Ageing is a multifactorial process determined by a person’s genetic makeup and environment. Among the various genetic components connected to human longevity, the FOX03 gene has consistently been proven the most essential. Though everyone carries it, eating certain foods may allow it to express further, thus prolonging lifespan. One ageing scientist suggests that a metabolite unique to several dietary sources could hold the key for activating the “longevity gene”.
According to Weill Cornell Medicine, studies of humans “who live longer than 100 years” have shown that many of these individuals share an unusual version of a gene known as The Forehead box protein O3 (FOXO3).
Doctor Bradley Willcox, the principal investigator of the National Institute on Ageing-funded Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan Study, suggests there are ways this gene can be activated through diet.
The longevity expert explained: “The bottom line is that even if you don’t have the ‘best’ FOX03 variant in terms of longevity, by expressing or ‘turning on’ the gene, you’ll be able to duplicate the longevity mechanism.
“You can do it by eating certain foods, which is one of the functions that the Okinawan diet achieves.”
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In essence, the Okinawan diet is low in calories and fat, rich in carbohydrates, and places great emphasis on vegetables and soy products, while using sweet potato as the main source of calories.
The main foods in the traditional Okinawa diet are as follows:
- Vegetables (58 – 50 percent): Sweet potato (orange and purple), seaweed, kelp, bamboo shoots, daikon radish, bitter melon, cabbage, carrots, China okra, pumpkin, green papaya
- Grains (33 percent): Millet, wheat, rice, and noodles
- Soy foods (five percent): Tofu, miso, natto, and edamame
- Other (one percent): Alcohol, tea, spices and dash (broth).
Two other antioxidant-rich ingredients consumed liberally on this diet are jasmine tea and turmeric.
Doctor Willcox notes that one thing many of these foods have in common is a potent micronutrient found predominantly in marine plants, known as astaxanthin.
He said: “It’s known as a marine carotenoid, found in seaweeds and kelp. It’s part of the Okinawan diet and shows particular promise in our research.
“These include Okinawa sweet potatoes, turmeric, marine-based carotenoid-rich foods, as well as other items which have compounds such as astaxanthin that will express this gene.
“The compound has powerful, broad-ranging anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.”
The red pigment occurs in certain algae and is responsible for giving salmon its pink-red colour.
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Research suggests the chemical may be of particular benefit to those suffering inflammatory conditions like arthritis or rheumatoid disorders.
In 2017, scientists at the University of Hawaii Cancer Centre suggested that the compound was able to ‘switch on the FOX03 ‘Longevity Gene’ in mice.
Researchers observed an almost 90 percent increase in the activation of the gene in the heart tissue of rodents.
One way the gene may promote longevity is by countering the effects of toxic proteins that drive neurodegenerative disease and shorten lifespan.