Now it’s the baby boomers’ turn, as that vast generation starts to come to grips with the uncomfortable possibility of growing old and actually dying. Evidence of a surge of interest in anti-aging is everywhere: in the numerous “anti-aging” book titles; in the physicians (unhappy with the HMO grind) who’ve become “specialists” in “Anti-Aging Medicine”; in the emergence of cosmetic surgery as a standard big-ticket household expense.
You wonder: Is any of this for real? Can any of this actually help? And the answer is a very definite, very positive, yes. You can definitely take lots and lots of steps to slow your aging process.
But of course, there’s a catch. (There is always a catch). You’ll have to do most of the work yourself. Sure, there are supplements and hormonal therapies that can help, but in any serious program with a goal of “stopping (or even reversing) the clock,” good results are centered around an excruciatingly healthful lifestyle. Like it or not, unless they’re murdered for their self-righteousness, health nuts will indeed live longer than the rest of us.
Getting started is the first step, however, and we at WholeHealth Chicago have lots of suggestions that can help.
What is Aging?
No one likes any of the words associated with aging. We don’t want to hear things like “gradual decline” or “normal slowing down.” We know in our hearts that nothing looks or works “better” when it’s older, from our kidneys to our computers, from our skin textures to our Saabs.
Rather than getting depressed about the prospect of getting older, however, it makes a lot more sense to learn what happens as the years go by and how you can slow or delay the aging process.
By definition, aging is the gradual decline or normal slowing down of body systems and functions that occurs naturally as people grow older. Changes that begin in middle age continue or accelerate in old age. Hearing and eyesight become less acute. The skin loses some of its resiliency and becomes wrinkled. Hair turns gray, thins and may even fall out. Joints lose flexibility, bones become less dense and height may diminish as the cartilage that cushions bones shrinks after years of wear and tear.
Aerobic capacity declines as the lungs take in less oxygen and the heart pumps less forcefully during exercise. Memory lapses become more frequent. A weakened immune system increases susceptibility to colds, flu and other infectious illnesses. The risk of developing heart disease, cancer and other serious diseases also rises.
The good news is that although all body systems age, they do so according to different timetables, which vary significantly from person to person. How people age is largely a function of how they live.
By staying active both physically and mentally, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, drinking only in moderation, avoiding excess sunlight and taking the right nutritional supplements, you can actually delay, prevent and perhaps even reverse many of the negative effects of the aging process.
And you definitely can set your biological clock (the genuine “you”) a decade, or even more, behind your chronological clock (the “number of years” you).
Feeling like you’re getting old, no matter how old you actually happen to be.
Wrinkling skin and graying hair.
Decline in vision and hearing (eyes take longer to refocus and high-pitched sounds become more difficult to hear).
Loss of aerobic capacity as the lungs take in less oxygen and the heart contracts less frequently and less forcefully during exertion.
Decrease in joint flexibility, bone mass and muscle strength.
Weakening of the immune system, resulting in more frequent colds, bouts of flu and other illnesses.
Forgetfulness and difficulty learning and remembering new names and events.
Changes in sleep patterns.
Less intense interest in sex and possible decrease in men’s sexual capacity.
Increased risk of heart disease, cancer and other major illnesses.
What Causes Aging?
Aging is a natural part of living. From conception, body cells divide a genetically determined number of times, die and are replaced by new cells. Over time, the process slows down, resulting in a gradual deterioration of all body systems. Some of this deterioration cannot be avoided. Some of it, however, may be due to the action of unstable oxygen molecules, called free radicals, which accelerate the aging process.
Although free radicals are normal by-products of cellular activity, environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol, air pollution, X rays, and solar radiation, promote their formation. Free radicals can be reduced or their effects countered by avoiding the factors that foster their development and by increasing the body’s supply of antioxidants. Whether produced by the body or obtained through dietary sources and supplements, antioxidants help slow the aging process by combating and disarming free radicals.
Treatment and Prevention
Yes, it’s true, there is no fountain of youth. Despite incredible advances in cosmetic surgery, even the face-lifted rich are all aging. But a healthy diet and sensible lifestyle can help you maintain physical and mental vigor and minimize or prevent some of the ills often associated with old age.
Antioxidants and other nutritional supplements can also contribute significantly to healthy aging by fighting the harmful effects of free radicals, improving the functioning of your immune system and targeting specific age-related complaints, such as joint pain and memory loss.
And remember, even if your diet and lifestyle have left something to be desired in the past, it is never too late to start making healthy changes.
Just a reminder: If you have a serious medical condition or are taking medication, it’s always a wise idea to talk with your doctor before beginning a supplement program.
How Supplements Can Help
To start, everyone needs a daily high-potency multiple vitamin and a high-quality antioxidant combination. These provide vitamins essential for the health of every cell in the body as well as antioxidants to cancel the aging effects of altered oxygen molecules called free radicals. Among the most important nutrients are the B vitamins (especially folic acid and vitamin B12), vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium.
Folic acid is needed for proper cell growth and division and helps reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid-like compound associated with increased heart disease risk.
Vitamin B12 works with folic acid and is needed for optimal cell growth, brain and nerve function. With age, the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food decreases so supplementation becomes extremely important.
By blocking the effects of free radicals, antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E help protect against age-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cataracts, and even some forms of cancer. Under-appreciated until just a few years ago, the mineral selenium, another powerful antioxidant, helps bolster the immune system and protect against certain cancers.
Present in most high-quality antioxidant combinations are the new so-called “super antioxidants,” including alpha-lipoic acid, grape seed extract, and coenzyme Q10. All are potent free-radical scavengers whose effects are considered many times more powerful than vitamins C and E.
If you don’t eat fish at least twice a week, fish oil capsules can supply the omega-3 essential fatty acid found to protect against heart disease and fatal heart arrhythmias. Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), crucial to several body functions and often in short supply as the body ages. Another prime source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, flaxseed oil helps prevent a variety of degenerative changes in the body, nourishing both the skin and hair.
Hip fractures are a leading cause of death, especially among post-menopausal women. Because bone density start to decline years before menopause, most women need a daily bone-building formula with calcium and magnesium. Men over age 45 (especially if prostate problems run in the family) may want to include saw palmetto to keep their prostate glands functioning well. Eating lots of tomato products provides a rich supply of lycopene, a carotenoid shown to protect against prostate cancer.
Digestive enzymes also steadily decline with age, preventing the body from absorbing enough nutrients. If you’re over age 45 or so and are experiencing virtually any digestive problems, consider adding digestive enzyme supplements with every meal.
If you?re experiencing some stiffness in your joints, or have a family propensity for arthritis, consider glucosamine sulfate as part of your daily regimen. This valuable supplement has been shown to repair joints damaged by the ravages of osteoarthritis.
Produced by the adrenal gland, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), is a pre-hormone (meaning that it converts into various hormones on an as-needed basis) and its levels plummet with age. When DHEA is restored to youthful levels, studies show that a person?s energy, strength, alertness and overall sense of well-being all improve. Your doctor can measure your level of DHEA and if needed, you can take supplemental DHEA to restore levels to normal.
Finally, many studies attest to the positive results of using the herb gingko biloba to improve the decline in mental function that may accompany getting older. The amino acid-like phosphatidylserine can also be very useful for improving both memory and cognitive abilities.
If you smoke, stop. Nothing you can do can counter the negative effects of smoking on your health and longevity.
To build and maintain muscle strength and bone mass, start (or continue) a regular program of weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or weight training.
Maintain a healthy weight for your age and sex, and eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt, and high in fiber and antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables are rich in both fiber and antioxidants. Consume a variety of them every day.
Drink only in moderation.
To slow the effects of aging on the skin, avoid excessive sun exposure. When you do go out in the sun, protect yourself with sun block (SPF 15 or greater).
Drink about 6 to 8 ounces of water four to six times a day.
When to Call a Doctor
If you want to discuss any of the hormone therapies for anti-aging. This might include estrogen-progesterone for women, testosterone for men, or melatonin and DHEA for both.
If you are interested in getting tested for various risk factors. These might include measuring your hormone levels or antioxidant levels; getting a cholesterol profile with homocysteine; or getting a bone density test (if female).
If any of the signs of aging are causing you concern.
If you are worried about the risk of age-related illnesses.
If you are over age 50, schedule a physical exam every year.
David Edelberg, M.D.at WholeHealth Chicago: At WholeHealth Chicago, we’re often asked about specific ways people can remain both healthy and youthful. Here are our supplement suggestions: Look over the list and review your budget. This may seem like a lot of supplements to take every day, but most people find it becomes second nature after a couple of weeks.
Just remember, most of the work is not in pill swallowing but in right living: a healthful diet, daily exercise, and a positive outlook.
How to Take the Supplements
Start with a high-potency multivitamin with a full range of nutrients–especially folic acid and vitamin B12, which help assure the healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system and protect against heart disease.
Current research suggests a wide variety of antioxidants provides the best protection against age-promoting free-radical damage. As a start, beyond the vitamins C and E in your daily antioxidant complex, you need to maintain high levels of coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant/energizer found in every cell in your body, particularly in the heart. The antioxidant/mineral selenium dramatically reduces the frequency of several types of cancer and can help prevent both its recurrence and spread. Regular use of other so-called superantioxidants, such as alpha lipoic acid and grape seed extract, add further protection.
A prime source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, flaxseed oil is valuable for its cholesterol-lowering effect; it also helps prevent a variety of degenerative changes in the body, nourishing both the skin and hair. Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids or taking fish oil capsules help protect against heart disease and fatal heart arrhythmias.
Men often benefit by the prostate support of the herb saw palmetto, and women with bones at risk for osteoporosis should add a bone-builder containing the minerals calcium and magnesium.
If you’re reluctant to use sex hormones (touted to slow the aging process), consider DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a “pre-hormone” needed to make other key hormones. Be sure to have your blood level measured first to verify that your DHEA is on the low side. Studies show an anti-aging effect when low levels of DHEA are restored to levels appropriate for one’s age and gender.
And finally, cardiologists recommend one baby aspirin (81 mg) a day to reduce the chances of a heart attack–cheap, safe, and a good idea.
For special consideration:
If memory loss is an issue or Alzheimer’s runs in your family, the herb ginkgo biloba will help improve circulation to the brain. Phosphatidylserine (PS), has also been shown in clinical studies to enhance focus and memory by raising levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
If your joints are beginning to creak or arthritis runs in your family, glucosamine sulfate can help prevent and even reverse arthritic changes.
If you’re having trouble digesting what you eat (fewer enzymes are produced as we age), try adding supplemental digestive enzymes; they can enhance the nutritional value of food. Important:
We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet.
Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD