One Hundred Reasons for Taking Policosanol

Policosanol Takes Aim at Cholesterol Levels

One Hundred Reasons for Taking Policosanol
New research links cognitive function and cholesterol levels in the very old
By Will Block

Mens sana in corpore sano.
Latin proverb

f I lived to be a hundred, . . ." How often have you said that, or heard someone say it, in astonishment over something unexpected, or perhaps in exasperation over something vexing? But stop and think for a moment: what if you did live to be a hundred? What do you think you'd be doing at that age? Not rollerblading or skydiving, probably (although who knows?), but there are plenty of other things a centenarian can do for fun - mind and body willing.

"Fun" is the operative word here, because at that age, you would certainly have earned the right to kick back and enjoy life to the max. Let the youngsters in their eighties and nineties do all the work while you do whatever you darn well please. You're a hundred, for Pete's sake! Milk it for all it's worth!

It's a charming scenario, and sometimes it even works out that way in real life - mostly for those who made wise lifestyle choices during their first 99 years and who were lucky to boot. In life, of course, there are no guarantees. Some people who take good care of themselves die young anyway, because their luck simply ran out. And some people who treat their bodies like dishrags just keep going and going, like the Eveready Bunny, beating all the odds on their way to the century mark. Go figure.

How to Live to 100

Of course, the best way to reach the Big C (C is 100 in Roman numerals, remember?) is to live right and be lucky (having chosen your parents well so that you'll have good genes is a help). Let's focus on the first part of that formula, because the second one is tricky. You already know what living right means. First and foremost, don't smoke, because smoking is the single worst thing you can do to your health.

Then there are the two pillars of good health: wholesome diet and regular exercise. Both are essential, because neither one without the other will do you much good - statistically speaking, of course. There are exceptions to every rule. For example, some people subsist on junk food but get a lot of exercise and live long. Others eat sensibly but are couch potatoes, yet they live long too. Don't count on being one of these exceptions to the rule, however - the odds are against it.


Probably the best natural agent for
controlling cholesterol levels is
policosanol, which comes from
sugar cane. It rivals, and even
exceeds, the widely prescribed
statin drugs in its actions.


Finally (and this is the part that most people still don't know much about - but you do, because you're reading Life Enhancement), there are nutritional supplements to help you live better and longer by making up for the many nutrient deficiencies that occur as part of the aging process. The levels of so many vital nutrients are known to decline as we age that it's a wonder our bodies don't just fade away, like the Cheshire cat.

Don't Let Your Mind Fade

Something that does tend to fade with age, alas, is our cognitive faculties - our ability to remember old things and learn new ones, to think about new things to do, and to make plans for doing them - all the kinds of mental activities that make life fun and interesting. If you were wise enough and lucky enough to make it to a hundred with a reasonably fit body that was able to enjoy life and do a little rocking and rolling, what a shame it would be if diminished mental faculties got in your way and made you just sit around, doing nothing.

We're not just talking about overt brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia, but mainly the garden-variety slowdown in mental function that tends to come naturally with age. Known by terms such as age-related cognitive impairment (ARCI), it is often a harbinger of Alzheimer's - yet people tend to take it for granted, as though it were inevitable.

Fight Back, with . . . What?

Well, don't take it for granted! Resist it! You can, you know, and there's new knowledge to be found in the medical literature about one way to do that. (If you've been reading Life Enhancement regularly, you already know about many others.) In studying a group of very old men and women, average age about 100, researchers have discovered a link between good cognitive function and . . . are you ready for this? . . . high cholesterol!

[Pause while you pick yourself up off the floor.]

No, not total cholesterol (which must still be held in check if you want to stay alive and healthy), but one component of it: the "good cholesterol," known technically as HDL (high-density lipoprotein). That's the one form of cholesterol that we want more of in our blood, not less. Agents that can bring this about are beneficial for our health, especially if, at the same time, they can lower our total cholesterol level by lowering its principal component, LDL (low-density lipoprotein, aka "bad cholesterol").

Policosanol - Nature's Cholesterol Controller

Probably the best natural agent for achieving these ends is policosanol, a mixture of eight nonsugar compounds extracted from sugar cane. Policosanol rivals, and even exceeds, the widely prescribed statin drugs in its anti-bad-cholesterol and pro-good-cholesterol activities in the human body (see the sidebar "Policosanol Raises HDL Levels"). It is both highly effective and extremely safe to use, as demonstrated by clinical trials that have been discussed in recent issues of Life Enhancement.*

Policosanol Raises HDL Levels

A growing body of research shows that policosanol has favorable effects on all six of the common measures of cholesterol and lipid levels in our blood (lipids encompass the true fats, or triglycerides, as well as fatty compounds such as cholesterol). In every one of 14 randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies that have been conducted on patients with high cholesterol levels, policosanol - predominantly in the dosage range of 5-20 mg/day - produced consistently positive results.1

Here we're interested in HDL ("good cholesterol"), of course, and in the 13 studies in which the effect of policosanol on HDL levels was measured, it raised those levels by anywhere from 2.2% to 29% (these increases were considered to be statistically significant in seven of the 13 studies, according to the mathematical methods used to evaluate the data).

Taking policosanol is therefore likely to raise your HDL levels even while it dramatically decreases your levels of LDL ("bad cholesterol") and total cholesterol. How policosanol knows the difference between HDL and LDL is a mystery.

  1. Janikula M. Policosanol: a new treatment for cardiovascular disease? Alt Med Rev 2002;7(3):203-17.


*See "Policosanol Improves Every Measure of Blood Cholesterol," "Policosanol Keeps Your Arteries Healthy," and "Policosanol Improves Cardiovascular Health" in the October, November, and December 2002 issues, respectively.


Centenarians Have High HDL Levels

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have been searching for longevity genes - prompted, in part, by the observation that the siblings of centenarians are four to five times more likely than the general population to be unusually long-lived themselves. Clearly, advanced longevity runs in families. There must, therefore, be a genetic factor at work when it comes to hitting a hundred or so, even though the effect of genetics on lifespan appears to be minimal for those who are more or less normal in terms of longevity.

One way to detect a genetic longevity factor is to look for a measurable biological quantity - a particular body substance, say - that appears to be uniquely related in some way to those who are very long-lived. If you can find such a substance and link it to a particular gene, then you're really on to something.


The HDL levels in centenarians
were similar to those of a
control population about
30 years younger.


It appears that the New York researchers are on to something, because they've found that centenarians - and their children - have unusually high levels of HDL in their blood.1 Now, HDL levels, like those of so many other substances that are associated with physiological youthfulness, tend to decline with age, and no one is immune to that effect. In some people, though, the decline occurs more slowly than in others. One study found that the HDL levels in centenarians were similar to those of a control population about 30 years younger (mere whippersnappers of around 70).2

HDL Benefits Both Heart and Brain

Thus, in those who become very old, HDL levels tend to be higher than in most other people. And it seems obvious that, by having become so old, the centenarians must have escaped a variety of age-related diseases that tend to kill the less fortunate among us. These facts jibe nicely with the fact that elevated HDL levels are well known to protect against cardiovascular disease - that's why HDL is called the "good cholesterol." And anything, such as policosanol, that's good for our cardiovascular (heart) health is also likely to be good for our cerebrovascular (brain) health.*


*See "Policosanol May Be Good for Your Brain as Well as Your Heart" in Life Enhancement, June 2002.


If it's true, as seems certain from much research on the subject, that HDL has a protective effect on our arteries, then our brains should benefit (from a reduced risk of stroke, for example) as well as our hearts (a reduced risk of heart attack). Both of these effects, of course, tend to promote longevity.

But do the benefits stop there? Longevity is nice, but what about the quality of life at the far end of the age scale? Quality of life depends very much, of course, on being in reasonably good condition mentally as well as physically. We all want to stay as sharp as we can for as long as we can.

HDL Keeps Looking Better

The protective effect of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) on cardiovascular function is well established. Scientists believe that HDL accomplishes this trick by clearing the arteries (as best it can, all things considered) of excess cholesterol, which it picks up and transports to the liver. There the cholesterol may be stored for future use in building cell membranes - cholesterol is, after all, a vitally important molecule that we could not live without. Much more likely, however, is that the liver will dispose of the cholesterol via the bile, because we usually have too much of it in our systems. (Most of our cholesterol, ironically, is synthesized in the liver in the first place, from the unhealthy fats we eat too much of.)

Furthermore, there is evidence that HDL plays a role in modulating three potentially harmful processes involved in blood circulation and the formation of atherosclerotic plaque: thrombosis (clot formation), oxidation of LDL, and inflammation.

The health benefits of HDL go beyond the cardiovascular system, however, as discussed in the accompanying article. And another recent study has demonstrated that a relatively minor increase of only 2-3% in plasma HDL levels above baseline is associated not only with decreased cardiovascular disease but also with decreased rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, and death.1 These findings, in a 7-year follow-up study of 65-year-old men and women, suggest that elevated plasma HDL levels play a favorable role in a variety of age-related diseases.

  1. Burke GL, Arnold AM, Bild DE, et al. Factors associated with healthy aging: the Cardiovascular Health Study. J Am Geriatr Soc 2001;49:254-62.

Not a Newsflash: Women Outlive Men

The New York researchers wanted to know what effect elevated HDL levels might have on cognitive function in very old people, so they recruited 139 of them, aged 95-107, for a study.3 These were not just any old people, though - they were all Ashkenazi Jews, a group that was selected for its genetic homogeneity. That factor is important in giving researchers a better chance at isolating a particular gene that might be responsible for a particular effect (such as elevated HDL levels).

Fortunately for the researchers (though not necessarily for the study participants), the Ashkenazim are comparable to non-Jewish peoples with regard to longevity and the prevalence of atherosclerosis and dementia, so they can be seen as representative of the population at large. If this were not true, the study would not have been nearly so useful.


In both women and men,
the higher the HDL level,
the sharper the mind.


Also characteristic of the general population in the study group was that there were many more women centenarians than men: the female-to-male ratio was 2.8 to 1. (In the general population of centenarians, however, this ratio is even higher: about 4 to 1, i.e., 80% of all centenarians are women.) And, as is also true of younger people, the women centenarians had somewhat higher HDL levels, on average, than the men. This may well have something to do with women's greater longevity than men's.

Higher HDL = Sharper Cognition

The women and men did not differ, however, in the primary result of the HDL study, namely, a significant, positive correlation between plasma HDL levels and cognitive function, as measured by a standardized test called the Mini-Mental State Examination. In both women and men, the higher the HDL level, the sharper the mind. As the study showed, this was no coincidence. The authors speculate that HDL offers protection from the onset of dementia, as well as other age-related diseases, through its beneficial effect on the blood vessels of the brain, which are prone to being damaged in the same way as those of the heart. In a recent interview, the lead author, Dr. Nir Barzilai, said:4

Our findings help to emphasize the beneficial and protective effects of increased plasma HDL. It is clear from the data we collected that increased HDL levels play an important role in maintaining superior cognition in longevity.

Happy Hundredth Birthday!

If you want to live to be a hundred (or more - why not?), there are many things you can and should do. One of them, it seems, is to cultivate your HDL levels (while cutting down your LDL levels, of course). It may help you live not only longer and healthier, but smarter as well. Oh, yes, that Latin proverb at the beginning of this article. It means "A sound mind in a sound body" - an ideal for the human condition that has been revered for thousands of years.

References

  1. Barzilai N, Gabriely I, Gabriely M, Jankowitz N, Sorkin JD. Offspring of centenarians have a favorable lipid profile. J Am Geriatr Soc 2001;49:76-9.
  2. Wilson PWF, Keaven M, Anderson M, Harris T, Kannel WB, Castelli WP. Determinants of change in total cholesterol and HDL-C with age: the Framingham study. J Gerontol Med Sci 1994;49:M252-7.
  3. Atzmon G, Gabriely I, Greiner W, Davidson D, Schechter C, Barzilai N. Plasma HDL levels highly correlate with cognitive function in exceptional longevity. J Gerontol Med Sci 2002;57A(11):M712-5.
  4. "Good" cholesterol helps very old keep their smarts. Reuters Health, New York, Nov. 6, 2002.


Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.

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