Secrets of a Long Life: Butter, Pork Belly, No Medicine

The New York Times recently ran a story about a 107-year-old woman named Juliana Koo, who lives in New York City. Her longevity secrets are remarkably close to what I say on this blog:

“Somebody asked her the secret of long life,” said Ying-Ying Yuan, a step-granddaughter of Mrs. Koo. “She said, ‘No exercise, eat as much butter as you like and never look backwards.’”

Shirley Young said her mother also likes pork bellies, “especially the hot part, but she doesn’t overdo anything.”

“And she doesn’t take any medicine,” she said. “When doctors give her medicine, she usually hides it, or when she takes something, she takes half a pill. People keep on giving her Chinese herbs, things like that. She never takes them.”

15 Responses to “Secrets of a Long Life: Butter, Pork Belly, No Medicine”

  1. Jim Purdy Says:

    “And she doesn’t take any medicine.”

    That’s immensely important.

    I know way too many old folks who are taking astonishing amounts of prescription painkillers, antidepressants, proton pump inhibitors, statins, diuretics, blood pressure pills, diabetes medications, muscle relaxants, allergy drugs, and much more.

    All those drugs do very bizarre things to their bodies and minds.

    And of course the doctors are eager to prescribe even more BigPharma junk to treat all the problems created by the drugs.

    I’m amazed every time I read about somebody who goes into hospice care, and then they get better when all their drugs are stopped.

    Seth: “I’m amazed every time I read about somebody who goes into hospice care, and then they get better when all their drugs are stopped.” That’s exactly what happened to the mother of a friend of mine, whose drugs were stopped accidentally. The next time you read about this, please send me the link.

  2. Chuck Says:

    I’m going on record and officially inviting you to my 107th birthday party in 2053.

    However, due to the upcoming worldwide shortage of pigs, I may have to become a hog farmer like my great-grandfather in order to assure myself of enough pork belly

    Cheers

  3. Wilson Says:

    You never hear these oldsters mention the real reason for their longevity: pure chance.

    In graduate school I lived in a house owned by a 96 year old woman. No lie, every Saturday night she would drink one can of beer and smoke one Marlboro cigarette. She claimed that’s what kept her going. Was it hormesis, or just blind luck?

    Seth: If pure chance is the real reason, the similarities I point out here must also be pure chance. Yet there are three. If someone forced me to guess the effect of one cigarette per week, I’d guess it was beneficial. The trouble with living in badly-polluted Beijing is I don’t know how many cigarettes per week it equals.

  4. KenF Says:

    107 year olds don’t take medicine because they have had good health their whole lives. That is why they are still around at 107.

    Seth: I’m pretty sure she has gotten sick, was offered medicine for her sickness, but didn’t take it.

  5. Gary Conway Says:

    What’s the catch? ;-) Just discovered your blog today after seeing your ahs presentation. Very interesting & looking forward to reading more!

  6. Jim Purdy Says:

    I once was driving a car with a passenger who had an active case of tuberculosis.

    He asked me if it was okay for him to smoke a cigarette in the car.

    Normally, I would say no, because cigarette smoke really bothers me.

    But in his case, I silently did some instant risk assessment, considering two options:
    1. If he smoked, would the smoke particles carry the TB pathogens my way?
    2. Or would the smoke kill the TB critters?

    I decided that the second option was preferable, and I told him to go ahead and smoke.

    Looking back, I probably made the wrong decision, and I got both evils at once.

    It amazes me every time I see a cigarette being smoked by someone with TB or cancer or COPD. What are they thinking?

  7. Matt Says:

    They are thinking that they want a cigarette.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    It’s interesting that she doesn’t trust Chinese medicine, either.

    I do think there’s an element of chance/genetics to unusual healthy longevity.

  9. Txomin Says:

    Interesting but anecdotal.

  10. Bryan Says:

    Txomin: I take it you just started reading this blog?

  11. Evolutionarily Says:

    As we know Jeanne Calment the longest lived human being ever recorded at 122, smoked for almost 100 years. For some strange reason doctors though it would be a good idea for her to give it up, at the age of 116! Some speculate it was actually what killed her, ha! Did it have anything to do with her longevity? If he had not smoked would she have lived longer or shorter? Of course we will never know…

    According to the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) there are seven main causes of ageing (like cell loss, intracellular junk, extracellular junk, mutations, and a few others) so according to pure probability we will have humans born with constituions robust to some or all of these factors. Perhaps Jeanne Calment was simply a 1 in 6 billion occurrence and she could have done practically anything and made it easily to ~120 years old.

    I don’t put much stock in what centenarians credit as being responsible for their longevity because I view it as a bit of a lottery, I see them as equivalent to the market traders Nassim Taleb chronicles in Fooled By Randomness who backwards rationalise their success to certain identifiable factors when in reality much of their success was pure chance/luck. Juliana Koo might credit butter, but perhaps were she brought up in Italy she would be crediting Olive Oil instead.

  12. dearieme Says:

    My mother smoked heavily all her life. In her mid seventies her doctor persuaded her to stop. This immediately led to more severe coughing fits than before, during one of which she had a heart attack and died.

    I have no idea what to make of this.

    Seth: I have recently had trouble with my contact lenses. They hurt a little bit. After I take them out (they are designed to be worn continuously for a month), my eyes hurt much more and I can barely keep them open. They take a day or so to stop hurting. If coughing resembles blinking, there is a similarity.

  13. lisa truitt Says:

    It seems to me that many variables could greatly influence a persons longevity. There is an interesting study in the book Outliers. This community of Italians immigrated to America. They had much lower generative disease than the Americans they lived amongst. Researchers at first assumed they must be eating differently. When it was discovered that this was not the case they were very intrigued. It turned out it was because of their tight knit old world village where everyone knows and is friends with everyone type of social structure. Sure, genetics is one factor, but not the only or even necessarily the strongest factor. People try to blame their diseases on genetics too, but the above study shows that there are powerful environmental factors that determine whether the genes involved in particular diseases are expressed or not.

    Seth: I agree.

  14. dearieme Says:

    Or an isolated social structure might protect you from infections that are as-yet-unrecognised causes of many diseases.

  15. Ravi Says:

    This is silly Seth. At best you can say, Butter, Pork Belly and not taking medicine can be termed as not having an effect on mortality, not the cause of longevity.