As Dr. Bortz is incredibly passionate about his work, we spoke at length about a couple other topics I wanted to include in a supplemental blog post. One subject that particularly interested me was gene expression as it relates to aging. Dr. Bortz explained to me that genes have long been a focal point in the biology of aging but recently, research has focused more on epigenetics, which is concerned with the expression of genes, not their presence or absence. Obesity, Bortz argues, is merely a matter of gene expression; a human’s genotype is interpreted in such a way that creates the phenotype, but the method of interpretation is not fixed. Thus, we as human beings, regardless of genetic makeup, all have the ability to alter our phenotype.
One reason Bortz finds it particularly important for people to know that they can control gene expression is due to the epiphenomenon of type 2 diabetes in America. Aside from the monetary cost of diabetes, which works out to be something like $11,000 per person per year, diabetes causes serious cardiovascular issues. In his book Diabetes Danger, Bortz claims that 200 million Americans are at risk for the disease and coins a new term—“pre-pre-diabetes.” Pre-diabetes begins when a person’s blood sugar levels are over 125 milligrams per deciliter. In the pre-diabetes stage, you body begins to lose control over its blood sugar levels and the slope to diabetes from there is quite slippery. Bortz defines the danger zone for pre-pre-diabetes as 100 milligrams per deciliter. According to Bortz’ book, a person with any stage of diabetes needs to take ownership for the disease. One treatment plan does not fit all, so individuals need to seriously consider what steps they personally need to take to manage their blood sugar.
One last topic we touched on in the interview was the idea of cognitive decline in old age. I was under the impression that fluid intelligence, or the ability to problem-solve in new situations, declined with old age. However, Dr. Bortz says that fluid intelligence is a “use it or lose it” facet of brainpower; if you continue to exercise and challenge your mind into old age, you will retain much of your ability to think logically and solve problems. Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, by definition accompanies old age; as Bortz says, “Not all old people are wise, but all wise people are old.”
For more information on Dr. Walter Bortz, visit his website www.walterbortz.com. I am currently reading his book The Roadmap to 100, which I highly recommend to readers of all ages, and he has a new book coming out on January 1.