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Healthy Living >>> Anti-Aging Articles & News

Does Meat Make Us Live Longer?

By: Gabe Romain - Betterhumans Staff

Eating meat spurred humans to develop genes that offset cholesterol, fight chronic diseases and increase lifespan, a new theory proposes.

The findings are based on a study by researcher Caleb Finch and colleagues from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles that examined several genes known to ward off certain diseases in aging humans.

"Meat contains cholesterol and fat, not to mention potential parasites and diseases like mad cow," says researcher Craig Stanford. "We believe humans evolved to resist these kinds of things. Mad cow disease—which probably goes back millions of years—would have wiped out the species if we hadn't developed meat-tolerant genes."

Protective Effects
The researchers developed their theory by examining everything from chronic diseases in great apes to the evolution of the human diet.

They focused particularly on a gene called apolipoprotein E, known as apoE for short.

This gene is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's and vascular disease in aging humans.

Of the great apes, chimpanzees served as an ideal comparison.

They eat more meat than any other great ape and, despite having a shorter lifespan than humans, remain fertile into old age and have few aging-related brain changes.

The researchers say that just like humans, chimps are protected by an apoE variant.

In a series of "evolutionary tradeoffs," the researchers say, humans lost some advantages over other primates, but gained a higher tolerance to meat, slower aging and a longer lifespan.

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Exercise Moderation
Still, if humans developed genes to compensate for a meat-rich diet, why do so many now suffer from high cholesterol and vascular disease?

The answer is lack of exercise and moderation, the researchers say.

The shift to a diet rich in meat and fat occurred at a time when humans were getting plenty of exercise as hunters and gatherers.

"The level of physical activity among these human ancestors was much higher than most of us have ever known," says Finch. "Whether humans today, with our sedentary lifestyle, remain highly tolerant to meat eating remains an open question researchers are looking into."

The theory also doesn't mean that eating more meat will help people live longer. Rather, less meat appears to confer benefit.

Last March, for example, the Center of Cancer Research in Germany reported on a 22-year study of more than 2,000 vegans, vegetarians and occasional meat-eaters that found they lived longer than people in the general population—for every 100 deaths in the general population, there were 59 in the study group.

The meat-sparking-longevity theory is reported in the Quarterly Review of Biology.

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