the quality of the letter, plus the "Dr.", will make it very likely that it will be published.

 

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty using the prefix "Dr.", given that in my case it represents a PhD in Computer Science. But hey, I too figured it might help bolster my credibility...

 

--Dean

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Hi Dean!

 

Nice post -- I would only criticize characterizing CRONNies as "a group dedicated to putting into practice perhaps the best dietary advice of all time, by Michael Pollan".

 

"the best dietary advice of Dr. Walford" would be more accurate.

 

True, as you indicate. the vast majority of most of what we all eat is vegan -- but most of us are not 100% vegan.  So the note might suggest (to someone not familiar with CRONNies -- and the Discover article clearly shows that they are in that group) -- that our diets are all vegan --- not accurate.

 

Having said that, let me express my personal admiration for Dr. Pollan (although my diet isn't 100% vegan -- it's "mostly vegan" which actually is consitent with Dr. Pollan's advice).

 

Anyway, thanks for responding to the Discover article.

 

  -- Saul

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Saul,

 

I would only criticize characterizing CRONNies as "a group dedicated to putting into practice perhaps the best dietary advice of all time, by Michael Pollan".

 

"the best dietary advice of Dr. Walford" would be more accurate.

 

As much as I admired Roy Walford, he never gave nearly as succinct and accurate dietary advice as Michael Pollan's statement, "eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants" - its advice anyone can understand and put into practice. Plus, (virtually) no reader of Discover will have heard of Roy Walford. 

 

 

So the note might suggest (to someone not familiar with CRONNies -- and the Discover article clearly shows that they are in that group) -- that our diets are all vegan --- not accurate.

 

Once again I don't see how you've come to the conclusion you've drawn. As you say, Michael Pollan isn't a vegan, and as much as I'd personally advocate for it, the "mostly plants" directive (obviously) does not exclude animal products entirely.
 
--Dean
Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Hi again Dean.

 

The misleading part of your note is that it suggests that Dr. Pollan is a "guru" of the CR Society.

 

Much as I respet Dr. Pollan's views, he is of course not a guru of the CR Society.

 

  --Saul

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The misleading part of your note is that it suggests that Dr. Pollan is a "guru" of the CR Society.

 

Once again it seems to me you've read far too much into the statement in question. It doesn't say (or even imply) that Michael Pollan is associated with CR or the CR Society. All my letter says is that Michael Pollan has given the world good dietary advice, and we at the CR Society take it to heart, with positive results.

 

The fact that we follow his adage (perhaps) without realizing he said it, and in many cases started eating the way he suggests before he said it, is irrelevant.

 

By the way, Pollan has a whole list of helpful and amusing food rules, some of which you can read here:

 

http://michaelpollan.com/reviews/how-to-eat/

 

Here are a couple:

  • Rule No. 19: “If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”
  • Rule No. 36: “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.”
  • Rule No. 20: “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”

Again - pithy down-to-earth advice that everyone can understand, if not always implement successfully...

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Hi again, Dean!

 

Rule #19 is obviously wrong:  Most of us don't eat potatoes (James Cain is an exception).  And we don't eat whole poisonous plants.

 

Admittedly, Pollan's views are overall consistent with most of ours -- but it's wrong to put him forward, when effectively representing the CR Society to Discover Magazine. 

 

I doubt that Dr. Pollan is even a member of the CR Society.

 

Also, Polan doesn't emphasize counting calories -- if he even mentions it at all.  He emphasizes "a (mostly) plant based diet" -- which is good, but not sufficient (perhaps not even necessary) for successful Calorie Restriction.

 

  -- Saul

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Sigh - all I can say Saul is that I'm glad you're not in charge of PR/marketing for the CR Society...

 

Just for the record, I eat potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, and so do the long-lived Okinawans. I'm sure Pollan isn't a member of the CR Society. And counting calories ISN'T necessary to practice successful CR, at least modest CR which is the most we can realistically hope for when it comes to the general public.

 

--Dean

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Hi Dean --

 

Sweet potatoes aren't potatoes.

 

Anyway, thanks for responding to the Discover magazine article -- I hope that they publish it.

 

  -- Saul

Edited by Saul

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Hey guys. Just want to note that, sure, some people might get the impression from the wording that Michael Pollan is some sort of guide for us. But I don't think that matters. The one inaccuracy is the mostly plant bit. There are plenty of paleo CR practitioners. (Oh, another thing: as everyone knows, I really dislike the term CRON, partly because it encourages the use of the term CRONies, which is disastrously bad from a PR standpoint. It's already spread widely. Eek.)

 

But these are minor points, in my view. It takes time to write and polish anything one thinks might be published. Dean, you've done (yet another!) great service to the cause and to the Society. Again: thank you!

 

- Brian

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Hi Brian,

 

The one inaccuracy [in Dean's letter to the editor] is the mostly plant bit. There are plenty of paleo CR practitioners.

 

I seriously doubt both these statements.

 

I challenge you Brian to find anyone who you or I would consider to be practicing conscience CR (with optimal or at least adequate nutrition) who is getting more than 50% of their calories, or especially more than 50% of volume of food, from animal sources. If there isn't anyone (or only very few) who are like this, then it seems to me that by definition the "mostly plants" qualifier is an accurate statement for the vast majority (probably close to 100%) of CR practitioners. Again, "mostly plants" doesn't mean vegan.

 

As for your statement "There are plenty of paleo CR practitioners," that too seems to be incorrect. As a sneak peak at the CR survey results (take the survey people!), 0% of respondents so far have self-identified as following a paleo diet. In fact, I was heartened to see that the single most common dietary category people identify themselves as is "vegan" (42%), almost twice as many as identify themselves as "omnivores" (23%). This compares to about 1-3% vegans, and around 95% omnivores in the general US population, as revealed in a 2011 national telephone survey by the Vegan Resources Group [1].

 

--Dean

 

[1] http://www.vrg.org/blog/2011/12/05/how-many-adults-are-vegan-in-the-u-s/

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Brian,

 

(Oh, another thing: as everyone knows, I really dislike the term CRON, partly because it encourages the use of the term CRONies, which is disastrously bad from a PR standpoint. It's already spread widely. Eek.)

 

Unlike Saul ( :)), I too dislike the nickname CRONies, and that's why I've tried to stop using it, and didn't use it in the Discover letter (referring to "calorie restrictors" instead). It would be nice to have a short nickname, but CRONies (and to a lesser extent, CRON) has two negative connotations / connections in my mind. It sounds like "crone" as in "old crone" defined as:

 

A crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman. In some stories, she is disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing.

 

CRONie also sounds identical to crony, which is defined as:

 

a close friend of someone; especially : a friend of someone powerful (such as a politician) who is unfairly given special treatment or favors.

 

So while I think it is important in general, and in the letter to the editor I sent in particular, to stress the importance of nutritional quality when it comes to the practice of CR, hence my inclusion of "calorie restriction with optimal nutrition (CRON)" in my letter, I'm happy to avoid using that acronym (and esp. CRONies) in the future if the CR Society as an organization judges them to be unhelpful.

 

--Dean

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Dean,

 

My claim about paleo-CR is based on people I've met in the paleo community who practice CR. So, in a sense, it's not relevant if your claim is about members of the CR Society, as opposed to CR practitioners in general. And even if you're claim is about practitioners in general, you may be right, since I'm not basing the claim on a random sample!

 

About the term "CRON" (and partly in answer to Saul): Your answer is the main reason I don't like it. People hear CRON or CRONy and think something like "crony capitalism (or whatever)", or "crony-ism".

 

The other reason is the logical messiness of it, as I've explained before. "FRON" or "DRON" (food, diet, respectively) would work fine: restrict (say) food (FR), but make sure you're getting enough essential nutrients (ON). But CR already includes the bit about essential/optimal nutrients: restrict only calories; implied: not the part of food that we need for optimal health! One could quibble over optimal vs. essential, but my view is: CRON says: "restrict food but optimize the non-calorie part and optimize the non-calorie part". In other words, the ON is stated twice (the first time by implication).

 

Have to head to work. Hope this makes sense. (And note: I don't actually think the name issue is very important.) (Second note: search archives for more extensive discussion on the best name for our diet.)

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Brian,

 

Your explanation of the redundancy of the term CRON makes logical sense to me. I'd never thought of it that way. By analogy, the concept of Protein Restriction (PR) in my mind means restricting protein ONLY, while keeping other aspects of the diet constant. An experiment described as a test of PR but which also altered many other aspects of the diet would be a misnomer - it wasn't really (just) about protein restriction. The constancy of the rest of the diet is implied and assumed when you describe it as a protein restriction experiment. I can appreciate the argument that the same logic should apply to CR.

 

But on the other hand, when trying to convey the concept of a calorie restriction diet like we practice to an average person, both aspects (fewer calories AND improved nutrition) are important to communicate. At least according to the theory and the scientific evidence, BOTH of them are critical to obtain the longevity and health benefits of CR. And importantly, both of them are typically missing from an average person's diet - they are eating too many calories AND aren't getting proper nutrition.

 

If we only emphasize eating fewer calories and assume everyone knows about the importance of nutrition, don't we risk being pigeonholed as just another pro-anorexia organization in disguise?

 

So while I agree with you that the term CRON is too easy to pronounce like "throne" (rather than like "gone") and then get associated with negative words like crone and crony, it's seems to me to be important to continue to stress the importance of nutrition when describing the diet. And it would be very helpful to have a short, memorable way to refer to the diet and to those who practice it.

 

How do you balance these issues when talking to others and especially the media?

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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My claim about paleo-CR is based on people I've met in the paleo community who practice CR. 

 

Your original claim seemed to be that the existence of "plenty of paleo CR practitioners" refuted my statement that CR is a "mostly plant" diet. Are you saying that the people you've met in the paleo community that claim to be practicing CR get more than 50% of their food energy and/or volume from animal products? I doubt it, and if they are, I'd say they are likely to be making important nutritional mistakes (including, but not limited to, eating too much protein in young/middle adulthood to be optimal for health/longevity).

 

Note that I'm not claiming that someone who professes to be eating paleo can't also be practicing CR. Heck there are people who claim to be paleo vegans (calling themselves pegans). Just ask the Paleoveganista or get one of several paleo vegan cookbooks. Since the so-called paleo diet is almost all hype, lacking anthropological/archeological support (see this TED talk), you can claim to be eating paleo while following many different (often pretty crappy) diets.

 

So I stick by my statement that among people who we would consider to be practicing CR seriously (whether members of the CR Society or not, and whether they claim to be 'paleo' or not), the vast majority of them will be getting >50% of their food energy/volume from plants (NB including plant fats), making it accurate to say the CR diet accords with Michael Pollan's admonition to make one's diet "mostly plants".

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Dean,

 

True, MOST of us eat mostly plants -- but this is not the "Michael Polan Admiration Society" -- or the "Go for Gregor Group" -- any more (or less) than the "Go Atkins Guys" -- I personally detest all "diet gurus" -- we all should plot our own individual diets.

 

This is not a "Vegan Society" -- it's the "Calorie Restriction Society".   Also, many vegan diets are horrible.  Sugar, "organic Agave", grains and potatoes are all 100% vegan -- but hardly CRON staple.

 

Dean, since you've become such a prolific (and generally good) poster, it might be good to repress your evident passion for vegan diets (and much worse, vegan gurus), when making your otherwise excellent posts.

 

  -- Saul

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Saul,

These are all strawmen criticisms. Of course we shouldn't worship diet gurus, or blindly follow cookie-cutter diets, particularly if they are crappy. I challenge you to find examples where I've advocated doing either of these.

 

When people (even people with the appearance of authority) make sensible, science-backed summary statements (e.g. Pollan's "Eat (real) foods, mostly plants, not too much") or (better yet) point to peer-reviewed scientific results (e.g. Dr. Greger on the toxins in farm-raised salmon) [note the correct spelling on both men's names], their statements / science should be considered on their merits, and not dismissed because you don't like them or you perceive them to be biased or have an agenda. Anything else is just being intellectually lazy and/or represents a perverse inversion of the argument from authority (i.e. any authority you don't like must be wrong).

 

Case-in-point is your rather vacuous retort to the science Dr. Greger points to that farm-raised salmon often contains a lot of toxins and has been associated with elevated risk of type-2 diabetes. You claim to refute him with the "evidence" that your bloodwork (esp. glucose tolerance) is perfect and you eat a lot of salmon (some of it farm raised), while in the very next sentence acknowledging that you are very careful (as you say everyone should be) about choosing your source of salmon.

 

How exactly does your "one rat" anecdote, and your acknowledgement that some salmon contains crap and should be avoided, refute the science Dr. Greger's points to that farm-raised salmon often contains toxins and the consumption of such fish is associated with elevated risk of type-2 diabetes? If you have credible, non-anecdotal evidence that the science Dr. Greger points to is wrong, by all means present it. But you can't simply dismiss the evidence because you perceive he (or I) have a vegan bias.

 

And another thing  :) , your statement that "we all should plot our own individual diets", followed by bashing on potatoes and grains as "hardly CRON staple [sic]" is another sign of muddled thinking. Potatoes and (esp whole) grains can be part of a well-planned CR diet, and don't need to be avoided simply because you don't consider them to be staples. And I'm happy to acknowledge that the same goes for salmon. After all, we should all plot our own individual diets.

 

Sorry to be blunt.

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Dean, since you've become such a prolific (and generally good) poster, it might be good to repress your evident passion for vegan diets (and much worse, vegan gurus), when making your otherwise excellent posts.

 

Friends, I've got an unexpected, heavy load of work this week so my presence here will be minimal for a few days. Responses on other threads will have to wait. Just saw this and wanted to say: I actually very much appreciate Dean's passion!

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Hi Dean!

 

As you know, I personally approve of Dr. Pollans' views (but not that it should be a CR Society standard -- just my personal views).

 

But Dr. Gregors' statements about farm raised salmon are rubbish.

 

True, it IS possible to find badly raised farm raised salmon -- and any reputable supermarket will not carry these (any more than carrying raw or canned vegetables that are infected with botulism).

 

Even more outrageous is his rants about possible pollution of Vietnamese fish by Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War -- certainly, since the chemical was dumped on land, Vietnamese vegetables, if anything, would be more affected.

 

Also, the waters off the North East coast of North America are probably the worlds' richest source of fish -- not (of all places!) Vietnam.  And the United States is (probably) the worlds' largest source of vegetables (not Vietnam!).

 

I'd say, on the basis of the video that you sent us, that Dr. Gregor has about the same level of objectivity as a religious zealot.

 

  -- Saul

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