One of the most rewarding and important organization I am a part of is the American Academy of Anti-Aging also known as A4M. Led by Drs. Ronald Klatz and Robert Goldman I have had the privileged of being the organization’s Senior Vice President for last several years. During this time I have attended and lectured at numerous A4M conferences all over the world. Anti-aging medicine to those unfamiliar with the term simply means “preventative” medicine.
Almost universally we can agree that our current system is broke; both financially and how we approach illness. We spend billions on gastric bypass each year in the US but essentially pennies on how to teach people to eat better and have a healthier relationship with food to avoid obesity. The examples of perverse priorities are numerous and those within the system know that changes to make disease prevention a priority must occur.
Anti-aging is not about being “against” aging it is about how to live longer and healthier by avoiding disease for it starts.
Even my closest friends are often surprised when then ask me my age. Despite my youthful appearance I can tell you the birth date posted on my driver’s license is correct. Although youthful appearance is not the only goal of adopting an anti-aging lifestyle it is a great side benefit. Our skin, without makeup or other cosmetic enhancers, provides a fairly accurate window into our overall health and aging status.
One of the major reasons the skin is so informative about our overall health is skin aging like the rest of our body is characterized by the effects of inflammation. Aging and inflammation go hand and hand. Aging in part is the accumulative effects of low level inflammation that we our exposed to throughout our lifetime. There are numerous blood markers, such as cytokines, TNF-alpha, NFK-beta and interleukin-2, which can be tested to quantify your body’s inflammatory status. These are important markers used also to keep tract of diseases of aging as well. This is not a coincidence.
Our skin uniquely is exposed to damaging effects of radiation and dehydration from the sun, but along with the rest of our organs suffers from the effects of environment toxins, unhealthy dietary fats, free radicals and other inflammatory molecules that we consume, effects of the limit physical activity and excessive mental stress so common in our hectic society.
What are the some of the best ways to preserve health and youth as we age? What are the central causes of aging and what can we start doing today to counter or even reverse them? My whole adult life has not been focused on trying to look younger but to preserve the youthful health I had and for the most part still enjoyed.
Role of Inflammation and Aging
For most people diet is the major inflammatory source of accelerated aging. Animal based foods found in beef and pork, cheeses and diary contain saturated fats. Certain vegetable such as coconut oil, cottonseed oil and palm kernel oil products have higher amounts of saturated fats as well. These oils are often found in deserts which also are high in saturated fats. Saturated fats can directly stimulate the genes in fat storage cells called adipocytes to make the inflammatory cytokines which have been linked to the onset and severity of diabetes and vascular disease. Conversely, a diet that is low in saturated fats and higher in unsaturated (mono- or polyunsaturated) fats can reduce inflammation related diseases and allow our bodies to age healthier.
Omega-6 fats are found in many grains (corn, safflower, cottonseed) and nut based oils and are used extensive in cookies, cakes and other baked goods. Although they are essential for our good health excessive consumption of omega-6 also contributes to excessive body-wide inflammation. Omega-6 unlike omega-3’s found in fish, seafood, and many fresh vegetables, can be converted by our bodies into inflammatory molecules called eicosanoids. Although a healthy inflammatory response, when called on by our immune system, is important to protect us from infections, diseases like cancer and promote healing; high levels of omega-6 can overwhelm the O3/O6 balance needed to avoid an inflammatory state.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are both polyunsaturated fats that exist in a ratio within the membranes of every cell in out body. Over the last 150 years with industrial farming of grains like corn and sun flowers, omega-6 has become the dominant polyunsaturated oil in our diet. This shift has meant much more omega-6 is used by our cell membranes compared to omega-3. The result is no only a change in the physical properties of our cells but has contributed to what many consider the major health epidemic of the 21st century – chronic inflammatory disease.
Atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and even type 2 diabetes are all chronic inflammatory diseases and are now the most common diseases of the Western world. Although eating the wrong fats is a major contributor to chronic inflammatory diseases, other dietary causes, excessive weight and lack of physical activity, environmental toxins and even emotion stress can all play major roles in the development and continuation of these diseases and thus accelerate the aging process.
Here is a list of some of the best and most researched tips to help reduce inflammation and promote healthy aging to remain younger on the inside and out.
Stay in Motion throughout your Life
The human body is designed to be in motion. Unfortunately too often it seems we doing everything to avoid it. We have cars, escalators, elevators, moving sidewalks and now the internet where we only need to move a mouse to order food, clothing and even our healthcare delivered to our front door. All this sitting has been found to actually reduce our lifespan.
I found early on the benefit of routine exercising when I suffered a bout of depression early in my career. Exercising not only burns excess calories to help control weight and improve cardiovascular health, it can also release an antidepressant-like hormone in the brain. A hormone called BDNF and certain neurotransmitters naturally increase when exercising to improve mood, sleep and perhaps most importantly cause new brain cells to grow.
Although exercising at least 30 minutes per day can have tremendous health benefits, if you are really focused on anti-aging consider a more intense program. I am a triathlete and have enjoyed both the excitement of competing and the benefits of training at a very high level that I have found can help me focus my thoughts as a surgeon and has in many ways allow me to live a mostly disease-free life.
Heart disease prevention research shows that exercise should be intensive enough to raise your heart rate to a level that moderately stresses the heart. This is referred to “target heart rate”.Your maximum heart rate (MHR) is about 220 minus your age; however for daily exercises it is best to target a rate of 85% of the MHR. If you are older than 50 seek out medical clearance if you are just starting out.
Avoid the Traps of Modern Society
Our modern life is a perfect cocktail designed to kill us. We exist in a state of constant stress, exposed to cheap fatty, sugary, fast foods, our walks consist of our front door to our cars and our environment has never been more toxic. So we should ask ourselves: Should we just give up and allow our healthcare system to pump us up with pills and procedures or should we fight back?
There are examples of communities around the world including the Seven Day Adventist in Loma Linda, California, the natives of Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy, to name a few, that have fought back these society pressures and live on average longer than anyone else. Referred to the “Blue Zone”, in Dan Buettner’s book of the same name, these peoples have strong social connections, practice religion or mediation, eat mostly a Mediterranean diet, do hard physical work and avoid most environmental toxins. They experience few chronic diseases and in generally live their lives requiring very little medical care– a great example to all of us and the good news is, you don’t have to actually live in a Blue Zone to make this work. It is a matter of choice.
Better Brain Habits
As mentioned Alzheimer’s disease including other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease have an inflammatory component. Studies have actually shown that regular aspirin users have a lower incidence of have Alzheimer’s disease. One of the more natural ways to reduce brain and body inflammation is to increase the amount of omega-3 fats in your diet. Omega-3’s can be used to make anti-inflammatory hormone that can counter omega-6 made eicosanoids and lower levels of inflammatory blood markers. Although some amount of saturated and omega-6 fats are still required by the body another healthy strategy would be to avoid excessive consumption of dairy, fatty meats, corn and other vegetable oils.
Up to 40% of our brain cells are made of omega-3 fats. They are essential to the body and organ function since they are a structural part of all human cells. Humans do not make omega-3 and therefore they must be consumed in our diet as food or as fish oil supplements.
Exercise is critical to the production of the hormone called BDNF. BDNF stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor found in the human brain that can improve brain signals and activate genes that increase memory by increasing both brain cell production as well as brain connections. Exercise is the single most important stimulus for BDNF production. Until recently researchers only knew that exercised-induced BDNF could enhance brain function. Recent research investigating neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and major depression has found that low levels of BDNF are more common in people with these conditions. In addition, BDNF levels are low in those who are obese or have type 2 diabetes.
As of yet no definitive study has shown increased BDNF is protective to reduce the onset of these conditions, but exercise in fact can benefit and often prevent many of these conditions. Other studies have shown that BDNF plays a role in brain pathways that controls body weight and energy production.
Avoid Carbohydrates – SUGAR
Although insulin is an essential hormone used by the body to allow glucose, a simple carbohydrate, to enter our cells too much insulin can mean big problems over time. Consuming carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars, such as sucrose, fructose and glucose, will cause the pancreas to pump out insulin so rapidly that too much sugar is pulled into our cells and brain cells can actually begin to starve from lack of blood glucose. This diet related up and down cycle of blood sugar to the brain can impair thinking and induce brain and body wide inflammation. In addition severe drops in glucose can lead to excessive or even binge eating leading to weight gain and further stress on the pancreas leading to type 2-diabetes.
Maintaining chronically higher than normal levels of glucose in the blood due to a high carbohydrate diet is associated with a condition called pre-diabetes. Over time in both pre-diabetes and diabetes toxin molecules called AGES – Advanced Glycation End Products can development. These “sticky” molecules can form in tissues and vessels throughout the body and are compared to the brown based skin of a Thanksgiving turkey. This tough, inflexible and inflammatory cover can coat major organs and even lead to organ failure. AGES are thought to be a major cause of accelerated aging seen with undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes.
Build up Muscle
Muscles become less flexible and lose mass as we age. These changes in connective and muscle tissues can also occur due to reduced physical conditioning as we age. Ligaments and tendons also begin to dehydrate. Calcium deposits can build up and replacement of muscle fibers with fatty, collagenous fibers reduces joint and muscle mobility and strength. Muscle tone declines about 22 percent by age 70.
Resistance training with even very light weights has a positive effect on muscle mass. Avoid excessive weight and stick to high rep workouts. A well balance diet containing sufficient protein is critical for muscle cell growth and maintenance. Unfortunate about 25% of men and 35% women consume less than the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of dietary protein and this deficiency increases with aging. A daily protein supplement containing the amino acid Leucine has been shown to be especially effective in preventing muscle loss with aging. Vitamin D and omega-3 fish oils can also help with new muscle cell development
Strengthen your Bones
Bones besides providing the structure of body are an important reserve for minerals like calcium, copper, zinc and others that are used throughout our body. As aging occurs hormone changes in both men and women that alter bone density and reduce bone strength. Reduced exercise and lack of resistance training will also add to this loss. Bone loss can start to occur as early as 35 especially in women who have had multiple births.
Walking, running and resistance training can slow bone loss with aging. Maintain a diet rich in minerals like calcium. Short periods of sun shine exposure to the skin can build stores of vitamin D. Don’t smoke and avoid excessive caffeine intake since these can cause minerals to leach for bone.
Minerals and vitamins in foods and as supplements are critical for maintaining bone health with aging. Those commonly recommended for bone health are: Calcium, vitamin D3, magnesium, copper, selenium, vitamin C and K-2, silicon and boron. The inability to absorb calcium is a major reason that calcium therapy fails to prevent or slow the progression of bone loss with aging. Vitamin D3 taken with calcium will normally promote absorption and assimilation of calcium into the bone matrix.
Don’t Lose your Senses
As early as our 40s close vision can deteriorate and details can be lost. Aging conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration can steal vision as well. Senses of taste smell and high frequency hearing will also decline. For better eye and skin health avoid excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Less direct sun can reduce skin wrinkling and the formation of cataracts. Avoiding excessive noise can help reduce hearing loss and regular eye checkups will detect increased eye pressure associated with glaucoma.
Vitamins A and beta-carotene are required by eyes for normal, healthy function. Prevent age related macular degeneration with a diet or supplements containing the antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and glutathione, vitamins C and E and essential minerals such as selenium, copper and zinc. The omega-3 DHA is found in the eye membranes and is an important structural component of the eye.
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