Today I see an article in the British Medical Journal :
Progress made through the 20th century in adding years to life is now stalling and, in some countries, going into reverse, finds research carried out by Scotland’s Public Health Observatory. It looked at trends in life expectancy across 24 high income countries over periods of five years from 1992 to 2016.1 The stalling was evident in several countries across western Europe and North America.
The research report cites austerity measures introduced in many of the world’s richest countries after the 2008 economic recession as one of the possible causes of a slowing improvement in life …View Full Text
ChooseLife : This may have some truth in it, however much more compelling to me is the ‘top of the hill’ theory, which suggests that there is a generational lag in rates, such as life expectancy, and healthy life expectancy.
This data confounds the supposition in the BMJ: Okinawa also has the highest prevalence of centenarians in Japan despite long-standing socioeconomic disadvantages relative to other Japanese (Cockerham et al. 2000)
Why might this generational lag be of profound importance? Recorded levels of nutrients have dropped significantly during the past 100 years. During times of war (in particular) the focus shifted from quality of produce, to volume of produce. Sadly, after the wars ended this trend reversal was not quashed, leading to a long term drop in nutrient density, the rise of the supermarket only served to compound this problem, demands for low price high volumes cheats the next generation of mineral density, and, brings with it a multitude of ailments and consequences to health and vitality.
Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?
Because of soil depletion, crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today
Dear EarthTalk: What’s the nutritional difference between the carrot I ate in 1970 and one I eat today? I’ve heard that that there’s very little nutrition left. Is that true?—Esther G., Newark, N.J.
It would be overkill to say that the carrot you eat today has very little nutrition in it—especially compared to some of the other less healthy foods you likely also eat—but it is true that fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.
A landmark study on the topic by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century. Davis and his colleagues chalk up this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.
“Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly,” reported Davis, “but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.” There have likely been declines in other nutrients, too, he said, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E, but they were not studied in 1950 and more research is needed to find out how much less we are getting of these key vitamins and minerals.
The Organic Consumers Association cites several other studies with similar findings: A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent. A similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal,found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent. Yet another study concluded that one would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from one.
What can be done? The key to healthier produce is healthier soil. Alternating fields between growing seasons to give land time to restore would be one important step. Also, foregoing pesticides and fertilizers in favor of organic growing methods is good for the soil, the produce and its consumers. Those who want to get the most nutritious fruits and vegetables should buy regularly from local organic farmers.
UT’s Davis warns that just because fruits and vegetables aren’t as healthy as they used to be doesn’t mean we should avoid them. “Vegetables are extraordinarily rich in nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals,” he reported. “They are still there, and vegetables and fruits are our best sources for these.”
ChooseLife : These falling rates must be seen in the context of when we are growing, those who are in their 90’s now, were nurtured on soils before World War II, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as their bodies grew, there was much greater nutrient density to grow nutrient dense bodies to carry them through later life. With each period of decline, we see rises in diseases related to lack of key nutrients, such as Calcium and Magnesium and exploding Osteoporosis.
Given the parallel increase in mineral striped fast foods, especially white flour and sugar (white sugar is antagonistic to Calcium as is well known, for example), it is no surprise to hear reports of Okinawan Centennials outliving their grandchildren who have adopted ‘Western Diets’.
Is obesity really a condition based in Nutrient craving?
Related research, showing how Calcium intake during key growth phases may be profoundly important to health lifespans :
The effect of calcium carbonate supplementation on bone growth and mineral accretion was studied in 143 boys aged 16-18 yr, randomized to 1000 mg Ca/d or a matching placebo for 13 months. Anthropometry and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry of the whole body, lumbar spine, hip, and forearm were performed before, during, and after the intervention. The intervention resulted in greater bone mineral content (BMC) of the whole body (+1.3%, P = 0.02), lumbar spine (+2.5%, P = 0.004), and hip (total +2.3%, P = 0.01; neck +2.4%, P = 0.02; intertrochanter +2.7%, P = 0.01). This was associated with greater height (+0.4%, P = 0.0004, equivalent to 7 mm), lean mass (+1.3%, P = 0.02), and lumbar spine bone area (+1.5%, P = 0.003). The increases in BMC diminished after size adjustment, suggesting that the intervention effect was mediated through an effect on growth. The BMC response at the intertrochanter was greater in subjects with high physical activity (+4.4%, P = 0.05). There were no other significant interactions with physical activity, plasma testosterone, calcium intake, or tablet compliance. We conclude that calcium carbonate supplementation of adolescent boys increased skeletal growth, resulting in greater stature and bone mineral acquisition. Follow-up studies will determine whether this reflects a change in the tempo of growth or an effect on skeletal size that persists into adulthood.
Calcium supplementation and bone mineral accretion in Chinese adolescents aged 12-14 years: a 12-month, dose-response, randomised intervention trial.
A 12-month, dose-response, randomised, intervention trial was conducted to determine adequate Ca intake levels for Chinese adolescents by investigating the effect of Ca supplementation on bone mineral accretion. A total of 220 Han adolescents (111 girls and 109 boys) aged 12-14 years were recruited. All subjects were randomly divided into three groups. The bone mineral content (BMC) and bone mineral density (BMD) of the whole body, lumbar spine (L1-L4), left hip and femoral neck were measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Girls in the high-Ca group (actual Ca intake: 1243 (sd 193) mg/d) exhibited greater increases in the femoral neck BMC compared with those in the low-Ca group (9·7 v. 6·4 %, P =0·04) over the 1-year intervention period. The increases in femoral neck BMC were greater in boys in the high-Ca and medium-Ca groups (actual Ca intake: 985 (sd 168) mg/d) than in those in the low-Ca group (15·7 v. 11·7 %, P =0·03; 15·8 v. 11·7 %, P =0·03). Ca supplementation had significant effects on the whole-body BMC and BMD in subjects with physical activity levels>34·86 metabolic equivalents and on the spine BMD and BMC and BMD of most sites in subjects with Tanner stage < 3. Increasing Ca intake levels with Ca supplementation enhanced femoral neck mineral acquisition in Chinese adolescents. Furthermore, high physical activity levels and low Tanner stage appeared to significantly contribute to the effect of Ca supplementation on bone mass. Whether this is a lasting beneficial effect leading to the optimisation of peak bone mass needs to be determined in other long-term prospective studies.
To be continued… Charles Northern, Western Price and Carey Reams.