If you’re looking for the secret to living a longer, healthier life…look no further than the soil in your vegetable garden. (Truly!)
In fact, an intriguing, new study suggests that a rare mineral found in soil may actually help you maintain a healthy weight, ward off deadly diseases, and even increase your longevity!
I’ll tell you everything you need to know about those exciting findings in just a moment. But first, let’s talk about my own research into this powerful mineral…
Rare mineral tied to cancer prevention
Early in my career, I was a principal co-investigator on a grant awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the role of selenium supplementation in reducing cancer risk.
(Selenium is the rare but important mineral found in our soil that I mentioned above.)
Selenium makes its way into plants that grow in the soil (and into forage animals that eat the selenium-rich plants). Then, humans get the selenium into their diet by eating locally grown produce and fresh meats.
But in areas with low selenium in the soil, residents tend to have low mineral blood levels and…much higher cancer rates. Meanwhile, the exact opposite has been found in areas with high selenium in the soil…those residents tend to have higher mineral blood levels and lower cancer rates.
There is actually a dramatic example of the importance of selenium among the people of China who live along the Yangtze River (the longest river in Asia), which flows for thousands of miles from the deep interior of the country to the Yellow Sea in the East.
The soil in the deep interior regions drained by the Yangtze is extremely low in selenium. And cardiomyopathy (which is a weakness of the heart muscle due to low selenium) is a major problem among the people who live along the Yangtze. (Local experts call it Keshan disease—after the region in China where it occurs.)
But the selenium-poor soil isn’t just a problem for people in the interior of China…
The poor soil also washes down into the delta at the mouth of the Yangtze River. In fact, so much selenium-poor soil flows down into the delta that by the mid-20th century, it formed a new alluvial island called Chongming (the “isle of wisdom”).
Then, in the 1960s, during the “Cultural Revolution” of Mao Zedong, I was told that the Communist government exiled educated people from nearby Shanghai to live on Chongming, where they had to cultivate and farm their own crops (which, of course, were poor in selenium).
Well, within 20 years of eating crops grown in this selenium-poor soil, cancer rates among these displaced peoples began to skyrocket.
So, Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg (my faculty advisor at the University of Pennsylvania) proposed a project to supplement the diets of the people living on Chongming with selenium to help reduce their cancer risk. After a lengthy and complex negotiation with the Chinese government, we eventually got our project off to a great start in the spring of 1987.
But two years later, right in the middle of our multi-year study, the pro-freedom rebellion occurred in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. And the Chinese Communist Party showed its true colors by brutally suppressing the rebellion with a massacre. As a result, the U.S. cut off all ties with China, ending our project. And we lost a real opportunity to establish the benefits of selenium supplementation.
Finally, 30 years after our original investigations in China, a new group of researchers has picked up our line of work. And it again involves selenium in the diet…
New lab research picks up the selenium trail
We know that a variety of diets can boost longevity. But some are so restrictive that they’re extremely difficult to follow. For example, numerous studies show that severe calorie restriction can increase lifespan. But who wants to live longer if it means you’ll just be hungry all the time?
Another longevity diet includes restricting your intake of methionine, which is an amino acid found in meat protein. You can restrict it by following a vegan diet.
But, as I often warn, vegan diets are extremely unhealthy in the long run, as they don’t supply optimal nutrition. And, sometimes, they can even contribute to disorderly eating, or vice versa.
So, for the new study, researchers looked at whether selenium supplementation offered the same longevity benefits as methionine restriction—without having to follow a vegan diet.
To start, they fed young male and older female mice one of three high-fat diets:
- a control diet containing typical amounts of methionine
- a methionine-restricted diet
- a diet containing typical amounts of methionine with selenium supplementation
It turns out, selenium supplementation completely protected the mice against the dramatic weight gain and fat accumulation seen in mice fed the control diet. Plus, mice in the selenium group attained the same protective metabolic benefits as the group on the methionine-restrictive diet.
This finding led the researchers to conclude that selenium supplementation could have the “anti-aging” effects associated with serious dietary restrictions—while still allowing people to eat normally!
And that’s not all…
An impressive 62 percent increase in lifespan
Next, the same group of researchers looked at the effect of selenium on yeast cells. (Researchers often use yeast cells in studies to investigate lifespan.)
They found that, yeast grown under selenium-supplemented conditions had a 62 percent longer chronological lifespan compared to controls.
Granted, this research involved lab animals and yeast. But when you consider all the other research showing how effectively selenium fights chronic diseases, it certainly suggests that it could increase lifespan in humans as well.
So, why not start taking advantage of its potential benefits yourself?!
You can start by eating more selenium-rich foods—including pork, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts (especially Brazil nuts), and seeds.
I also recommend supplementing with 100 mcg of selenium daily. It’s a simple way to protect against chronic disease—and perhaps even add years to your life!
Of course, in addition to getting more selenium into your diet, you have many other simple, natural strategies for staying vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond. And you can learn all about them in my protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” To learn more about this online learning tool or to enroll today, simply click here now.
“Selenium supplementation inhibits IGF-1 signaling and confers methionine restriction-like healthspan benefits to mice.” eLife, 2021; 10. doi.org/10.7554/eLife.62483