A Senior Citizen’s Snake Oil

snakeScience hasn’t “cured” aging yet (though, trust me, it’s not for lack of effort), but you can at least stave off the unsightly side effects of getting older. The latest innovation is synthesized viper venom, which has made its way into wrinkle creams being sold in England.

The cream, already a best-seller across the pond, contains an artificial version of the poisonous venom from the Temple Viper, a cousin of a Thai rattlesnake. Apparently, amino acids contained in the venom actually block nerve signals and prevent facial muscles from contracting. Fewer contractions mean fewer wrinkles.

One 30 mL pot of the cream, manufactured by Planet Skincare, sells for around $80 USD and lasts about a month. It’s being marketed as an alternative to Botox, and already has a growing contingent of celeb fans – Gwyneth Paltrow is “a devotee” (and not a moment too soon, if you’ve been holding a magnefying glass to recent Paltrow photos in Star Magazine!).

You may recall that snake venom has had a starring role in other beauty products, notably the uber-sexy “Lip Venom” plumping gloss.


Starvation smarts
01/27/2009, 3:59 pm
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34157360The low-calorie diet has been on research radar since the 1930s, and long been espoused by faithful adherents, namely the Calorie Restriction Society (CRS), founded in 1993.  Members of the group have since published several books, including The CR Way and The Longevity Diet, and claim that calorie restricted lifestyles (in a nutshell, following a diet of around 30% fewer calories than typically recommended for your age and activity level) promote longevity and better health.

Recently, some studies are backing up the claims of the CRS. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that mice who fasted every other day (eating 15% of their usual calories) had significantly lower rates of cancer. A small human study of 50 middle-aged men and women in Germany suggests that caloric restriction of 30% may significantly improve memory, apparently due to decreased levels of insulin and inflammation, though researchers are still trying to understand the connection.

Proving that calorie restriction promotes longevity in humans is the next step. Studies have already shown that low-calorie diets in mice, rats and monkeys can extend life expectancy.

If the CRS is right, and we can live longer by eating less, I wondered how much I’d be putting on my plate. According to this CR calculator, I already have the weight of a typical CR eater (yay?) but my “CR Twin” (aka – the version of me who eats according to a CR diet) would be enjoying a 1,700 calorie/day diet. Sounds to me like a lot less cake and a lot more lettuce.

To reassure myself that I should continue eating cake, and other, um, “CR no-no’s”, I checked out the reported downsides to the calorie restriction lifestyle. They include muscle atrophy, lack of essential nutrients, abnormal hair growth and cardiac arrest. Read up on those downsides a little further, and you’ll find they match the symptoms associated with another “extreme” lifestyle: anorexia nervosa.

Read the CRS response to the anorexia comparison here.

Lunch with an atypical athlete
01/26/2009, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

img_1605Brendan Brazier was only 15 when he decided to take his running talent and turn it into a career. Within a year, he was competing in junior triathlons across his native Canada, and doing it on a diet that his own coaches warned him against adopting: Brazier had gone vegan.

No matter what you think of his diet, Brazier did something right. Over a 10 year career, he won dozens of events, including back-t0-back victories  at the Canadian Ultra 50Km Championship Race. Brazier seemed unstoppable, until a mild back injury from a car accident in 2004 sidelined him from serious competition. Forced to lie low, Brazier wrote a nutrition book, Thrive,  and launched Vega, a line of all-vegan energy bars and protein powders.

I’ve been vegan for 10 years myself, but even I was taken aback reading about Brazier’s typical daily dining. The 33-year-old rarely eats soy, bread or sugar, in addition to the usual vegan no-no’s of meat, dairy and animal by-products. His diet staples include protein smoothies, raw energy bars and plenty of fresh produce.

img_1600When we sat down for lunch at Caravan of Dreams, a vegan restaurant on the lower east side, Brazier talked at length about his dislike of veganism being misconstrued as a “diet” or “detox”, most recently by Oprah and the Skinny Bitch book series. In keeping with his “food is fuel” philosophy, Brazier shoveled down a remarkable amount of food, and his muscular physique is hardly that of a diet fanatic.

Click here to read more about Brendan’s take on nutrition. While there aren’t any major scientific studies to back up his claims (The American Dietetic Association acknowledges the health benefits, like lower cholesterol and reduced risk of some cancers, of a vegan, but not raw, diet), Brazier himself is anectodal evidence that a vegan, raw-foods diet may have some merit.