Many of you may be wondering (some have even written) about the end of my quest to lengthen my telomeres. When I began thinking about this endeavor, I intended the adventure to last a year. I planned to test my telomere length on October 1, 2017 (which I did), midway at April 1, 2018 (which I also did), and again to complete the quest on October 1, 2018. October 1 came and went with no discussion of a final test of my telomeres. Some of you, no doubt, are legitimately disappointed by my failure to produce a final test and would like an explanation. The truth is, I simply stumbled. I failed to test my telomeres again for the following reasons:
I was extremely demoralized after both accelerating my biological age (See Telomere Test 2 Results) and failing to complete two ultramarathons in a row.
“Life” simply got in the way. I was busy with work and other things, which took time away from quest related activities.
Because my habits slipped, my biomarkers deteriorated.
Few things in life go according to the plan. In the words of modern day philosopher Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth…” Nevertheless, make no mistake; the quest continues and I swear I will reverse my biological age, or die trying! Yes, I faltered after some disappointing setbacks, but have since picked myself up, jumped back on my horse, and am galloping full steam ahead.
Why I Stumbled
With respect to why I let my habits slip, the truth of the matter is manifold. First, I was demoralized. Can you blame me? Training for ultramarathons is hard, time consuming, painful work. I failed at two in a row. The first really didn’t bother me all that much, but I fully expected to easily complete the second. Consequently, that second failure to bring home another belt buckle really hurt, both physically and psychologically. So, I limped back to work after the Beast of Burden and thought to myself, “Yeah, you can have 7-11 nachos and a sugar free monster. You earned it!” Well, one thing led to another and suddenly I was back to drinking one or two sugar free monsters a day. To make matters worse, I fell out of my routine so I stopped doing cardio as much. I simply wasn’t doing all the things I promised myself I would do. I had lost momentum and consistency.
I didn’t totally fall off the wagon with respect to reversing my age. Yes my diet suffered, but for the most part, remained quite healthy. I cooked the overwhelming majority of my meals at home as I had since the beginning. There was just more cheating, especially at work and on weekends. I have consistently been meditating at least once a day every single day, eating far healthier than previously, and continued lifting weights religiously. I am, in fact, stronger than I have ever been in my life. I’m still doing most of the things I’ve written about, but there’s only so much time in a day. I’m busy. “Life” gets in the way. Yet again, maybe our conception of “life” is getting in the way of truly living. What do you think?
I really shouldn’t have been so hard on myself. What I was doing was extraordinarily challenging and one must be a little kooky and display a maniacal degree of dedication to maintain such a demanding regimen. I was trying to do too much. One simply can’t do everything, especially if you have a full time job. Instead, I should have focused on doing a few things really well.
Why is it So Hard to Consistently Be Healthy?
There’s another reason I stumbled and it is why most people have such a hard time starting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We are all constantly surrounded by people and organizations trying to sell us stuff. These organizations have literally made hacking our brains a science. Needless to say, they’ve gotten extremely good at it. Food that is not only unhealthy, it is downright toxic, is a prominent item constantly being marketed to us. Furthermore, this unhealthy food is also engineered to be addictive. Just about everything is loaded with sugar! It’s not an accident. Sugar not only tastes great, but is proven to be as addictive, if not more, as heroin.
What everybody else is doing, thinking, and eating is, generally speaking, really unhealthy. “Normal” is simply not normal anymore. Most people are fat, sick, and/or unhealthy primarily because of the food they are stuffing their faces with day in and day out. Another reason it is so hard to consistently be healthy is that most people lack a healthy lifestyle support network. What is often considered “normal” eating habits by your friends, family, and work colleagues is likely pretty unhealthy. If you want to get in the best shape of your life, but your husband is more interested in plopping down on the couch with a gallon of Haagen Dazs, it’s going to be difficult for you to get and remain healthy. Conversely, if your wife is a health nut or fitness freak, it will be far easier for you to adopt her lifestyle. The same goes for your work colleagues. If everyone is drinking energy drinks, smoking cigarettes, and gorging themselves on pizza and candy all day long, it’s going to be exponentially harder to get and remain healthy than if they were drinking water and black coffee and eating goji berries, nuts, and kale all day. The moral of the story is that you would be well served by carefully selecting your spouse and work environment because while jobs and spouses are replaceable, your body isn’t (well, not yet…). The alternative is to let them slowly kill you. Consciously make efforts to build a strong, positive, healthy support network to facilitate obtaining your health related goals enabling you to live long and well.
What’s Next? The 90 Day Wellness Challenge
As a result of my failure to maintain my routine, my measurable biomarkers have slipped. My VO2 Max, Resting Heart Rate, and Heart Rate Variability have all regressed. My body fat is also not as low as it was and should be. My biomarkers just aren’t what I’d like them to be. I know that with some sustained effort I can quickly return them to more optimal level. I will test my telomeres again, for the final time, to complete the mission on April 1, 2019. By then I expect to have the best possible Biomarkers of Aging that I’ve had during the entire quest.
What I propose is a “90-Day Wellness Challenge” beginning January 1st, 2019. I invite you, the reader, to participate along with me. My primary objective is to improve all Biomarkers of Aging with the expectation that my telomeres will follow. I hope, however, all kinds of people with all kinds of objectives do it with me. Your primary objectives will and should be different than mine. Some people might be looking to slap on some lean muscle mass. Some might want to lose body fat. Others might want to reduce anxiety or alleviate the symptoms of ADHD. Some seek to reverse diabetes; or high cholesterol; or high blood pressure. These are all things that can be reversed with some focus, determination, and hard work. There are as many potential reasons to join the 90 Day Wellness Challenge as there are people.
I will publish my precise daily protocol to return to peak performance as well as my Biomarker Goals before the new year. You may follow mine if you like, but I suggest you develop your own in accordance with your objectives, preferences, unique circumstances, and baseline. Most of RMA’s readers are extremely knowledgeable about matters relating to health, fitness, and wellness, but if you’d like some help developing a plan to achieve your objectives, few things would make me happier than the opportunity to assist. We all face different challenges and have different objectives. There is no one size fits all.
Remember this: should you choose to join the Wellness Challenge alongside me, you are not competing with me. Don’t try. Rather, you are competing against your baseline. You can, most definitely, obliterate it, no matter how old, fat, sick, and nearly dead you may be. The human body is truly an amazing thing. We all have the ability to make incredible improvements to our strength, health, and fitness levels incredibly quickly!
One of the most astonishing of the many things I’ve learned during this whacky quest to reverse my age is you can get super fit, super fast. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned you lose fitness just as fast. Before you get too demoralized, bear in mind that you can get it back again just as, if not more, quickly. Rather than trying to do everything imaginable that might improve my Biomarkers of Aging, the final, arguably most important, 90 days of my quest will utilize only the most effective and proven methods. No matter what your objectives, you can you can become the best you’ve ever been. I encourage you to begin making preparations to join me during the final 90 days of my efforts to Reverse My Age.
“God Dammit, you smell like a rotting corpse that sh*t itself! Stay the f**k away from me!” Jake barked at Anthony.
“Jake, it’s 98 degrees and I was just welding. Of course I’m going to smell a little!” Anthony sheepishly replied.
“Smell a little? Your stench is making me gag. And it’s NOT because it’s hot. Nobody else on this entire jobsite smells like a Porta-John. It’s because you’re not wearing deodorant, you animal!” Jake angrily responded.
“Of course I’m not wearing deodorant! Every moron knows it causes cancer!” Anthony shrieked back as he took a long drag off his unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarette.
Jake got a crazy look in his eyes, began to turn red, and appeared to be about to have a major meltdown. “Travis, this is total b*llsh*t! I can’t work under these conditions! Please force Ant to wear deodorant, or lay him off!”
Travis, the foreman, concerned that the situation was escalating, thoughtfully replied, “Well, gee, I don’t really know if I can force anyone to wear deodorant or lay them off for smelling badly. This is really a question for John, the shop steward.” A shop steward is appointed by a labor union to represent the interests of his fellow tradesmen and interact with the company to resolve any potential contentious issues.
Jake stomped up to me, the veins bulging in his thick neck, and demanded, “John, what’s the deal here? Can we force Anthony to wear deodorant? If he refuses, can Travis lay him off?”
I calmly replied, “Well, this is a tough one. Ant, you really do smell absolutely awful. It’s not fair to force Jake to work anywhere near you. Then again, I don’t think Travis can force you to put toxic chemicals on your skin. No job is worth getting cancer over. But I think I may have a solution.”
Why We Wear Deodorant
If you’re living a “clean” lifestyle in which you dramatically reduce your exposure to dietary and environmental toxins, your sweat will be close to odorless. When you stink like Anthony, it’s not your natural odor that is so repulsive, but toxins being expelled. Sweating is an important way for your body to eliminate these harmful toxins. It supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload. If you don’t want your sweat to stink, reduce your toxic load and avoid certain foods.
While most of us apply deodorant every morning, it is a relatively recent societal custom. In fact, it wasn’t until the early to mid-1900s, less than 75 years ago, that people began regularly applying deodorant. This daily activity is due in large part thanks to the efforts of a clever marketing man who created exploitative advertisements warning women that their armpits might be smell badly. The strategy of capitalizing upon female insecurities worked as is evidenced by the fact that Americans now spend $18 billion (yes, that’s BILLION) a year on deodorant and antiperspirant in a quest to cover up body odor and reduce sweating. As more and more people began to use deodorant, many resisted applying such products because they thought them to be unnecessary and unhealthy. Maybe there were right…
What’s In Your Deodorant?
Ever read the ingredients in your deodorant? Take a look. Most of it will be unrecognizable, but you probably have enough common sense to know you wouldn’t want to ingest all those unpronounceable chemicals. We’ve talked about how the skin is a great delivery system for drugs and toxic chemicals in the post Commonly Applied Toxic Beauty Products. In that post I failed to mention that in some cases you actually would have been even better off drinking the toxic chemicals you are rubbing on your skin because if you swallowed them, your digestive system would have broken the toxins down, softening the effects of the chemicals during the metabolization process. When you put them on your skin, especially if you have a nick or scratch, you are “main veining” the chemicals directly into your bloodstream. Blood tests regularly prove that many of the substances found in deodorant penetrate your epidermis and wind up in your body, remaining there indefinitely.
Most deodorants/antiperspirants contain aluminum, which acts as a “plug” in your sweat ducts to reduce sweating. Tinkering with natural processes, like sweating, is just about always fraught with risk. Research suggests aluminum may accumulate in breast tissue in women. This is problematic for a number of reasons, as aluminum may cause alterations to DNA as well as epigenetic effects that could potentially support cancer development. Over 50% of breast cancers start in the upper outer quadrant of the breast local to the underarm region. While that’s certainly not proof aluminum is to blame, breast cancer incidences are correlated with use of products that contain the metal. Especially if you shave under your arms, applying a product containing aluminum to that broken skin could be perilous.
Parabens, Phthalates, and Triclosan
Parabens are used as preservatives in deodorant and other personal care products. Research suggests some parabens may interfere with the way your body produces and regulates estrogen and other hormones, which may promote the growth of cancer cells. Research published in 2012 found one or more parabens in 99 percent of the 160 tissue samples collected from 40 mastectomies. This fact should get your attention!
Like a rancid, lingering fart, phthalates help deodorant and other fragrances stick to your skin. They are also an endocrine disruptor as they appear to disrupt the way your body produces and uses the hormone testosterone. That’s bad, especially if you are a man who is attempting to build muscle. Research has also linked phthalates to impaired reproductive ability in men, lower IQs, and higher rates of asthma. Is this something you really want your kids putting on their skin everyday?
Cosmetic manufacturers add triclosan to many products (toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, makeup, plastics) in order to prevent bacterial contamination and to kill bacteria on the surface of the skin. It also happens to be a pesticide. Triclosan is so common that 75% of Americans have detectable levels of the stuff in their urine. In September 2016, triclosan was banned from soap products following the risk assessment by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But guess what? Though the FDA banned the use of triclosan in soap, it remains in many other products, including deodorant. Do you smell a rat? The use of triclosan is linked to: abnormal endocrine system/thyroid hormone signaling, weakened immune system, allergies, asthma, eczema, uncontrolled cell growth (cancer), and developmental and reproductive toxicity. I cannot fathom why anyone would willingly put this chemical on their skin knowing these facts, especially when there are safe, cheap, effective alternatives!
Is Deodorant Carcinogenic?
The American Cancer Society says there is no “clear” or “direct” link between deodorant, aluminum, and cancer. The National Cancer Institute has a page concerning deodorant cancer risks that falls under the heading “Cancer Myths and Misconceptions” and pontificates that “more research is needed.” One cannot help but wonder about the institutions receiving government subsidies charged with protecting and educating the uninformed.Keep in mind that proving that this mixture of chemicals could cause or contribute to cancer is next to impossible. Time magazine quotes Philippa Darbre, an oncologist, as eloquently saying, “Cancer is a complex multistage process, and its development can take many years.” If you’re going to wait for a definitive link before you ditch your deodorant or replace it with a safer alternative, you will be waiting awhile. Smoking cigarettes still hasn’t been definitively proven to cause cancer.
Even though the overwhelming majority of people load up on deodorant, Anthony has a point. As we can see, deodorant may cause all sorts of health issues. You may be thinking that if these chemicals were as dangerous as I suggest, it would be common knowledge and nobody would buy them; or the chemicals would be outlawed. Well, why isn’t this common knowledge? It’s simple: because no mainstream corporate journalist or mainstream media outlet is ever going to touch that with a ten foot pole! Why not? Just look at who the advertisers are? Make no mistake; advertisers are the paying customers of the media. If the station, newspaper, or magazine you work for has a handful of really important clients, are you going to run a story exposing them as psychopathic, greedy, murderers? Would you ever risk damaging your client’s financial bottom line? Of course not! You know that if you did, you would lose either your client, your job, or both. If you want to rise in the company, then make the best customers happy. This is not some kind of wacky conspiracy theory. It is just the way the world works. Nobody really talks about it though, aside from some academics like Noam Chomsky. Though, much to my surprise and glee, Elon Musk recently complained about it on Twitter here.
Anthony kept his job. We worked out what I believe to be an equitable solution to the dilemma revolving around his stench and Jake’s refusal to work in close proximity with him. The company agreed to pay for the same aluminum and parabens free deodorant I use and Anthony promised to wear it for six months out of the year. During the rest of the year, when it is cooler, Andrew would wear no deodorant at all. I also encouraged Anthony to make an effort to quit smoking and reduce his toxic load so that he would not smell so awful.
Let’s face it: we’re surrounded by threats, many of them unseen, that are putting us at constant risk of seriously ill health. But if we can remove potential threats easily, why wouldn’t we? Regular readers here at RMA are familiar with one of the site’s recurring themes of, “I don’t really know.” If we don’t know that the typical mass marketed deodorant is safe, why would we use it? In fact, we do know most deodorants have chemicals that are demonstrably unsafe. So, yeah, the cancer society says there is no definitive link between deodorant or aluminum and cancer. A better question would be, “Has aluminum, parabens, phthalates, and triclosan been proven to be safe to apply to the skin for a lifetime?” There is, no doubt, a compelling amount of evidence suggesting these chemicals individually and collectively cause problems and the use of them warrants caution. Considering chemical antiperspirants and deodorants are an optional product, it may be a risk that’s simply not worth taking. Furthermore, there are cheap alternatives without the chemicals. You can see a list of effective, safe, alternative deodorants here. I wear a safer alternative and nobody has ever complained about the way I smell. Regardless, body odor certainly isn’t dangerous; cancer, however, is.
187 inexplicably fit men and women strutted to the starting line to begin a 100 mile brutal race through the rough, backwoods terrain of Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio. Between 18 1/2 and 32 hours later, a mere 90, less than half those that began, staggered across the finish line. Those who DNF’d (Did Not Finish) did not suddenly decide to put down a box of twinkies, belch, turn off Netflix and jump up off their couch to run 100 miles. Rather, they were collectively brave, fierce competitors who had likely devoted months of their lives training obsessively before donning their bib numbers. And they still failed. This fact should serve as a ominous warning to those of you considering taking on the Mohican 100 challenge.
The Mohican 100 is a supremely challenging, prestigious race through some exceptionally tough terrain. The first ever USATF Ultra Running Championship took place at the MO-100 in 2005. It is the fifth oldest ultra-running race in the USA and the second stop of the Midwest Grand Slam. If you’re brave enough to register, take it seriously or suffer the consequences. Train in comparable conditions, or I promise, you will not make it. 15,000 feet of elevation gain and loss will mercilessly hammer your joints. If they are unaccustomed to the pounding they will endure running down very steep stretches of treacherous terrain, they will surely fail you.
Getting and Staying There
In the center of rural Amish Country, Mohican State Park is located in Ashland County near Loudonville. If you live too far to drive to Loudonville, be forewarned there is no really close airport to fly into. I chose Columbus only because I wanted to fly out of the same airport I flew into. I had decided to spend the week after the race recovering in Florida, as I knew I’d need it. Columbus had the most affordable flights flying into Fort Lauderdale, where I recuperated the following week.
Upon landing in Columbus, I rented a car to drive about an hour and a half to check into a hotel that was about 25 minutes from the race. I selected this particular hotel because I did not want to stay in a cabin, tent, or very expensive hotel. These are issues any potential runner should consider before registering. I knew I’d want a comfortable bed to sleep in the night before the big race as well as the night after. I think it is also especially important to eliminate potential sources of psychological stress leading up to an ultramarathon.
As soon as I arrived at the pre race meeting, I was dramatically reminded that I was no longer in Jersey City. The overwhelmingly friendly people created a relaxed, fun atmosphere at an event that was incredibly well organized. I checked in after waiting a mere moment on a short line. Volunteers had everything I needed in one place, from my bib number to the extra items I ordered, a t-shirt and a long sleeve zip up, all waiting for me in a neatly packed bag. The pre race meeting was inspiring and featured some men wearing 1000 mile buckles that had completed at least 10 Mohicans.
The Mohican volunteers at the fully stocked aid stations were genuinely eager to help me complete my journey in any way they could. Without them, the race would not have been nearly as enjoyable. The level of service they provided was honestly first rate. Honey sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches, pretzels, gels, and quesadillas were some of the aid station fare I enjoyed during my run. The medical team was equally impressive. The race had a medical trailer and area with four wheel, all terrain, vehicles to get to people in desperate need of medical attention. Each aid station had a doctor and some even had podiatrists and physical therapists, all of whom were eager to help. I lost count of the number of times someone asked, “Can I get you anything?” or “Are you doing ok?”
Mo-100 runners included people from age 21 to 70. They came from all over the country, including Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, California, Texas, and the greatest state in the union, New Jersey. The runners were just as friendly as the aid station volunteers. I fell in with several people and got to know them during the race. The ultrarunning crowd is truly a most friendly and special group. Everyone’s a little crazy and a metaphysical bond of some sort is formed when you suffer through such a harrowing experience together.
The Course – Terrain
I’ve seen the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, the Fjords of Norway, the Painted Desert, and many of the most spectacular castles of Europe. But let me tell you that some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen were among those backwood trails in Mohican State Park. It was a true wilderness experience. Ninety five percent of the course is on trails that wind through the lush 5,000 acre Mohican Memorial State Forest. Runners run alongside cliffs, meandering streams, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, a dam, and find themselves running up and down incredibly steep sections of trail, which in some cases has challengers scrambling over fallen trees and up extremely steep terrain. There is even a hand over hand root climb. There are two long sections of staircases. While this may appear easy or fun to run down, it mangles the joints because running downhill is 2-3x times harder on them because of the impact force. As I was running through a hemlock forest, I actually paused for a moment to absorb the beauty and take a mental snapshot that I hope I keep for eternity. You won’t find many comparably scenic ultramarathons.
Roughly the first ten miles I ran were frustrating. I began the race near the front and as the stampede of runners turned off the paved road onto the trails, we formed a conga line that lasted about 10 miles. You see, long stretches of these trials are only single person wide. It is neither easy to pass someone, nor is it easy to allow someone to pass you. So, I basically got stuck trying to keep up with the guy in front of me for fear of annoying the people behind me. It was disconcerting and I found it impossible to enter a flow state or establish a rhythm when I was constantly worried about who was trying to pass me or keeping up with the guy in front of me.
There was a period in which I feared I would be running the entire race trapped in this conga line surrounded by people. Yet, as I began passing aid stations, it began to thin out. By mile 12, I found myself quite literally alone in the woods. Later in the race, there were long periods in which I saw absolutely no one. This was peaceful, but also mildly scary, especially when it got dark.
The single wide trail is also suggestive of the terrain. It is rough. Really rough. If you are accustomed to running on asphalt or gravel or compacted dirt on four person wide trails, this is going to be traumatic for you. Train accordingly or you will suffer and likely be seriously injured. The single wide trail is covered with rocks, holes, fallen trees, gnarly roots, and I even saw a few piles of horse crap, any one of which have the ability to snap an ankle or twist a knee. Now, imagine running it in the dark with only a little headlamp to light your treacherous path. You better pay attention to every spot you put your foot down or the Mohican will put you in the hospital. Make no mistake, this terrain is unforgivable. Make sure you pack a powerful headlamp with a ton of battery life!
Did I Earn a Belt Buckle?
I set a relatively blistering pace for myself upon completion of the first of four 25 mile loop. That caught up with me as the heat began to set in on the second loop, causing me to slow down significantly. I was confident I would earn that most coveted belt buckle straight up through about mile 40 when the ache in my knee morphed into more serious pangs of pain. As any ultrarunner knows, you’re going to suffer tremendously on a 100 mile run. But there are degrees of suffering and the pain that was emerging in my knee was slowly ticking higher on the pain scale. I adapted by running down hill relatively duck footed with my left leg. By mile fifty, the pain was absolutely excruciating. By then I was walking downhill both duck footed and straight legged, literally dragging my left leg behind me. Eventually, I couldn’t even walk downhill without being in agony. Considering the situation with my knee and my recognition that I could no longer possibly complete the race within the 32 hour time limit to earn a belt buckle, I decided to quit at about mile 52. It was a most humbling experience. The two mile walk in the dark to the next aid station was the longest two mile walk of my life. I officially bowed out at mile 54, earning me a 50 plus mile finisher medal. It was nice to receive an award, but certainly not the hardware I came for.
They say hindsight is 20/20. What I did wrong is retrospectively obvious. In a fist fight, the Pistol Ultra Marathon, the first and only ultramarathon I ever completed, would be the equivalent of fighting Steve Urkel, the quintessential nerd from the 90’s hit sitcom Family Matters. That’s precisely why I selected it as my first Ultra; because I thought it would be as relatively easy as possible to run 100 miles on that particular flat course with a generous, 30 hour cut off time. I just barely beat Urkel as I hobbled across the finish line with merely nine minutes to spare. While I managed to earn a Pistol belt buckle, Urkel really beat the crap out of me, knocking me down more than once. Indeed, he bloodied me up good and I was limping for two weeks.
So while basking in the glory of barely defeating Steve Urkel, I decided to take on a more challenging contender. I chose the Mohican 100 specifically because it is a qualifier for two of the toughest and most prestigious races in the world; the Western States and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, a multi day, staged event in which participants run through France, Italy, and Switzerland. So, by choosing to register in the Mohican 100, I was essentially doing the equivalent of challenging Iron Mike Tyson to a fight immediately after barely beating Urkel. Yeah, it was stupid. I now know. I lost. Badly.
The Mohican 100 is a well supported, great race that is incredibly challenging and scenic. I suggest it to anyone capable of completing it. Just don’t make the mistake I made by taking it too lightly or overestimating your abilities or this race will drop you to your knees and you will stay there. The Mo-100 is also not a cheap challenge to take up haphazardly. If you don’t live nearby, you can reasonably expect to easily drop close to $1,000 between cost of registration, airfare, hotel, car rental, and incidentals. It’s a considerable amount of money to spend only to emerge from the exhausting experience with a sense of disappointment, rather than one of glory. Despite what I’ve read elsewhere, it is simply not a good first 100 mile ultramarathon for anyone. It is not a good second either, nor is it probably a good third; or fourth; or fifth… I strongly urge potential candidates to get some serious ultrarunning experience before tackling a course of this caliber. The number of people, including myself, who DNF’d (over 50%) should indicate how hard it is.
Nevertheless, I am glad I took the Mohican Challenge and it was an incredible, albeit painful, and somewhat traumatic, learning experience. Experience counts. I didn’t have nearly enough to take on the Mo-100. Though I failed to complete the race, let’s not forget to put this in its proper perspective and remember exactly WHY I am putting myself through this torture. I run far as one of several methods to prove it is possible to reverse one’s biological age by lengthening one’s telomeres. My endeavor is based upon a compelling, peer reviewed study located here. I am making incredible progress with ultrarunning (and hopefully my telomeres) and look forward to my next challenge. I will most definitely return to Ohio to fight the Mohican again. Next time, I’ll be much better prepared, and God willing, I will earn that damn belt buckle.
“I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. I’m too short. I’m too tall. I’m not experienced enough. I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m not smart enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m not educated enough. I’m not fit enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not tough enough. My car sucks. I can’t do it.” Have you ever thought any of the preceding comments? Come on, admit it, you’re in there somewhere. Don’t sweat it, you need not be. I’m going to show you how to free yourself from a self imposed prison.
So often we all allow an overactive, irrational part of our brains to think thoughts that incapacitate us. It’s truly tragic. These thoughts hold us back, give us anxiety, depress, and imprison us. Our thoughts should never hold us back; rather, they should encourage, inspire, and elevate us. You’re thinking, “But John, I can’t control my thoughts. They just are. Nobody can control them.” Nonsense! There is a way to overcome them that is free, easy (once you get the hang of it), can be done anywhere, and is supremely effective, whatever your goal. Meditation! Stop going to the doctor for drugs that don’t really work, don’t address the source of the problem, and that you’ll likely be taking for the rest of your life. According to Time Magazine, 13% of Americans over the age of 12 took an antidepressant within the last month and 68% of those taking the medication report being on it for two or more years.1 Clearly, antidepressants aren’t working for anyone but big pharma. Remember a recurring theme here at ReversingMyAge.com: Don’t be a sucker! Meditation has been proven to work for thousands of years.
Thoughts may appear vivid and real, but when we scrutinize them, we often see there’s actually nothing to hold onto. Dwelling on the past often results in depression. Worrying about the future results in anxiety. Effective meditation brings you back into the present. “But John, I’m busy. I don’t have time to meditate!” Really? If you have time to breath, you have time to meditate. Start with a few minutes to begin each and every day. You’ll thank me. Like most things in life, the more you do it and the better you get at it, the more you will want to do it. Professional athletes, government, and business leaders are meditating because it really works. You should too.
Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?” He replied, “Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.”Purpose of Meditation
We create our own reality. The world is all an illusion of sorts. How we interpret events and “facts” dictates how we experience reality. Some of this is also biochemical (hormonal), which is why eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, and plenty of exercise are all important parts of truly getting physically and mentally healthy. Meditation is one important piece of the puzzle. I know, I know, many of you are rolling your eyes. But that’s because you can’t wrap your head around what I’m writing just yet. If you give meditation a shot and keep trying until it clicks, eventually you’ll understand what I am saying and it may blow your mind.
If you’ve never meditated, in all likelihood, you don’t have much control over your head, thoughts, or emotions. Your mind will wander and race around in all directions. That’s normal, but it’s not good because your mind might be predisposed to ruminate or dwell on the past (depression) or stress about the future (anxiety). Meditation will correct this.
Stress cognitions are important for survival, but if they are based on distorted perceptions, as they so often are, they may promote excessive and near constant stress arousal, creating harmful conditions for cellular longevity.2 Stress is a killer that’s become an all too common part of 21st century life. This isn’t conjecture. It’s an undisputed fact. Now, the question is, “What is the best way to manage it?” If you have a stressful job, or relationship, are going through financial difficulties, or are a caretaker and you’re NOT meditating, you are making a difficult situation even harder. Why handicap yourself? Meditation can help you get through just about anything. If you’ve got stress of any kind, try it. Keep doing it. Given enough time and effort, it will work. Here’s the bottom line: You wanna be healthy, happy, and strong? Then meditate. You’ll get control of your thoughts and emotions resulting in a cascading series of effects that will improve your quality of life beginning with better decision making.
My Meditation Technique – The Muse
About four months ago, I began using the Muse, a meditation aid. I now use it every single day. It is genuinely changing my life. You may be thinking that meditation sounds like a new age fad. I was a skeptic too. I actually tried an app called headspace a few years ago and felt ridiculous, so I stopped. I remember thinking, “This is so stupid! This will never work! What a waste of time! How do I know I am doing it correctly?”
And that’s precisely why I purchased the Muse. You see, the Muse is a headband you wear that reads your brain waves as it simultaneously plays sounds that get louder or softer depending on how active your brain is at a given moment. You have options with respect to what is played in the background including sounds that reflect a rainforest, beach, desert, city park, and techno like ambient music. For months I used a rainstorm. If my mind was wondering (thinking about things it shouldn’t be) the volume and intensity of the rain I heard in my earbuds steadily increased. If my mind was really wandering, I would hear a loud storm. When my mind is calm, the volume of the rain is very soft and birds chirp. The noise forces me to center myself; to focus on nothing but my breathing. That is the essential aim of the type of meditation I practice; to clear my mind and think about nothing. Therein lies the benefit. I know it sounds strange, but trust me, it works.
Meditation, Age Reversal, and Telomeres
According to an article written in Mindfulness in 2016, “Thus, it seems that mindfulness is a protective factor for telomere length regardless of the type of meditation practiced. These results might also be expected because Zen meditation has already been related not only to improvements in quality of life, better mental health (Shaku et al. 2014), and alpha and theta activity in many brain regions (generally related to relaxation) (Chiesa 2009) but also to decreases in oxidative stress (Mahagita 2010) and the resiliency of mitochondria (Bhasin et al. 2013), which may help prevent the process of ageing.”3 Another article published in Frontiers in Psychology concludes, “Interestingly, recent studies have indicated that meditation may increase telomerase activity (Jacobs et al., 2011; Lavretsky et al., 2013; Schutte and Malouff, 2014) and telomere length (Hoge et al., 2013; Alda et al., 2016). Altogether, these studies’ outcomes are consistent with the notion that meditation is protective against cellular aging. It should also be noted that while the critical role of telomere attrition is well-established in cell aging.”4 Meditation has repeatedly been proven to improve mental health, quality of life, and slow cellular aging. The data is compelling. Consequently, if you are interested in biological age reversal, meditation must be a part of your protocol.
Meditation does not just benefit telomeres by activating the production of telomerase. It also reduces inflammation. “Overall, these results point to a reduced proinflammatory state in active meditation practitioners. So, altogether, the observed effects of meditation on inflammation processes may have beneficial effects on brain aging.”5 “Inflammaging” is a concept previously examined here at ReversingMyAge.com. Inflammation likely has something to do with aging, thus we want to monitor systemic inflammation levels and keep them as low as possible.
Aging is complicated. We know that there are many, many factors that influence the rate of aging. It seems conclusive that meditation is one such therapy that has the ability to positively influence how one ages. The science related to meditation keeps getting more compelling, which is particularly exciting because anyone can do it, it costs nothing, needn’t take up much time, and is relatively easy.
Meditation and Success – Flow State
A very active runner recently asked me what the key training component that enabled me to complete an ultramarathon was. I replied, “Oh, that’s easy. Meditation.”
She rolled her eyes and pressed, “No, I’m serious. How did you train for this? What was the most important thing you did? High intensity interval training? Very long runs? Overspeed training? Underspeed training? What was it? I’m very interested because I may want to tackle one myself.”
I replied, “I am being very serious. Meditation is the most important thing I did in my efforts to complete an ultramarathon. They say the first fifty miles of an ultra is all in your legs and the last fifty miles is all in your head. I passionately agree with that statement. Ultrarunning is first and foremost a psychological and emotional endeavor and secondly a physical one. If you can’t get control of your head, you will not complete one. Furthermore, meditation facilitates entry into what is known as a ‘flow state’ in which one becomes so focused on a task that the ego disappears and time becomes extremely distorted. Most people have experienced ‘flow’ at some point in their life. It’s something we should all strive to experience more of.”
Actually, ultrarunning is a great metaphor for life. Being able to push through the dark times in the middle of the night when you are alone and cold and shivering and in serious pain and having the ability to silence the part of your brain that keeps urging you to quit is essential for anyone to successfully get through not only an ultra, but through all the hard things we inevitably face in our lives. I don’t know how anyone can do that without meditation, even if they don’t call it meditation. In my view, if you want to accomplish anything truly difficult and be successful in just about any endeavor, you’ve gotta learn to get through those dark times by taming your brain. Meditation is the best way of doing just that.
Regular readers know that I set up ReversingMyAge.com as a vehicle by which to chronicle the events associated with my year long quest to reverse my biological age by lengthening my telomeres. My eagerly anticipated second telomere test results finally arrived from Telomere Diagnostics. As I walked into my apartment, I tossed the unopened package on my living room coffee table and began to cook a meal. My handling of the latest test results stands in stark contrast to my reaction upon receiving the initial, baseline, test results. Some of you may remember reading,
“I finally received the results of the TeloYears genetic test that I have been so eagerly awaiting. I held the package in my hands thinking, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ My heart began to pound. I could feel my blood pressure rising. My hands trembled as as I tore open the envelope and opened the pamphlet to see:”1
Telomeres Test Result
I was biologically 35 years old, despite chronologically being 40. I was not pleased with the results because, while I was younger, it would make accomplishing my practically impossible mission even more difficult. It is exponentially easier for an eighty year old man to lengthen his telomeres than a five year old child.
“God Damn it, Son of a Bitch, Mother …!” I thought to myself at the time.2
When I open the results this time there would be no nervousness, no trembling hands, no heart pounding, and no profane outbursts. Two eight to fifteen minute daily sessions of meditation have fundamentally changed me. I have wrestled control of both my head and my emotions. With regards to my new test results; what will be, will be. I was totally relaxed. As I cooked my healthy meal, I contemplated what I would write to you, my faithful readers, regardless of whether the news was positive, or possibly, though hopefully not, negative.
A furious debate rages among biogerontologists and other scientists about the importance of telomeres. One camp claims that telomeres are everything; the very key to aging. Solving telomere shortening or stimulating telomerase, the enzyme which causes telomeres to lengthen, will result in people living indefinitely, so some believe. Many of these scientists are feverishly studying telomeres all over the world; some in a university setting, but far more work in the private sector for pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are working to develop drugs or gene therapies.
One such biogerontologist, a semi celebrity and main character in the movie The Immortalists, is ultramarathon running Dr. Bill Andrews. He thinks it is all about the telomeres, and has been quoted saying, “Aging can be controlled and stopped, a statement solidly grounded in good science, which makes it both verifiable and demonstrable.”3 He’s also written, “The end result, a cure for aging, is inevitable.”4 I agree with Dr. Andrews, but critics are quick to point out that he is currently both selling a supplement called Tam-818 and offering gene therapy that is extraordinarily expensive.
Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of Bioviva, is another celebrity in the field who focuses on telomeres. She used her company’s gene therapy to successfully lengthen her telomeres by the equivalent of 20 years, thus legitimately reversing her age. According to Parrish, “the gene therapy has enhanced the lifespan of the telomere by a whopping 20 years. This was after she received two experimental- one containing muscle mass and the other with longevity gene- therapies back in 2015 (then 44 years of age).”5 Gene therapy to combat aging is currently available in overseas markets, but be forewarned; prices START at about a quarter of a million dollars and go as high as you can imagine. The results are inconsistent and the therapies are potentially dangerous.
The opposition says telomeres don’t matter at all. They’re just something interesting to look at, but don’t have a heck of a lot to do with life expectancy. This camp, much to my dismay, makes some compelling arguments. Some friends and readers of this blog who disagree with the nature of my endeavor, some of whom have PhDs, enjoy taunting me by sending links to articles that indicate telomeres aren’t important. Or, in some cases, that long telomeres are bad. This camp, most of whom I suspect have very short telomeres, argues that having long telomeres, or taking drugs, or doing things to make them long, is a good way to get cancer. They have a point. One article cited the following study which argues, “Results regarding telomere length and cancer risk are conflicting. We tested the hypothesis that long telomeres are associated with increased risk of any cancer and specific cancer types in genetic and observational analyses. Genetic determinants of long telomeres are associated with increased cancer risk, particularly melanoma and lung cancer. This genetic predisposition to enhanced telomere maintenance may represent a survival advantage for precancerous cells, allowing for multiple cell divisions leading to cancer development.”6 My response, in that case, was there is a problem with the study that doesn’t apply to my circumstances. While the study indicates that longer telomeres are associated with certain types of cancer, one cannot equate an individual with naturally long telomeres with those of the person who eats organic, exercises like a mad man, and avoids all kinds of pollution, whether it be drunk, breathed, eaten, or rubbed into one’s skin. There are a lot of really, really smart people out there with an agenda and/or biases. Don’t let them fool you. The implications of this argument is that being healthy will give you cancer. Hmm, that’s not only suspect, it’s simply not true.
Aubrey de Grey, arguably the leader of the “Conquer Aging” movement, is so opposed to telomeres that part of his SENS movement actually seeks to figure out a way to turn OFF, not on, the enzyme telomerase. He thinks that’s the way to beat cancer. Maybe he’s right. By lengthening my telomeres, I am certainly increasing the number of potential cell divisions. According to Cancer.gov, “Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. When cancer develops, however, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed.”7 By lengthening my telomeres, I may be enabling cells that should have died to live on, thus raising my risk of developing cancer. Cancer cells are immortal. They just keep dividing. As such, their telomeres must also keep growing. Do you see the connection between aging, telomeres, and cancer?
Much has happened since I began this quest, not only to me and with respect to what I have learned, but also within the scientific community as it relates to aging. Breathtaking news emerges weekly. The pace at which the scientific community is advancing in this great age of emerging artificial intelligence and super computers is nothing short of mind blowing. My own thoughts and positions as they relate to aging remain in a constant state of evolution. I intend to continue to focus on my telomeres for the duration of this quest. Yet, while I began this quest thinking the key to aging is all about the telomeres, I no longer feel that way. I continue to believe telomeres are important and lengthening them is, legitimately, reversing one’s biological age. As discussed above, we have a limited number of cell divisions. The less healthy cell divisions we have, the less time we have. Longer telomeres = more cell divisions = more healthy time among the living. I am more confident than ever that not only is legitimate biological age reversal possible, but that we will also soon have the option to live significantly longer (and healthier) in the not so distant future. I just don’t think it will play out quite the same way I originally thought.
I finally finished my delicious, healthy meal and casually opened the package from Teloyears. Because I had experience with the matter, I knew exactly where to open the pamphlet to get to the heart of the matter; my new (hopefully younger) biological age. I saw the relevant information and immediately shrieked, “No! This can’t be right! There must be some mistake!” I began to sweat. My heart began pounding like a 90 lb jackhammer. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I anxiously read my results.
I looked to the sky and bellowed, “God Damn it, Son of a Bitch, Mother …!”
No amount of meditation could have helped me with this one. During the course of my life, I have experienced many, many epic failures. I’ve grown quite accustomed to them. I am in a very good place psychologically in that respect, as failures no longer incapacitate me like they used to. I now see them as a necessary part of a process. Yet, in this particular instance, I had given 110% of myself to an endeavor and not only had I failed to reverse my biological age, I had dramatically accelerated my aging and shortened my telomeres significantly, by an astounding three years in six months. I started biologically at 35 years old and a mere six months later, I was now 38. This was, arguably, the most spectacular failure of my life!
I called a good friend to share the news. As I began telling him what happened, he began to chuckle. I plowed forward with my explanation until he could no longer control his uproarious laughter. When he finally got a hold of himself, he managed to say between eruptions, “This is so great! This may be the funniest thing I ever heard in my life! I’m going to start taking bets on how biologically old you’ll be in six months. You aged 3 years in six months. In five years you will be 70! Ahhhh, haahahahahahahaha!”
My “friend”, totally unconcerned with my feelings went on to breathlessly state the obvious, “You would have been way better off had you kept drinking beer and Monster, not exercising, and eating McDonalds and Taco Bell!”
He continued, “Think of all the time you wasted reading all those dumb books and watching those idiotic documentaries. Let’s go out drinking! You’ll feel better!” I took my friend’s criticism before growling into the phone, “I’m just getting started! I’ll bet you I still manage to reverse my biological age!” and hung up.
While the discovery of my new, older, biological age and my friend’s comments stung, they genuinely have not discouraged me. In fact, after I calmed down, I realized this, like all my other failures, is probably a good thing. It’s simply part of the process. The results of my second telomere test poses all sorts of new, interesting questions to contemplate:
Is there a lag between my efforts and when it is reflected in telomere length? The Dean Ornish study lasted five years. It also took Elizabeth Parrish’s telomeres two years to grow the equivalent of 20 years.
If I was sleep deprived when I drew my blood, would that make a difference?
What if I was sick?
Do telomeres possess the ability to lengthen as fast as they shorten?
On a positive note, I’ve demonstrated that telomeres not only respond, but respond relatively quickly to various stimuli. I have discovered that one can significantly shorten one’s telomeres in a very short period of time. Nowhere have I found a single study, source of data, or even anecdotal evidence duplicating my incredibly awful results. No record of anyone shortening their telomeres so much, so fast exists. Nevertheless, I am not devastated by my results because I am demonstrably younger in just about every single other biomarker of aging: Resting Heart Rate, HRV, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, Lean Muscle Mass, Strength, Body Fat, Body Temperature Regulation, Aerobic Capacity, Balance, and even Cognitively.
Possible Explanations Why My Telomeres Shrunk
Rocky Balboa displayed incredible wisdom when he famously said, “It’s not how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Now that I’ve picked myself up off the floor, the first thing to do is to attempt to figure out WHY, precisely, my telomeres shortened so much, so fast. As the test date approached, I began to anticipate this possibility. I have endured a tremendous amount of stress on my mind and body. Perhaps this physical and mental stress had a lot to do with my telomere shortening.
"It ain't about how hard you hit" - Rocky Balboa Motivational Speech - 60s - YouTube
I also must consider what was different before I began this quest. One such difference is that in addition to drinking beer, I also drank about three Monster energy drinks daily. I often drank the Ultra Black variety, which is loaded with 100% of RDA of Vitamin B-12 in each can. The “Monster Energy Blend” includes: Taurine, Panax Ginseng Extract, L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Guarana Extract, and Glucuronolactone and Inositol. When I received my baseline blood test results, I distinctly remember my doctor asking what I am taking to elevate my B-12 levels so much. I couldn’t figure it out until after the fact. It was, I believe, the Monster.
Another possible explanation is a lack of caffeine, which I was getting plenty of prior to beginning this quest. I estimate I consumed 400 mg of caffeine a day via energy drinks. I am unwilling at this juncture to begin drinking coffee or supplementing with caffeine because it also raises blood pressure. I may revisit this in the future.
Despite this setback, I don’t plan on changing much about my protocol. I’m going to continue focusing on ultrarunning and other ultra endurance activities for the duration, primarily because of the study which determined the average Ultrarunner has an average telomere length of someone 16 years younger.8 I will be running my next, the Mohican 100, in mid June. I believe ultra endurance training is the best and fastest way to significantly lengthen my telomeres. I will also begin supplementing with B-12.
If all else fails after my third telomere test results, I will deploy the nuclear option. My friend who bet me I would be over 35 biologically (determined by telomere length) doesn’t realize I have an ace up my sleeve. During the course of my independent research, I believe I may have stumbled upon some “forbidden knowledge.” The nuclear option is called the “nuclear option” because deploying it runs the risk of giving myself cancer. No, I won’t tell you what it is just yet, but if I use it, I will document it and share all the specific details.
I truly still believe I will successfully reverse my biological age. Of all the various types of exercises, diet modifications, supplements, and therapies I am utilizing in my efforts, I already know what the most powerful component is: unwavering tenacity. I intend to wear down my telomeres. I will keep getting knocked down, only to quickly scramble to my feet so I may keep bombarding my telomeres with therapies that logically, should work. Eventually, I predict, my exhausted telomeres will scream, “Mercy! Ok, enough already! We give up! We will begin to lengthen!”
Regular readers are familiar with the concept of hormesis. While thus far my quest must be viewed as an epic failure, couldn’t the concept of hormesis be applied to my telomere’s initial response to my efforts? In order to build muscle, mustn’t we first tear them up and break them down? Only then will they grow bigger and stronger. Perhaps the same applies to my telomeres. As such, I wouldn’t bet against me or my telomeres just yet…
I lift weights. I run. I cycle. I practice intermittent fasting. I do yoga. I even meditate for 18 minutes every single day (more on this soon). I try to only eat organic, real food with no toxic preservatives or artificial flavors or colors. Water is pretty much the only thing I drink. I avoid sugar that is not naturally occuring at all costs. Yet, until very recently, I have been damaging my health, potentially quite seriously, on a daily basis. I simply missed something.
In fairness to myself, it’s incredibly challenging to navigate through all this stuff. Who has the time to figure out what’s healthy or harmful in a world in which we are surrounded by harmful things, including the very air we breath? We implicitly trust our government and business leaders and it’s just easiest to do whatever everybody else is doing. Afterall, who wants to be a weirdo?
It first dawned on me that I might have overlooked something while showering. As I lathered up my head of thinning hair, I just happened to glance down at my bottle of shampoo and read the label on the back. What immediately struck me was the sheer volume of ingredients. The list was about 2.5 inches long of small print. “Wow,” I thought, “some of this can’t possibly be good.” The ingredients included: Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium chloride, Tetrasodium edta, methylparaben, propylene glycol, Yellow #5, phenoxyethanol, and Red #33. “Holy sh%t!” I thought, “That sounds awful!” I recognized some of these terms from the post titled “Your Plastic Water Bottles and Food Containers are Killing You.” “I’m rubbing this excrement all over my head for a few minutes every single day!? This warrants further exploration,” I decided. So, I looked at the back of my body wash to inspect the ingredients. I used what I thought was a high quality, name brand body wash. The exact same thing applied with respect to its ingredients which include: Sodium laureth sulfate, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate, PEG-200 hydrogenated glyceryl palmate, sodium hydroxide, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben. Again, I uttered to myself, “Damn, I rub these chemicals all over my body on a daily basis!”
Many of you are thinking, “John, there are giant, federal organizations with billion dollar budgets that exist for the sole purpose of protecting us, so why should I bother researching or reading about what simply ‘might’ be harmful?” You’re right, there are multiple agencies with enormous budgets. Furthermore, you’re thinking on this matter likely reflects the thinking of 99% of the rest of the country. We have left this task to our governmental and business leaders. After all, don’t they have our best interests in mind? They wouldn’t hurt us for profit? Would they? If there were studies indicating a commonly used ingredient is harmful, it would undoubtedly be front page news and outlawed? Or at least given a label indicating it is potentially harmful? Right???
As we learned in a previous post, “Sleep More; Live Longer” the skin actually absorbs light. Do you think it also absorbs chemicals you rub all over it? Well, it turns out, you betcha, it sure does! The CDC states clearly that toxic chemicals are absorbed through the skin.1 In fact, several medicines today are delivered via the skin in the form of transdermal patches. I used a nicotine patch many years ago. Some women use a birth control patch. Some guys wear testosterone patches. It’s a great way to deliver medicine. It is, unfortunately, an equally effective way of delivering toxic chemicals that can give you cancer, ADHD, brain damage, and yes, even slowly kill you.
I can hear some of you thinking, “Oh John, you’re so silly! There you go again, peddling fear porn. You’re such an exaggerator! There’s nothing wrong with my body wash, or shampoo, or sunscreen!” Well, the fact of the matter is that there are many studies indicating that countless chemicals commonly used in personal care products are incredibly toxic and remain perfectly legal. I know many of you lack the time to inform yourself about this stuff. Well, you’re in luck. You don’t have to research these matters because I’ll do it for you. Read on…
Historically Dangerous Chemicals
Here’s the trick. There has never been a study that definitively proves smoking causes cancer. So, you see, a given industry just has to spend a few million dollars a year to confuse people, buy some “scientific” studies, and “donate” money to friendly politicians. They can easily afford to do this for decades to maintain a cash cow. Nicolas Pineault reveals in The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs that it took between 50 and 99 years from when the first health warning signs appeared before government moved to ban the sale of asbestos, lead in gasoline, trans fats, and PCE in tap water.2 Why does it take so long for government to act? Money? Power? Influence? Advertising? It’s still perfectly legal to buy cigarettes. At least now, it comes with a warning. The same warning label should, and will, I strongly suspect, apply to chemicals in household personal care products in the future. Most of us are unaware of the carcinogenic chemicals that are lurking in these products. We’re just too busy to keep up with these things. We are trained to think, “How could anything truly harmful be in there? Oh, the government would never allow that!” Or would it? Make no mistake, harmful chemicals are not only in many products you likely use, but also rubbing these carcinogenic, toxic chemicals on your skin is no different than ingesting them. They end up in your bloodstream. They become part of you.
There are a ton of products that I could cover that contain chemicals that we absorb through our skin. In this post, I am only going to cover a few products I, and I assume many of you, use on a daily basis. Be patient. I will, no doubt, cover more products, in some cases individually (deodorant), in the near future.
Sure enough, just as I suspected, some of the chemicals listed on the label of my shampoo are seriously problematic. Shampoos often contain parabens, which are widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Parabens are endocrine disruptors that possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer.3 My shampoo also contained synthetic colors. Synthetic colors are suspected to be a human carcinogen, a skin irritant and are linked to ADHD in children.4 The European Classification and Labeling considers it a human carcinogen and the European Union has banned it.5
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and/or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) can be found in more than 90 percent of personal care and cleaning products including my former body wash. SLS’s are known to be skin, lung, and eye irritants. A major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen.6 These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. We covered phthalates, along with BPA, when we discussed drinking and eating out of plastic containers. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females.7 You can have your BPA and phthalates levels tested, but it’s not cheap.
The most important thing to know about fragrances is that if you can smell it, you ingested it. You may as well have drunk it. “Oh, but it was just for a second?” That second may be all it takes to begin a chain of biochemical events that will kill you in 40 years. Think about the devastating effects of a single asbestos fiber lodged in one’s lung.
Fragrances are further alarming because the term was created to protect a company’s “secret formula.” But as the consumer you could be putting on a concoction of chemicals that are hazardous to your health. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.8 Aside from perfume and cologne, fragrances can be found in many additional products such as conditioner, shampoo, body wash and moisturizers.
Sunscreen chemicals absorb ultraviolet light, keeping you from getting sunburned. These chemicals are often endocrine disruptors and are believed to be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. They may also cause cellular damage and cancer in the body. Common names are benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and methoxycinnamate.9 Parents around the world slather gobs of popular sunscreens all over there kids’ faces and bodies all summer long. They have no idea the risks they are rubbing all over their kids! It’s really not their fault. They trust their family practice doctor who told them to do it. Their dermatologist not only said the same thing, but stressed that daily sunscreen is essential. But did anyone think to consult an endocrinologist? He/she would likely say, “God no, don’t put that stuff on your kids or yourself! But here are a few equally effective, much safer alternatives.”
Sunscreen chemicals are so toxic, Hawaii recently outlawed some of the chemicals often found in sunscreen. They did it, however, not to protect humans, but to protect the coral reef. According to Slate Magazine,
“since research now suggests that oxybenzone and octinoxate, which show up in almost all major sunscreens, are harmful to the marine ecosystem, we seem to have a moral dilemma on our sunscreen-coated hands: ruin your skin, or ruin the environment. In a 2015 study, oxybenzone and octinoxate were found to contribute to coral bleaching (the scourge that has more or less destroyed the Great Barrier Reef), slow new coral growth, and disrupt marine life. Now Hawaii, seemingly unwilling to go down the same path as the Great Barrier Reef, has become the first state to ban the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-killing chemicals. The legislation, which still awaits the governor’s signature, won’t come into effect until 2021, giving sunscreen producers plenty of time to switch over to a safer formula. Hawaii’s ban leaves producers with two options: continue offering chemical sunscreens without oxybenzone and octinoxate or switch over to natural, mineral-based sunblocks.9
If these chemicals decimate coral reefs, what do you think they do to the human body? I believe nothing good, though it may not affect us for a few decades, at which point we will be incapable of determining a source of our health issue.
Many of you concluded I was fear mongering in the first paragraph or two of this article. How do you feel now? Is my title an exaggeration? It seems demonstrably true that there are known carcinogens and toxic chemicals in our shampoo, soap, body wash, moisturizers, fragrances, and sunscreen. The CDC informs us that we do, in fact, absorb chemicals through our skin. So, tell me, if we use these products containing these chemicals daily, how are you not rubbing deadly chemicals all over your face and body?
Most importantly, the changes you can make to protect yourself from these insidious chemicals is really simple. Familiarize yourself with EWG’s Skin Deep. EWG empowers people with information to protect themselves and their families from potentially dangerous chemicals. It will make this stuff super easy for you. As you’ll learn from EWG, all these popular products that are loaded with chemicals and constantly being aggressively marketed to us have alternatives. When I began exploring this topic, my first thought was getting a safe, healthy, effective alternative will cost a fortune and be nearly impossible to find. The fact is, there are a ton of healthy alternative options that in some cases are even cheaper and more effective than their toxic counterparts. They just aren’t marketed as effectively because, we, the consumers, are uninformed and do not demand the gargantuan corporations sell us products without these chemicals.
I won’t tell you exactly what brand and product I’m using to replace the aforementioned dangerous products, but I will give you a good idea and steer you in the right direction. I’ve chosen not to name specific products whenever possible because I got accused of being a deceptive advertiser over my whey protein post. I earn zero dollars from this site. In fact, it costs me money to maintain and operate. I do it because I enjoy it.
I use argan oil for both my shampoo and nightly moisturizer. I only recently started using moisturizer during this quest. I no longer wear cologne. I am hoping my natural pheromones are powerful enough to attract the ideal mate. They haven’t helped me much thus far, but I believe I may now be vibrating at a much, much higher frequency, so time will tell. For sunscreen, I look for products with zinc oxide. For body wash I inadvertently purchased a product designed for children. It works. I get clean. But forget what I am doing. Maybe you can figure out a better plan at EWG. Here are some sample screen shots to guide you.
I believe my policy regarding chemicals is the prudent one: “If a chemical that has been proven to be toxic or carcinogenic at any dose could have long term negative effects, why take a chance?” One thing is certain; the more pollution you ingest, whether you breath it, drink it, eat it, or rub it on your skin, the shorter your telomeres will be. As such, I choose to avoid these types of demonstrably harmful chemicals whenever I can. I hope you now do too.