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Aging: Why does it happen and what we can do to slow it down

Posted on August 23, 2014 at 12:30 AM


The basics of aging

Over 50 years ago, two researchers, Drs. Hayflick and Moorehead, discovered that individual human cells have a limited lifespan. This is known as the Hayflick Limit.1,2 Since then, many researchers have studied how humans age and if aging could either be slowed down—or, if they were feeling particularly hopeful—if the aging process could be stopped completely. But, let’s be realistic here—the emphasis should be on limiting the aging process, allowing people to live longer, healthier and hopefully happier lives—after all, human cells that have no Hayflick Limit are called cancer cells! So, it is not likely that we will ever achieve immortality…BUT, we have very strong evidence that we CAN slow down the aging process and act and feel younger for longer periods of time.

Today, we understand aging and the effects of aging to be related to something called oxidative stress. And, you know if it is called stress, it can’t be all that good! Aging also appears to be accelerated because of inflammation.

Oxidative stress is really the normal outcome of biochemical reactions going on in our bodies where there are transfers of electrons (negatively charged particles). The byproducts of these reactions are called “free radicals” and are normally taken care of by naturally occurring anti-oxidants in our bodies. If these free radicals are allowed to build up, however, they can damage every cell, tissue and organ in your body. The end results are the signs of aging—wrinkles, aches, pains, changes in sleep patterns and all the other lovely changes we see as we age. 3-6

Inflammation, which is always present along with oxidative stress, is a related problem. Inflammation is a normal process required for wound healing and removing infections and eliminating cellular debris. But, when inflammation is uncontrolled, as it is in most chronic diseases associated with aging, it can accelerate the aging process.7-9

Proven approaches to slow down the effects of aging

There are four primary approaches that have been found in numerous research studies—and by examining people who live long and healthy lives—to slow down the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. These are:

• Caloric restriction with optimal nutrition (CRON), primarily by limiting complex carbohydrates and fats and emphasizing a plant-based, nutrient rich diet with some source of omega-3 fats.4,10-18 Recent studies have shown CRON results in better health, while not always significantly increasing longevity (at least in monkeys…)19 Still, there are human studies in what are known as “blue zones” where dietary habits and lifestyles appear to be responsible for healthier and longer life-spans.20

• Increasing the amount of anti-oxidants and omega-3 fats in your diet.21-37 These nutrients—especially the anti-oxidants can directly decrease the presence of free radicals in cells and minimize the damage that is believed to result in premature aging. The main anti-oxidant system is the glutathione system, but various nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E and a number of phytonutrients from foods can also help remove these free radicals. Some of these phytonutrients (nutrients from plant foods) include the yellow-red carotenoids, the many different colored flavenoids such as resveratrol, curcumin and green tea extract, the phytoestrogens and many, many more. The omega-3 fats are necessary to reduce the inflammation that always accompanies oxidative stress. These fats increase the production of natural anti-inflammatory substances in the body. Plus, the omega-3 fats are thought to help with some of the cognitive problems that can accompany aging…like “Now, where did I put my car keys?” or “Why did I go upstairs?”

• By staying physically active, a person can maintain efficient blood flows and heart rates, getting oxygen to tissues, maintaining bone strength as well as muscular strength.3,32-47 This is also very important to maximize the elimination of waste products and their damaging effects. It is important to remember that staying physically active can mean taking walks every day, doing Tai chi or Qigong and resistance training—it doesn’t have to mean doing a triathalon, doing bench presses or running 5 miles every day!

• Getting enough sleep plays a very important role in healthy aging.48-52 Sleep restores energy levels and is a needed “daily reset” stage for various metabolic processes. Poor sleep patterns are associated with depression, loss of cognitive function and an overall poorer quality of life.49 As people get older, their sleep patterns tend to change—most commonly, they go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Another common concern is getting to sleep and staying asleep—many older people tend to wake up more often during the night.

Anti-aging “tips”

So, what can a person do if they want to minimize aging and maximize health? Quite a bit, it turns out! You can increase the amounts and varieties of vegetables, fruits and fish that you eat. This will lower your caloric intake while maintaining good nutrition. Vegetables, fruit and fish are a great source of anti-oxidants, nutrients and omega-3 oils. You can also make sure you begin to increase your physical activity—start slowly by, for example, parking your car further away from the grocery store or walking up a flight or two of stairs rather than taking the elevator. You can also find an activity that you enjoy—perhaps gardening, walking the dog or hiking. Remember not to overdo it! It should be fun or at least something you can do relatively easily! Finally, try to make sure you get enough sleep so that you feel rested and restored the next morning. It may not be that easy, but the time to try may never get any better….now may just be the best time to revisit those earlier days when you managed to sleep in!


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Categories: Aging

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