What does a specialist in anti-ageing medicine eat for breakfast? Hint: there's no streaky bacon or snap, crackle and pop.
Most mornings Dr Joseph Maroon, senior vice-president of the American Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine, sits down to porridge made from steel cut oats – the least processed of all oats - with ground flaxseed and blueberries, all washed down with the first of three daily cups of green tea. It's a portfolio of foods with a reputation for cooling inflammation - not the inflammation that erupts in response to infections and ingrown toenails, but the chronic low grade kind that sticks around in the body, setting the scene for problems like cardiovascular disease and dementia. Many researchers now believe this systemic inflammation is the body's reaction to 21st century lifestyles featuring denatured diets, inactivity and pollutants like tobacco smoke.
Too much processed food can prod the body into producing inflammatory chemicals according to Maroon, who was in Melbourne recently to speak at the 6th Annual A5M Conference in Anti-Ageing and Aesthetic Medicine.
"But a Mediterranean style diet with a high intake of vegetables and fruit, lean protein, whole grains and nuts, along with exercise and - where possible - reducing stress and exposure to pollutants will reduce inflammation," he says.
His own diet mirrors this - lunches are salad with lean protein and wholegrain bread – and more green tea. Fish is on the dinner menu three or four time a week with more vegetables including 'a lot of broccoli', followed by three or four squares of dark chocolate. Sometimes there's a glass of pinot noir.
In health terms it's a diet you can't argue with. The controversial bit comes with his inclusion of supplements like curcumin and resveratrol. Curcumin, the pigment that gives the spice turmeric it's yellow colour, is an anti-inflammatory, which – in animal studies - shows promise against both Alzheimer's and cancer. Maroon takes it daily, popping open a curcumin capsule, and emptying its contents into a little olive oil with pepper – pepper boosts curcumin's absorption. Resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of foods like red grapes, is also being studied for its anti-cancer and anti-ageing effects – but again most research has been in lab and animal studies and more human studies are needed.
Maroon, a Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh, became interested in anti-ageing medicine after seeing so many patients whose health problems were a result of lifestyle.
"I realised my job as a neurosurgeon was actually sick care not health care," he says. "I started to research more methods and treatments and nutritional factors that can contribute to disease reduction and prolonging of life."
At 72, he's a good advertisement for anti-ageing medicine. He's completed 70 triathlons events, including an ironman event only two years ago.
It's not that vigorous exercise stops you from ageing, he says – but it can put the brakes on things.
"You're going to lose some strength and endurance with age, but with progressive and consistent training you can markedly slow things down and many studies show this.
"The benefit of exercise to the brain is huge. I think it's the most important thing for preserving brain function and preventing Alzheimer's disease," he says. "Studies show that exercise increases production of a protein called BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor which increases connections between brain cells and regenerates new brain cells."
A few weeks ago Maroon took part in a half ironman event in Indiana - that means a 1.9 km swim, a 90-kilometre bike ride, and a 21.1 kilometre run – and he added supplements of resveratrol, cocoa and green tea to his water bottle. Whether it was the water or his training schedule, he finished the race in a respectable six hours 30 minutes – 13 minutes faster than Tony Abbott's time in the 2010 Port Macquarie Half Ironman.
PS. I'm overseas for three weeks so the Life and Style editor will be doing most of the moderating of Chew On This comments - although I'll try and check in when I can. Paula
What do you do to stay healthier as you get older?