Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Vegetarianism and the Elixir of Life : The Persian Prophecy

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Sacrifice of ox, with Crater containing the elixir

A recent study showed that the life-span statistics for vegetarians taken en mass is longer than that for meat eaters en mass. How will such statistics affect our culinary choices? A Zoroastrian text, the Greater Bundahisn (34) prophesied that “in the millennium of Aushedar-mah, the strength of appetite will so diminish that men…will desist from meat food, and will eat vegetables and drink the milk of animals”.

However, this same part of the Greater Bundahisn also prophesied that a figure called Soshyant would in this future time sacrifice an ox, and from some of the constituents of its body he would be able to make a drink which would confer immortality upon the drinker. The people would drink this and cease to age. Roman Mithraism took up this theme: the Mithraic temples, such as the one unearthed in London and which in fact dotted the Roman Empire, had depictions of the sacrifice of the bull in the primeval cave and the sacred meal, and after purification with fire the initiates held feasts within the temples.

It might seem strange that beef should be stated as the source of a life-enhancing elixir, after all we are usually told that if we want to be healthy we should cut down on red meat and increase our intake of fish, fruit and vegetables, particularly those high in antioxidants. The fats that come with red meat, on the other had, increase oxidative stress and clog up the arteries. We may be aware that such meat contains energy-releasing chemicals, but we don’t tend to associate them with anti-aging, and certainly few people at the moment think of red meat as a rich source of a particularly useful antioxidant.

However, there is in fact an elixir which has been described as “one of the superstars of alternative anti-aging medicine”, namely acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) plus Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). This combination is already sold in health food shops. It featured recently in an article in the New Scientist on life extension. Carnitine is so-named from Latin “carnus” flesh, because it was from red meat that it was first isolated, and this is the richest natural source. Generally speaking, the redder the meat, the higher the levels of carnitine. ALCAR has been shown to reverse symptoms associated with mental decline in the elderly. It appears to reverse some of the age-related damage to mitochondria. It also increases energy levels, making people feel younger. It assists in making fatty acids available to cells to be burnt for energy. This burning, however, is oxidization, and this is where the ALA comes in. Alpha Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant, but it is different from the others because it is both fat and water-soluble and so is easily absorbed and transported across cell membranes. This enables it to protect against free radicals inside as well as outside the cell, which allows it to clean up after the ALCAR, as it were. This Persian prophesy said that there would be a fire which for some would feel like molten lead but for others nothing more harmful than warm milk. Could this be the fire in the body – the burning of fatty acids for energy in the cells?

And red meat is a rich natural source not only of carnitine, but also of alpha lipoic acid. Just as Soshyant made the elixir out of some of the constituents of the ox, these two chemicals are both found in high levels in red meat, and when isolated from the more harmful fat of the meat, and used as high dose supplements, they form an anti-aging formulation. This does not mean of course that meat has to be the source of the supplements, but it is enough in a sense to validate this part of the ancient Persian prophesy.

1 comment:

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