Japan has for many years been known to have a long-lived population, compared with the rest of the world, and yet Okinawa does far better than the country as a whole. For example:
- Out of every 100,000 people in Japan aged between 60 and 64 2,180 die each year on average, whereas in Okinawa only 1,280 out of every 100,000 people of that age die annually.
- For every 100 people who die each year from strokes in Japan only 59 die in Okinawa.
- For every 100 people who die from cancer in Japan each year only 69 die in Okinawa.
- For every 100 people who die from heart disease in Japan each year only 59 die in Okinawa.
The people of Okinawa also seem to be particularly resistant to auto-immune diseases, and research indicates that this is not because of specific local genetic traits but rather that in these people the common human potential for longevity is given an opportunity to show itself through an overall better level of health.
What do they eat in Okinawa?
The following table compares food intake in Okinawa with that in the rest of Japan.
The energy (calorie) consumption of schoolchildren in Okinawa is only 62 per cent of that of the rest of Japan, at around 1,300 calories daily. This feature of low calorie intake in children closely matches the early-life dietary restriction regimes applied
Fish (and other meat proteins)
Total protein and fat intake
Energy intake (calories)
Okinawa intake as percentage of Japanese intake
to such good effect in some animal studies into life extension. Obviously factors other than diet are also contributory to long life amongst the peoples of Okinawa, such as hard physical activity and an equitable climate, but their general good health and longevity stands as living proof of the benefits that can be gained from a restriction of calories in an otherwise ideal diet.
The evidence from Okinawa is not unique. In 1982 Dr Z. Ho, of the United Nations University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition (34(1):12-23) his research findings on the diet of very old people in an isolated mountainous region of southern China. He examined the eating patterns of 50 people aged between 90 and 104 (average age 94) which showed that their diets consisted largely of maize, eaten three tunes daily as a gruel, with vegetables and oil. The main vegetable foods eaten included groundnuts, sweet potatoes and rice. Despite this limited range of foods, and a calorie intake well below what is considered adequate by dietitians, the protein intake was considered reasonable at around 10 per cent of their total food intake, averaging between 0.8 and 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. None of these old people displayed any signs of vitamin deficiency.
When I come to set out some strategies for life extension later in the book I will look at options which might allow us to translate, into our own lives, aspects of the knowledge which is now on offer, which the people of Okinawa seem to have found, to their benefit, by chance.
Proof from animals
Of the many animal studies which have been conducted, it is the rat studies which interest us most because, as we have seen in Sir Robert McCarrison's work, the health and well-being of rats follows closely that of humans when fed on very similar diets. In all the major studies of life extension, using dietary modification which incorporates calorie restriction plus full intake of essential nutrients, increases in life span of between 40 and 85 per cent have been achieved. This phenomenal gain in life expectancy has come without negative effects on vitality or health. Indeed, the animals involved usually appear more contented, more alert and vital, than do their free-feeding counterparts.