The Fight Against Death
Author and nutritional biochemist Stephen Cherniske talks about your health
Like most people, Stephen Cherniske is passionate about aging--or, rather, not aging. He thinks about living a long life, feeling and looking healthy, and doing what it takes to preserve himself for as long as possible. Unlike the rest of us, though, he is neither depressed nor terrified by the pesky hands of time. For 30 years Cherniske has devoted his life to studying the relationship between food, health and aging. What he's found has resulted in a profitable line of supplements and three best-selling books: The Metabolic Plan, Caffeine Blues and The DHEA Breakthrough. The latter is about a hormone made in the adrenal glands--a key component in Cherniske's studies. While not embraced by all in the scientific community (there are no studies on DHEA's long-term effects), Cherniske, who has been supplementing DHEA for 20 years, insists it promotes bodily regeneration and anti-aging. Last week the Alibi spoke over the phone with Cherniske, who will be at UNM's Continuing Education Auditorium this Friday night.
It seems like everyone in pop culture is obsessed with the fountain of youth. Have you or your work been influenced by that concept?
No. I’ve been fighting it tooth and nail since I was an undergraduate. You see, here’s the thing: The human brain is hardwired to find the simplest solution to every problem we face. However, that doesn’t always serve us well. When the problem is complex, like aging, if we simplify that down to one or two magic bullets we lose sight of the goal, which is obviously to live a happy, healthy life.
Can you explain what DHEA is and how it works?
I’ll preface this by saying it is not a magic bullet. There’s an awful lot of people out there who are looking in the mirror and saying, "I’ve got to get back in shape," and they go to the gym and try to work out, and the only thing that happens is they get exhausted. That’s because their body’s not producing sufficient quantities of DHEA, which enables you to maintain muscle as you get into your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. It’s a hormone made by the adrenals but it is universally declining with advancing age. You see, we’re all gonna age, but the question is how? The consequences of that passage of time will be remarkably different if you’re well-nourished, if you sleep well, if you manage your stress, if you maintain optimal levels of DHEA. If you look at centagenarians, people who have achieved that remarkable milestone, they all have high levels of DHEA, and no one knows why. It could be genetic, it could be that they’re just able to produce more DHEA than the rest of us as they get old.
What would you say is the biggest nutritional problem in the U.S. and other first world countries?
Well, it’s pretty easy: It’s over-consuming calories and under-nutrition, it's too many empty calories. You can pretty much tell by driving down the road what dire straights we’re in. If you read Ray Kroc’s book--he started McDonald’s--he laid it out pretty straight-forward. He said, "If I can produce a meal faster and for less money than a mother can prepare it at home, it’s all over." That’s exactly what he did: He created a nationwide chain in which he was able to give this hypothetical woman who’s leading a very stressed life an offer that is almost impossible to refuse. That is, "I will feed your children for less money and less time than you could do it at home."
To be able to do that was a marvel of technology, but it was a disaster in terms of the consequences. The fact that McDonald’s is now advertising that they care about children’s nutrition, it is the height of irony. They have done more than any other company to destroy children in terms of their nutrition and their health. On the other hand, you’ve got Coca-Cola and all of the cola beverages. Their business plan was simple, and that was to promote these products with an addictive ingredient, and do it so strongly and so heavily that they work their way into schools, into children’s lives and addict them at an early age. You tell me how we’re going to have a society that functions on a reasonable level of health when your primary food source is junk and your primary beverage is an addictive cola beverage.
Tell me some simple things that people can do to improve their health.
If I see one more person on "Oprah" saying, as if they were divulging the secret of the universe, that you should eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and fasten your seat belt, I'm going to scream. What I want people to understand is that they already know what to do. What I want people to do is take the next step and to find ways to make those behaviors easier. Find out how to improve your energy level so that when you work out, it doesn’t feel like you got hit by a bus. Find out how to have super foods in your diet so you can increase your nutritional status without having to hire a cook. Every month, add one new vegetable or fruit to your diet. That will give you a wider variety of foods, and from a wider variety, you’ll obtain a higher, better foundation of nutrition.
What is your most fascinating discovery?
Well, I think it's that the human body replaces more than 300 billion cells every day. That level of regeneration potential is astounding. It’s like living in a house that paints itself every five years, fixes the old roof before it starts to leak. I mean, the human body is a miracle. Once people get that, everything changes. Once they understand they are not who they really think they are, that they are a constantly renewing kind of entity, that is when they start to understand the potential they really have for regeneration.