Why do we age? The answer to that question is far from resolved. But researchers have developed several compelling theories. I’d like to share the top theories with you and then suggest some nutrients that can counter each aging mechanism. I'll discuss them in order of importance.
The older we get, the fewer hormones we produce. It’s just a fact of life. Prominent doctors have long believed that this decline is a major reason why the human body ages — from the cellular level on up. Restoring hormones to youthful levels is key to helping your brain “talk” to your body and manage the thousands of biological processes required to live a healthier, longer life. Using bio-identical hormones — hormones identical in chemical makeup to those naturally produced by your body — can help you achieve more youthful levels, similar to those you had in your 20s or 30s. The first thing to do is to get a blood test. Make sure your doctor orders blood levels for the following hormones:
- Free and Total Testosterone
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone
- Free and Total T3 and T4 (thyroid hormones)
When your results arrive, check with a doctor who specializes in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) or you can use a website to search for a qualified BHRT physician in your local area.
Reduce Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is the strain on your body’s tissues when the amount of free radicals in your system outnumbers the amount of antioxidants. It is widely believed to be a key contributor to the aging process. You might also remember that free radicals are unavoidable. While you can reduce your exposure by refusing to smoke, living in an unpolluted area, wearing sunscreen, avoiding processed foods, and filtering your water, one of the key sources of free radicals is your own metabolism. The best approach to fighting free radicals is to make sure your body has the defenses to neutralize them: antioxidants. Your body is equipped with its own naturally occurring team of antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione reductase. But in our modern world, it’s not unusual for free radicals to outnumber the antioxidants in the body. This is where deep, dark-colored fruits and vegetables and supplemental antioxidants come into play. Our favorite sources of antioxidants are:
- Red grapes (and seeds)
- Blood oranges
- Blackberries and raspberries
Of course, you’d have to eat several servings a day to get adequate amounts of antioxidants. So consider a daily antioxidant supplement as well.
Ease Chronic Inflammation
Ongoing low-level systemic inflammation is now understood to be the common denominator among all chronic age-related diseases. It can cause your cells to mutate, wear away your joint cartilage, and can contribute to plaque accumulation in your arterial walls. Low-grade chronic inflammation is implicated in macular degeneration, and it may set the stage for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. If living healthier, longer is your goal, then easing chronic inflammation should be near the top of your list of things to do. First, limit pro-inflammatory foods, like refined sugars, processed breads and cereals, red meat, and dairy. Second, increase healthy oils — omega-3s — in your diet. We suggest between one and two grams a day. You can get omega-3s from seeds, nuts, and fish. But you’d have to eat a lot of them to get just one gram! So supplement your diet as well with omega-3 fatty acids to reach your daily target of one to two grams.
Prevent Glycation Reactions
Glycation is a process whereby sugars bind to proteins without the benefit of an enzyme to control the reaction. When this happens during cooking, we call it “browning.” But it also happens naturally in your body. “Glycated” proteins are known as advanced glycation end products (or AGEs). These stiff and malformed proteins have been linked with the development of a number of age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Reduce your intake of refined sugars and consider supplementing with vitamins B1 and B6 and a small protein called carnosine. These are the anti-glycation supplements.
Preserve Cell Energy
If your cells fail to make enough energy, they can't function properly. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens as you age. Cellular energy production drops; your cells and tissues break down and eventually die. Why? The answer has to do with tiny little organelles that are present inside most of your cells called mitochondria. As we age, the number and quality of mitochondria decrease. This hampers cell energy production. First, protect your mitochondria by increasing antioxidants in your diet, like with my favorite sources from the list above. Next, enhance the production of cell energy with ubiquinol CoQ10, a natural energy cofactor. Last, generate brand new mitochondria by supplementing with pyrroloquinoline quinone — also known as PQQ. It activates the genes in your DNA that produce mitochondria.
Reverse Your Biological Clock
One of the best ways to see how fast your biological clock is ticking is to look at the length of your telomeres. “My what?” you may ask. Yes, your telomeres. They are the bits of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes. Think of them like the plastic caps at the ends of shoelaces: They’re supposed to keep your DNA from unraveling. Every time one of your cells divides, your telomeres shorten. At a certain point, telomeres get too short to allow the cell to divide anymore, and the cell dies. Which factors contribute to telomere shortening? Not surprisingly, the usual suspects: oxidative stress and inflammation. Diet also plays a role. A recent study found that a high intake of fat, such as butter, and a reduced intake of fruit in elderly men was associated with a decrease in telomere length. For women, a high intake of vegetables was protective against telomere shortening. If you want to keep your telomeres long, I suggest limiting your butter consumption and eating more fruits and vegetables. However, there are also some supplements that have been shown to increase telomere length:
- Red reishi mushroom extract
- Astragalus (an herbal extract)
Living Healthier, Longer!
In all likelihood, there is no single cause of aging. Hormonal deficiencies, oxidative stress, inflammation, glycation, mitochondrial damage, and telomere length all likely play a role in why we age. We believe that along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy and the prudent use of dietary supplements can go a long way to counter these aging mechanisms in our body and help us achieve not just the absence of disease — but also thriving, optimal health!