LE Magazine October 1998
You Are What You Absorb
A scientist's rounded approach to a longer, healthier life
Ask Steven Novil how old he is and he'll respond with a chuckle and a question of his own: "You mean biologically or chronologically?"
Novil, who earned his doctoral degree in nutritional sciences, is 54 according to the calendar. His "biomarker" test, however, which measures skin elasticity, respiration, flexibility of muscles, range of motion, strength of biceps and percentage of body fat, places him closer to 33 on the biological scale.
"I feel great and I'm ready to have another kid if my wife is," he says from his office in Evanston, Ill. "I just don't feel tired a lot. At my high school class reunion I did notice that my classmates are looking significantly different than I am."
Novil's interest in keeping the effects of aging at bay is both personal and professional. As a diligent taker of vitamins and supplements, a staunch adherent to good diet and regular exercise, and a stickler for a positive attitude, he sees huge benefits in his own life. And as the director of the Evanston Nutrition Center, clinical consultant in nutritional science to the Evanston Health Center, researcher for the American Longevity Research Institute, and director at the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, he is able to build upon what he learns in his personal experience to better help his own patients and further his own research.
Novil's first love and primary interest is nutritional science (he received his doctorate in 1984). But nutrition is a multifaceted discipline, as he explains, that extends to herbology, the combining of food and diet, exercise and sports medicine. His interest in anti-aging grew as yet another offshoot of nutrition, and out of his post-Ph.D. work. Novil began by treating patients who were referred to him by his center's physicians and chiropractor. He used herbs and supplements to help people suffering from a variety of maladies, including hypoglycemia, allergies, asthma, hay fever, low energy, impotence and digestive problems.
But it was in 1993 that Novil, after comparing notes with the center's other medical professionals, began to seriously rethink his approach to aging.
"We decided that aging isn't inevitable," he says. "The major causes of death are cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease, and there are quite a few interventions for these."
That same year Novil began seeing a roster of patients specifically for anti-aging. His goal then, as it is now, is not necessarily to extend the number of years people live, but to ensure that the years they do have are free of disease and physical pain. "Not everybody wants to be around for a long time, but if you are around you want to have quality of life and be as active as possible... not be stuck in a nursing home," he says.
In Novil's own life, he's striving for that quality of life by adhering to a comprehensive personal longevity program in which his deep understanding of nutrition plays an important part. Novil starting eating a mostly vegetarian diet 20 years ago at the urging of his wife, whose interest in holistic health made a great impression on him.
Today he eats small amounts of eggs and fish (but never shellfish) on weekends, and he has chicken or turkey one night a week. He strives for five fruit and vegetable servings a day, but he doesn't mix them (it's a practice he refers to as making wine in your stomach). And he notes that the art of healthful eating depends to a great extent on learning what foods feel best to each individual's system.
Of course, common sense must prevail. "Even if it feels right to eat Twinkies all day, you can't do it," he says.
Novil points out that there are other dietary habits vital to maintaining good health, and to slowing the aging process. Meal size and frequency, as well as methodically chewing food, also come into play. He recommends eating small meals frequently throughout the day and is adamant that slow and repeated chewing of each mouthful is important in helping to better metabolize sugar. Novil's nutritional regimen includes a weekly day-long fast in which he forgoes even his usual vitamins and supplements. This, he says, is a good way to give the mind and body a rest.
An often overlooked weapon in the fight against aging is facilitating food absorption. Novil is fond of putting his own spin on the old adage, "You are what you eat." His version: "You are what you absorb after you eat."
Food absorption, or lack thereof, he notes, is the biggest problem in slowing the aging process at the cell level. The body desperately needs to take in the right nutrients in order to repair itself, but if those nutrients can't be absorbed, the organs won't benefit and the body will feel run-down, even after a good night's sleep.
Novil notes that one way to ensure efficient absorption is to stay away from tannic acid found in chocolate, coffee and cola drinks, since, he says, it turns the intestine into a kind of impenetrable leather through which little can pass. Refined sugar is another no-no.
"Eliminating sugar is the key to life extension. If you pound your body with too much refined sugar, you'll accelerate aging." He adds that the damage will appear in the form of diabetes, loss of skin elasticity and kidney problems.
Novil's longevity regimen also includes regular exercise. He devotes some 20 to 45 minutes a day to physical activity, whether it be a brisk walk, a jog with the family dog, a session on his mini-trampoline, some rigorous jumping jacks or performing the five "Tibetan rites"...a series of exercises designed to jump-start the body's natural energy centers.
Then there is the essential component of vitamins and supplements in Novil's anti-aging program. Six days a week he takes 6,000 mg of vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects against heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. He also takes 800 IU of vitamin E and 25,000 IU of beta carotene. To enhance his brain capabilities and protect against short-term memory loss and Alzheimer's, he turns to Ginkgo biloba and 400 mg of folic acid. Also on the list are 100 mg each of pantothenic acid and niacin, eight capsules of ginseng, 150 mg of cinnamon and 50 mg of zinc. Vanadyl sulfate (9 mg) and 300 micrograms of chromium picolinate work to balance Novil's sugar, keeping his appetite down, burning fat, slowing sugar cravings and retarding aging.
And there's more. To build his immune system, he takes 100 micrograms of selenium. Magnesium at 1,000 mg, 1,500 mg of calcium, 9 mg boron and six capsules of odorless garlic are also standard fare, as are 25 mg of DHEA every other day. To bring oxygen to the organs, Novil uses 100 mg of coenzyme Q10. And to induce a stronger sleep cycle, balance biorhythms and postpone aging, he uses 0.5 mg of melatonin every other night. He drinks 2 ounces of Basic Plus, a kefir yogurt drink that works as an immune-system builder and which normalizes the digestive tract.
Then, there's his favorite product: Life Extension's Herbal Mix, which is rich in blue green algae, bee pollen and pretty much everything else. Novil mixes it in grape or apple juice, calling it the ultimate green drink. "If you could only take one thing, this would be enough," he says. He's been taking Herbal Mix six times a week for the last four years, and taking some of the other vitamins and supplements in his program for as long as 14 years.
And let's not forget the attitude component.
"I try to look for the best in everything, but that can be kind of hard to do," he admits. Still his wife and 13-year-old son help keep Novil on a positive track and balance his professional and personal life. Though he can often find himself working long hours, he and his wife always make time at least once during the week for a "date."
He's also usually able to unwind thanks to his three daily meditation sessions. And, if that doesn't do the trick, he'll pull out his secret weapon-a funny movie."If there's one thing that I could say helps prevent disease and keeps people healthy, it's laughter," says Novil says. "Although I'm not a physician, one of the items I prescribe is a funny movie every day, if possible. I'd like to be known as the laugh-therapy doctor."
By Twig Mowatt
Profiles takes a look at real people who exemplify the Life Extension Foundation way of life: a commitment to great health and nutrition, and an abiding respect for body and mind. Are you a candidate for a future Profiles, or know someone who is? Contact the Editors at Life Extension Magazine, 3600 West Commercial Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309.. Phone: 954-766-8433. Or e-mail the Editors at LEF@lef.org