Since the beginning of human history, people have looked for ways to prolong life—some even seeking immortality. Although the fountain of youth remains to be found, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, traveled the globe in search of methods that people today are using to live longer and improve their well-being. Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Gupta about some of his finds, which he chronicles in his book Chasing Life.
What is one of the most cutting-edge anti-aging procedures out there?
Dr. Gupta says one anti-aging method is to inject the body with stem cells, but so far, he hasn't found evidence that it really works. Yet he met a group of adults in their 60s who say it's the wave of the future. "They say it slackened their hair, increased their muscle mass, lowered their body fat, gave them more vigor, tightened their skin—everything—and I couldn't independently validate that," he says.
Are supplements worthwhile?
Apart from taking a good multivitamin and possibly fish oil, Dr. Gupta says supplements aren't really worth it. He says science has yet to effectively transfer the "good stuff" from food sources and convert them into pill or supplement form in a way that the body can actually benefit. "Something gets lost—it doesn't all transfer," he says. "What you're taking in the pill—it really does not approximate what you could otherwise get in food." In addition, he says supplements are not adequately regulated and could potentially be harmful.
The people of Okinawa, Japan, live longer than anyone else in the world. Why is that?
Dr. Gupta says Okinawa has the highest concentration of centenarians than any other place in the world for a number of reasons. For starters, they eat a plant-based diet, including lots of tofu and water-rich foods rather than calorie-dense ones.
The Okinawan cultural habit called hara hachi bu, which means you eat only until you are 80 percent full, also plays a big role in longevity, Dr. Gupta says. "It means you never satiate yourself when you're eating, you never stuff yourself," he says.
Perhaps the most important component of the Okinawans long life span is the way they approach aging. "Elders as they get older are actually more respected, more revered, as they get up in years," Dr. Gupta says. "Aging is not treated as a disease and you are not discarded when you get to 65. In fact, there is no word for retirement in Japanese."
The practice of ikigai, meaning "sense of purpose," is a huge part of their philosophy of life that contributes to living longer, Dr. Gupta says. "As you get older, your sense of purpose becomes more strongly defined. You become a true elder in the community you integrate with younger people all the time."
Do you think calorie restriction—eating about one-third less calories than what's considered normal—is one of the futures for longevity?
"[Calorie restriction] appears to be the only proven way to actually extend lives, at least in animals," Dr. Gupta says. "Mice and rats who are calorie deprived do appear to live about 35 percent longer."
Dr. Gupta says some researchers theorize that the human body releases stress-busting substances when you consume fewer calories. "When you calorie deprive yourself, you seem to release some of these substances and it seems to protect you against the stresses of life," he says.