Live to Be 120 Years Young: Roy L. Walford, M.D.

Lifespan: 120 Years 


Maximum Life Span, by Roy L. Walford, M.D..

NY: W. W. Norton, 1983. (ISBN 0-393-01649-8) 202 pages, plus two appendices, bibliography, and index.
Review copyright  c  2001 by Andrew W. Saul

"It is already possible to live to be well over 120 years if you start young, and take the necessary (albeit exceedingly stringent) measures. In my own laboratory at UCLA Medical Center, we have extended the maximum life span of fish by 300 percent." This is the voice of Roy Walford, M.D., who insists that we can live longer than we expect much longer but it can only be done by slowing down our actual rate of biological aging. And he has a very specific prescription to do it: eat less food.

So who is this guy? Hang on; he's a real scientist, and the author of five books, one of which is The Immunologic Theory of Aging.  Dr. Walford has been on the medical faculty of UCLA for over 30 years, and is a member of the NAS Committee on Aging. He has received shelves full of awards, including the American Aging Association Research Award, the Kleemeir Award of the Geriontological Society, and the Henderson Award of the American Geriatrics Society.  The doctor is an acknowledged heavyweight in the field of aging research.

He knows a lot about nutrition and dieting, too. In this book, he has a lot to say about various popular diets including the Atkins, Scarsdale and Pritikin. As Dr. Walford concisely reviews decades of research on aging, he makes it not only painless but downright interesting to read. He has traveled all over the world, and tells a great story (in fact, a lot of great stories), usually with an imbedded anti-aging lesson. He has a wonderful sense of history, and his enthusiasm and wit is everywhere evident in his writing. 

Dr. Walford, while calling death the ultimate crime against consciousness, also tells us that "Sponges do not age. Nor do sea anemones."  Not a lot of consciousness there, admittedly. He has tripled the lifespan of fish (who cares?) and greatly extended the lifespan of mice, rats and some assorted microscopic critters (again, who cares?).  Well, I do, for one. I at least want to know how he did it. I do have an aquarium full of moderately rare fish. 

So here is the plan: you keep the animals hungry. Dr. Walford's research found that systematic underfeeding leads to longer lives in pets.  And, he submits, it will do the same for people. He calls it "intermittent fasting." You eat every other day, or eat less every day.  Another Walford phrase is undernutrition without malnutrition. The author wisely states that this is one reason that choosing nutritious foods and taking vitamin supplements are essential, but his recommendations go far beyond recreating equivalencies for the Five Food Groups. For example, Dr Walford daily supplements his diet with 1,600 mg of Vitamin C (over 2000% of the RDA) and a very substantial 600 IU of Vitamin E (over 3000 % of the RDA). With modest understatement, he explains "We shall not get far unless we are bold enough to part company with the Food and Drug Administration, the nutrition moguls of the National Academy of Sciences, and many experts occupying academic chaise lounges, because we must in some instances considerably exceed a sacred quantity, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)."

This is an especially keen declaration, since Walford is himself a member of the National Academy of Sciences. I do like this man's style.

Furthermore, if normal life expectancies are to be believed, my life is already more than half over. This whole topic becomes ever more vital as our years click by. "The 90-year-old man of the future will have the physical vigor of the 50-year-old man of today," says Walford.  He has my full attention now, for most of us are generally going in the wrong direction: we systematically over-eat.  Obesity is an epidemic, and population-wide weight statistics bear this out unmistakably.  In the USA, at least half of us are overfat

But on the other hand, hasn't modern medical science extended our lives? Well, yes and no. Our average life expectancy has increased, but maximum life span has not.  There have always been a small number of people living to 110 or so, and it is largely unchanged today. Honest documentation of old age has been historically hard to come by. The confirmed leader in modern times appears to be Fanny Thomas (no relation to Danny, a short-lived smoker). Fanny is certified to have lived to be 113, attributing her longevity to the fact that she ate applesauce three times a day and never married.

Interestingly, Walford torpedoes a common myth: Its probably not true that women age more slowly than men, because there’s no difference in maximum life span between the sexes. Where lifestyles are equal, men live as long as women. So you can do what Fanny did.  And maybe even if you are a man and married, perhaps, and have only a moderate passion for applesauce.

Dr. Walford provides dozens of references to back up his statements.  Maximum Life Span is appropriately illustrated, very well organized and indexed, and is complete with food tables and the doctor's own recipes and diet plans. I also like the map of downtown Washington, D.C., showing the locations of no fewer than 64 food lobbyists offices all within a few blocks of the White House.

But mostly I like Dr. Walford's utterly unapologetic attitude that death is to be beaten back for a good solid 120 years (thats about 40 years longer than most people expect to live, Dr. Jack Kevorkian notwithstanding). I also like Dr. Walford's expressed appreciation for Nobel prize winners Linus Pauling and Roger J. Williams, both of whom publicly advocated vitamin supplementation for decades, and both of whom, perhaps not so coincidentally, lived into their middle 90s. 

I am pleased that Dr. Walford openly proclaims that he takes megadoses of supplemental nutrients.  Every medical doctor making such an admission helps patients the world over. But the real key to Dr. Walford's plan is what you don't do: eat.  Aye, there's the rub, for how many people would just as soon eat now and die young than sacrifice the joys of pigging out for a mere 40 extra years of existence?

The idea that the long-sought Fountain of Youth may consist simply of undereating is pretty wild. But then, think of the money you'd save. Think of the years you'd gain. Think of what a great book Maximum Life Span would be to read.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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