The Anti-Aging Zone

By Barry Sears, Ph.D.

Barry Sears, Ph.D., is a widely published scientist and researcher.  The Anti-Aging Zone (AAZ) goes beyond his NY Times No. 1 Bestseller, The Zone, by addressing much more than diet.  It advances the cause of anti-aging medicine, the analysis of blood on a regular basis, to identify deficiencies in various vitamins, hormones, etc.  Unfortunately, Dr. Sears too often buries his points among scientific and medical jargon that will escape many of his readers.  For those willing to plod along and search for his meaning, the book is quite helpful.

The four pillars of aging are (i) excess insulin, (ii) excess blood glucose, (iii) excess free radicals, and (iv) excess cortisol.  “Any practical strategy to reverse aging must be able to reduce each of these four pillars…The most powerful tool to do that is your diet.”  So calories are the primary culprit and are the “Holy Grail of anit-aging”.  Thus, his first premise is that, “The hungry rat lives the longest,” as one of his anti-aging predecessors observed long ago, and that restriction of calories will increase life span, learning ability, immune system functions, kidney functions, female fertility, and will decrease fat, loss of bone mass, insulin levels, incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.  Specifically, he recommends that we eat 40% less calories than most of us do (about 1,200 and 1,500 daily for most women and men, respectively).  He also strongly urges us to eat smaller meals throughout the day and no big meals.

He recommends “the eyeball test” (rather than calorie counting) as the way to measure your portions.  A proper serving size for most of us consists of three equal size portions of fish/fowl, vegetables and fruit (stressing the importance of eating a blend of protein and carbohydrates at each meal, which he calls “a hormonally balanced meal”), and each of the three portions “will fit in the palm of our hand”.  (Fresh water salmon is by far his favorite protein.)  He recommends three meals of that size and two, between-meal snacks which are one-third the size of our three meals.  Keeping calories and insulin levels “in a zone” enables us to burn stored fat and to stabilize our metabolism.  Eating smaller meals throughout the day drives our metabolism to keep functioning.  The Zone Diet treats food as if it were an intravenous drug, being steadily dripped into our bloodstream.  He suggests (i) small meals throughout the day, (ii) some protein at every meal, (iii) always some fruits and vegetables, and (iv) cod-liver oil/fish oil (to balance the omega-6 fatty acids in low-fat protein sources).

Diet alone is not sufficient.  There are two other essential components to his anti-aging plan: exercise and meditation.  Exercise including aerobic and anaerobic exercise, in combination, to strengthen the heart, build bone mass, and fight disease.  Do not drink high-carb sports-energy drinks, as their sugar levels destroy the hormonal benefits of the exercise.  Meditation (brain control, relaxation) is also of great importance to brain longevity and hormonal communications throughout the body.

Dr. Sears then presents his “Anti-Aging Zone Lifestyle Pyramid”, in which he allocates the bottom 66% to the Zone Diet, the next 20% to exercise and the rest to meditation.  He divides the Zone Diet into a pyramid that is roughly 25% water, 22% vegetables and fruit, 20% fish and foul, 20% monosaturated fats, and 13% breads-grains-starches-pasta “used sparingly”.  Beyond this, Dr. Sear’s book becomes a medical treatise of sorts, about hormones, insulin, specific exercises, and menus for all occasions.  His book is helpful, to be sure, but it tests the reader’s patience, tenacity and aptitude for medical parlance, and, as you can see, it does not stimulate inspired prose.