The Blue Zones?

In 2000, Micheal Poulain and Giovanni Mario Pes documented a group of locations around the world where there was an abundance of people who lived to be over 100 years old.  These areas were called “The Blue Zones” and included:

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com
  • Ikaria, Greece; (sometimes spelt Icaria)
  • Okinawa, Japan;
  • Ogliastra Region, Sardinia;
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
  • Loma Linda, California, USA

It was suggested that a number of factors led to the longer life of people who lived there, including regular exercise, having social circles that reinforced healthy behaviors,  taking time to de-stress, being very family orientated and part of a community.  There was also a dietary element where it was believed that their approach to diet had a very significant impact on their longevity.

Some groups interested in diet have seem similarities between their dietary beliefs and the documented diet of blue zone inhabitants, often using this information to support their ideas and to promote their diet as healthier.  Despite these areas being very geographically and separate from each other and eating quite different diets, these dietary ideas have become blue zone folklore?

Here are some suggested ideas from a recent book titled “The Blue Zones Solution” by Dan Buettner:

  • Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
  • Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
  • Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day.

Some of this advice seems very sensible but we must be very careful when trying to apply what seems to work in one place and time to something happening in another place or time.  For example:

  • Many people living in Northern Europe drink a lot of cows milk and have done so for generations, however most Asians can not tolerate cows milk well due to a lactose intolerance which can make them sick when they consume it.
  • Europeans traveling into malaria infested areas of the World must take special precautions against getting bitten by the anopheles mosquito as they can suffer hugely and die from this disease if caught, while some locals appear to be almost immune from this.
  • Over the years diets change and the diet that sustained a centenarian in the growing and middle age years may be very different from what we see today, which could confound research.  In my own case my family ate lots of delicious meat stews, and porridge as I grew up but we very seldom eat these today.  We also had very limited fruit varieties and fast food was non-existent. 

Another aspect of the blue zones which has been questioned is the validity of the research done.  Mary Ruddick, a renowned nutritionist is married to a Greek and has lived on the island of Ikaria.  She was puzzled by the lack of recognition of the amount of goat meat eaten by the islanders and the suggestion that potatoes was a mainstay of their diet.  In her view the islanders eat goat meat almost daily and potatoes are not a local crop due to the poor soils.  They were introduced some years ago as part of the adoption of more western ways of eating and were never part of traditional diets.  Her suggestion about why goat meat is not recognized is that the questionnaires asked about “red” meat consumption and this to an Ikaria inhabitant translates to beef, which is rarely eaten.  Mary shares her view on this here:

Another blue zone diet claim is that a mainstay of the Okinawa diet is sweet potatoes.  During World War II these people were forced to kill and eat most of the pigs on their islands and as a result made a switch to much more reliance on sweet potatoes.  The diet which centenarians ate over the years was once heavily pork based and this has changed significantly over time.  Okinawa’s people are no longer in the top group.  For more information about this diet confusion, take a look at the post by Angela Stanton in the link below

Another approach in dietary / longevity research is to blame genetics for some of the health problems of today. Any review of non-communicable diseases such as Type-2 Diabetes, Obesity, Macular Degeneration, Kidney Disease, Asthma, Depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart disease or Cancer reveals skyrocketing levels which have risen dramatically since the 1900’s when most of these were rare. Is it possible that some individuals have obesity genes which are turned on or turned off by the poor western diet of high sugar, refined grains and seed oils.

Genetics clearly has an impact in setting different levels of susceptibility to diseases in individuals. For a great example of how genes work, take a look at the honey bee. The queen bee and the worker bee have identical genes, but the Queen is isolated and fed royal jelly with the result being development of the only fertile female egg laying machine in the hive. Genes can clearly be turned off and turned on by external factors such as different foods.

Different population groups around the world, have responded to the western diet in different ways. Some groups have a much less healthy response to the the impact of the western diet than others. For example, the Pima Indians in Arizona are the most obese group in USA and African Americans are more susceptible to Type-2 Diabetes than people of Caucasian origin. These differences may be due to natural selection that has occurred from the impact of different major impacts on the ancestors of the group. Dr. Andrew Jenkinson in his fascinating book “Why We Eat (To Much), covers this in some detail. For example, he suggests that the susceptibility of Pacific Islanders to obesity may come from their past long sea migrations where only those who had the ability to survive these journeys with little or no food, survived to become their ancestors.

As always, for more diet and health information, take a look at my book

“Take Back Your Health”, by George Elder,  available as an ebook or paperback on Amazon.

Book Link: https://amzn.to/3uiehfv

Blog link,  www.takebackyrhealth.com

Overcoming Anxiety

You may have heard of serotonin, the happiness molecule, but do you know what it really does?

Serotonin is a chemical produced in your body, mostly in your gut, but some is produced in your brain. It is a neurotransmitter, which means it helps with nerve signaling, and is involved in sleep, memory, learning, healing and is the chemical that promotes calmness and contentment. People with healthy levels of this are generally happy.

In order to make serotonin, your body needs all the necessary components. Magnesium is needed, but the most important component is the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which comes from various foods, a little from bread, pasta, corn, bananas, and cookies, but the most abundant sources of tryptophan are high protein foods like tuna, dairy products, turkey, beef, pork, chicken, and eggs.

It is easy to get too little of this essential amino acid because if you drink diet sweetened foods or caffeinated drinks, or you are not getting enough healthy fats such as butter, olive oil, and animal fats then your tryptophan levels can be depleted. Tryptophan levels can also be depleted by stress, lack of natural light, low calorie diets, skipped meals or by lack of exercise. While coffee will stimulate dopamine (the pleasure molecule), it will suppress serotonin (the happiness molecule) over time.

In USA in 1989, the FDA called for a voluntary ban on tryptophan supplements due to a faulty contaminated batch and these only became available again without prescription in USA in 2000. In other countries it has continued to be available, while in USA many doctors switched to prescribing Prozac.

All this means is that if you want to be happy, calm and contented, then your diet really matters as does exercise and getting sufficient natural light. This is especially important for women because females typically generate about one third less serotonin than males. For vegetarians or vegans this is even more difficult as the tryptophan level in their diet is usually very low.

This might be much more important than just a happy feeling. People, who have low levels of serotonin can suffer from anxiety, lack of confidence, panic attacks, depression, obsessive behavior and sleep disorders. It seems that the psychology profession is just beginning to realize the importance of this diet and mental health linkage.

The new field of nutrition psychology is gaining traction fast with psychologists now realizing that poor diet is a major factor in many of the conditions patients present with, and often these conditions can be assisted or even corrected by changing the patients diet. Central to these changes is increasing the level of animal protein while reducing grains and sugar.

Unfortunately, I hear that many people on bad diets often don’t know this and never realize their health problems are caused by their diet. It is only after they make major diet changes and begin to feel hugely better that they realize just how sick their diet was making them. This is particularly a problem for those who are very committed to their diet because their beliefs make them reluctant to even test whether a diet change could help.

So to pull all this together, if you suffer from anxiety, worry easily, have panic attacks, have a tendency to be negative, get edgy or irritable easily, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from jaw pain, or can be a bit obsessive or forgetful, then low serotonin might be a factor. Take a hard look at your diet or try a tryptophan supplement. I read that for many people results can be almost immediate.

As always, for more information you can view my blog at: www.takebackyrhealth.com

You will find a link to my book “Take Back Your Health”

Good Health, George Elder.


Are Vegetable Oils Killing Us?

It’s a puzzle! Despite extensive research on the dangers of excessive levels of linoleic acid in our diet and the resulting increase in heart disease risk, metabolic disease, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, macular degeneration, joint pain, and skin conditions such as eczema, we still do not have widely publicized advice to carefully control this intake. Linoleic acid is an Omega-6 polyunsaturated oil, sometimes referred to as industrial seed oil, or vegetable oil. Sometimes they are even marketed as “heart-healthy” fats and oils. @*#@*@!


From a chemical perspective, these polyunsaturated fats have molecules with multiple double bonds making them easily broken down and oxidized, creating novel polymers that are hugely unhealthy and a major source of inflammation within your body. The drivers of oxidation (becoming rancid) are higher temperatures, longer time, and light. Conversely saturated fats are very stable and therefore do not readily oxidize to form dangerous chemicals.


Back in the 1950’s through the 1980’s there has been a fear of saturated fat, which has now been shown to be unjustified. However, this fear, which was based on very poor research, encouraged people to move away from healthy animal fats to the “new” industrial seed oils. While this was happening, a very wealthy individual named Phil Sokolof in USA, convinced of health risks associated with fats and particularly coconut oils, created a media campaign to turn people away from this tropical oil towards industrial seed oils instead. A third factor in this diet change was the desire by the USDA (US dept. of agriculture) to support farm incomes during WWII and subsidies were provided for growing wheat and corn, lowering the costs of these ingredients.


Look in the supermarket, at the huge range of Omega-6 industrial seed oils on sale. They are usually labeled as vegetable oils, but you should easily spot the marketing trick. They are not made from vegetables at all. They include soybean oil, cotton seed oil, safflower oil, corn oil (a grain), peanut oil, sunflower seed oil, sesame oil, canola oil, etc. They are often packaged in dark bottles to minimize degradation by light and have added antioxidants to help prevent them going rancid (oxidizing) almost immediately.


The process of extracting them from seeds uses petroleum-based chemicals and high heat which makes it almost impossible for them to remain unoxidized before they reach the supermarket shelf. People buying them often keep them in their pantry for many weeks during which time they gradually become more and more rancid, so that when eaten, you could be putting dangerous compounds directly into your body.
Many highly processed foods contain these polyunsaturated oils because they are a cheap way to add fats to the food. Look in the ingredients list of processed foods for vegetable oil, soy oil, corn oil, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, etc.


The Sydney Diet Health Study (1966-1973) of 458 men, was an attempt to compare the consumption of saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats and to measure the impact on cardiovascular risk. The polyunsaturated fat group lowered the cholesterol level nicely, compared to the saturated fat group, but despite the lowered cholesterol, the rate of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality of the polyunsaturated group significantly exceeded the saturated fat group. Here is their recently stated outcome:


“Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega 6 linoleic acid, have not been established. In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid (omega-6 vegetable oils) in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega 6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats.”


A number of researchers including Bill Lands, a renowned veteran lipid researcher have focused on the Omega-6 consumption, particularly in USA. It has been known for some time that Omega-6 oils (linoleic acid) have a pro-inflammatory effect in the human body while Omega-3 oils have an anti-inflammatory effect. If these are kept in reasonable 1:1 balance, your natural antioxidant glutathione can mop up the free radicals created by the inflammation from the oxidizing of these oils. However, if these 2 oil groups get seriously out of balance, then the level of inflammation can drive very poor health outcomes. The modern diets of some younger people in USA can have levels of Omega-6 up to 40 x the Omega-3 level. This is a recipe for major health problems in their future.

In the last 145 years the typical dietary consumption of “vegetable” oils in USA, has gone from near zero to 80 grams per day per person. This growth rate closely matches the growth of metabolic syndrome, macular degeneration, and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.


While Omega-6 is an “essential” fat, the essential level required is extremely low at no more than 1% of your calorie intake, while typical western diet levels can now be as high as 6%. A high level of Omega-6, or a high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is a clear indicator that the diet is heavy on seed oils which are already oxidized (rancid) before consumption as a result of the manufacturing process. It is the oxidation that is unhealthy about the seed oil consumption and drives up inflammation.


What does the linoleic acid (Omega-6) do in the body? It displaces the saturated fats that human bodies have used over thousands of years. I read that it can take up to 2 years to get the linoleic acid out of tissues and replace it with the healthier traditional fats. Here are some of the health impacts:

– Excess linoleic acid increases inflammation, which is a key driver for heart attack risk, hypertension, cancer, metabolic syndrome, macular degeneration, and many other health problems.
– Skin cancers are on the rise and the levels of polyunsaturated fat under the skin have been rising at about the same rate as the rise in skin cancers. This does not prove causality but people converting back to higher saturated fat diets frequently comment on the reduction in sun burn and the ability to stay out there longer without any problems. Our ancestors spent countless hours in the sun and survived to proliferate without cancers, despite having no sun creams, and they had very low levels of Omega-6 fats.
– There is strong evidence of a link between migraines and higher linoleic acid consumption.
– The cellular uptake of linoleic acid can result in greater production of substances, such as NHE, implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Cancer, Atherosclerosis and Liver diseases.

Where does this high level of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid come from:

1. Industrial seed oils as mentioned, used at home, or used extensively for frying at restaurants or squirted onto hot plates, pans, and woks which the food is cooked in directly.
2. Packaged ultra-processed foods with vegetable oils, such as sauces, spreads, and creams.
3. Canned food with oils such as soybean oil with canned fish.
4. Shortening and margarines made from vegetable oils.
5. Grain fed animals such as Chicken and Pork. These mono gastric animals take up linoleic acid from the grain they eat, then you eat that meat. In USA, corn fed chicken is particularly high in linoleic acid.
6. Feedlot finished beef, the corn fed to these animals pushes up the linoleic acid in meat and the longer the animal stays in the feedlot, the worse the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
7. Farmed fish are often fed meal, made from grains such as soy and corn, driving up their omega-6 level.


In a report titled “Historical perspectives on the impact of n-3 and n-6 nutrients on health” by Bill Lands, a Standard American Diet was compared with a Mediterranean Diet. Using a USDA derived omega 3:6 balance list of 538 “Key Foods” consumed by Americans during 2007–2008. They identified the top 10 foods with the worst impact in the Omega 3:6 Balance. The simple step of deleting these ten food items with the most negative Scores converted the diet to “almost” the healthy level of a Mediterranean diet.


The removed items in order from worst to best, were:
1. soybean oil,
2. mayonnaise,
3. tub margarine,
4. microwave pop- corn,
5. ‘‘Italian’’ salad dressing,
6. potato chips,
7. stick margarine,
8. vegetable shortening,
9. peanut butter,
10. tortilla chip snacks.


Deleting these foods not traditionally present in Mediterranean meals changed the American ‘‘Key Foods’’ list to one that fits closer to a ‘‘Mediterranean diet’’. Conversely, adding these items to a Mediterranean diet would ‘‘Westernize’’ it in a way that has been happening gradually in Mediterranean regions. Maybe you need to look at how you can avoid these foods.


It is not only humans that become less healthy with excess linoleic acid in the diet. Animal feed researchers learned that when corn oil or soybean oil was used as a butterfat replacer in veal calf rations, the animals generally got sick and died. They eventually recognized the need to include an antioxidant (vitamin E) in veal calf rations containing oils rich in linoleic acid.


I read that manufacturers of these Omega-6 oils are apparently aware of these problems and are quietly trying to breed crops which produce a higher level of oleic acid oils (as found in olive oils) and a lower level of Omega-6 from which to manufacture their seed oils in the future.


What ways can you reduce the high-risk outcomes of consuming high levels of linoleic acid now?
1. Switch from using the above-mentioned seed oils to using olive oils, coconut oil, tallow, lard, avocado oil, butter, or ghee. Any fat that is solid at room temperature is much better.
2. Avoid food in restaurants which is fried as it will almost certainly be fried in vegetable oils.
3. For baking use coconut oil, butter, and Ghee.
4. Take care not to burn oils and fats by keeping temperatures below the smoke point, as this increases the oxidation risk.
5. Dispose if any old polyunsaturated oils as they will be somewhat rancid already.
6. Keep nuts in sealed containers in the refrigerator as they can also contain these oils and will go rancid readily. Buy small quantities so that you do not store them at home for long.
7. If you can, choose to grind nuts at home as once ground, the oxidation process is accelerated.
8. Eat foods with high omega-3 levels such as cold-water fish, like Salmon and Sardines.


In August 2020, the USA college of Cardiologists released a paper in which the following conclusion was stated:

Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, and dark chocolate are Saturated Fat-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of heart disease. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods

A clever move would be to reduce your health risk, by minimizing consumption of Omega-6 seed oils and instead, return to the traditional animal fats that have been the staple dietary fats of our ancestors for thousands of years.

For more information on taking back your health and using food as medicine, look at my blog at: http://www.takebackyrhealth.com, where there is also a link to my book.
Good Health, George Elder

Changing what’s in the Mirror

A message to those of you who don’t like what you see in the mirror, particularly to young women.

You are bombarded by messages about body shape and size which may create feelings of inadequacy.  What to do?  One option is to ignore these completely and be yourself so long as your health is not being compromised.  However, if 2x your waist size is a number that exceeds your height then prioritizing your health might be a good move.

If you listen to the so-called “experts” parroting the standard advice, they will likely be telling you to eat less, get more exercise and avoid dietary fat.  They might even have gone as far as suggesting a plant-based diet.  While they will all firmly believe they are giving you great advice, unfortunately while it is well meaning it can be very misguided.

Modern science has uncovered lots of new information about what is healthy and unfortunately much of this does little to sell more food, drugs or supplements and because of this is ignored or lost amongst the thousands of articles, podcasts and medical reports that are newly published every day.  Because of what is known as “confirmation bias”, published articles are often only printed when they agree with the majority of readers views and therefore the conventional, out of date even discredited information is reprinted over and over despite the fact that we can clearly see it is not working.

Here are some things that you need to know:

  • Exercise is good for you and it can help build strength and flexibility which is very valuable, but it is unlikely to help much to lose weight.  Muscle weighs more than fat so it may even put weight on.  The tape measure can show you if it is working for you.
  • If you decide to just eat much less, your body will adjust for a lower level of available energy and it does so by restricting the amount of energy you use internally for body repair and maintenance until it matches the level available.  Your metabolism slows down.  Thus, vital body management functions are minimized, body temperature may reduce in your extremities, and you will feel lethargic because there is less energy available. Your body will adapt to this lower energy level over time (weeks), and once adapted, any loss of fat will stop.  This can happen with a relatively modest fat loss.  It also signals to your brain to get more food on board urgently making you feel very very hungry.  The result can be stiffness, brittle nails, hair loss, slower healing of wounds, more sickness etc. This is usually unsustainable for very long.
  • A danger is that your level of nutrition will also fall. You don’t just eat to fill your tummy; you need to ensure that you are getting all the nutrition including the vitamins and minerals you need to remain healthy.  Although you are getting food, the goodness may not be high enough.  Your immune system can become weaker, your body will get even less value from food due to poor digestion and you may find you have more brain fog, headaches, gastro intestinal problems, tiredness and many other issues.  If you avoid eating animal foods then this can be even more extreme because the level of nutrition in plants is lower due to lower starting levels and the impact of anti-nutrients.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K2 need fat with the food for absorption and vitamin B12 and Zinc come primarily from animal foods and a low level of these will definitely impact your health. Poor nutrition can have a devastating impact on a baby’s growth and development, particularly brain development and some of this can be irreversible, whether still in the womb or a toddler.
  • To reduce body fat, you need to put your body in a state where it will use some of your existing body fat stores every day.  This is surprisingly simple once you understand what is happening.  First you need to adjust your body so that the level of glucose goes low regularly and when this happens it will switch over to consuming body fat. By eating more protein, up to 1.5 grams for each Kg of body weight, a little more fat, and cutting down on carbohydrates from processed foods, sugar and grains you will train your body to use up stored fat reserves.  Carbohydrates are sugars and it is these that convert to fat in your body.
  • While you are making these changes, a very healthy change is to minimize the use of vegetable oils and replace these with olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil or avocado oils.  If you are happy to eat animal sourced food then anima fats, eggs, liver, chicken, red meat etc.  are all excellent sources of nutrients.  Most food outlets fry in vegetable oils so best to avoid these if you can as they can be toxic long term.  If you thought that meat could increase your risk of cancer then be aware that this is another myth spread by people who want to change your diet for their benefit, not for your health. Research shows that colon cancer is actually higher in vegetarians than meat eaters.
  • Over a short time you will find that you no longer feel hungry between meals.  You should adapt to this by only eating when you are hungry and stop once you feel full.  At this stage you might like to consider intermittent fasting with my recommendation being to give up breakfast and switch to only 2 meals a day and don’t have any snacks between meals.  This can result in you eating lunch and dinner then having about 16-18 hours of evening, night and next morning when you only drink water or similar. 
  • You don’t need to really change much about your diet except to avoid those sugars, grains and processed food.  A good meal might consist of a steak, some vegetables and a small piece of fruit for dessert.  Don’t have fruit juices of smoothies as they push up the sugars, but one whole piece of fruit each day should be OK.
  • Only check the scales occasionally as they are more impacted short term by the level of liquids in your body.  Stay hydrated preferably with water and definitely avoid the sweetened sodas.
  • If you want a name for eating this way you can call it low carb, Atkins, Keto or Paleo as they all have very similar approaches.  A cookbook or two can help with planning your new meals.

George Elder, Author, “Take Back Your Health”, 
Available on Amazon eBook US$ 3.99, or Paperback US$ 7.99
now at http://www.eldergeo.com