Eternal youth, the commodity sought after so intensely by so many; the commodity on which billions of dollars, pounds, rands are spent every year; the source of billions in income for companies specialising in anti aging, vitamin therapy, spa treatments and the list goes on and on.
Is the ageing process modifiable or even avoidable? In the past 150 years, the upper limit of life expectancy has exceeded all previous predictions to the tune of about 2,5 years per decade (1). We are living longer, mostly due to the wrong reason. Medical science has progressed to such an extent that we can now keep people alive, even after nature has attempted to intervene.
The ageing process has come at a price. Researchers estimate “that the cost to our (American) Society resulting solely from coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity is nearly half a trillion dollars (2). Much of this money is spent in the last 1/3 of an individual’s life in an attempt to force the natural boundaries.
There is an alternative. “In the ideal case, the healthy citizens of a modern society will survive to an advanced age with their vigour and functional independence maintained, and morbidity and disability will be compressed into a relatively short space before death occurs” (3).
Can one turn back the hands of time? Well, yes and no. The answer to this depends on whether you are looking chronologically or physiologically. Obviously, the time warp machine is a little on the sci-fi side. However, looking at a physiological model, it appears feasible, that by modifying lifestyle and behaviour patterns, health outcomes can be improved. Our goal should be to age healthily.
According to Dr Bruce Lipton, in his book, “The Biology of Belief” our genetic blueprint accounts for between 2 and 10% of who we really are. This means that the other 90 to 98% of how we turn out at the end of the day is determined by external and environmental factors.
Harmon’s Free Radical theory of ageing (4) supports the idea that many environmental factors contribute to the production of free radical cells, also known as Reactive Oxygen Species, in the body, producing oxidative stress. ROS’s are toxic, “pro-death” cells that speed up the ageing process.
Causes of overproduction of ROS’s include:
- poor diet; more specifically, refined sugars, saturated fats, excess coffee and tea, processed foods, alcohol, preservatives, additives and colourants. This pretty much covers the SAD (South African Diet!). From an early age, children are bombarded with toxic substances found in everyday foods. It is no wonder that the incidence of ADD / ADHA, food allergies and intolerances, learning disabilities and the trend towards the ultimate ‘ager’, obesity, are so prevalent.
Foods are chemical messengers relaying messages from the outside of the cell to the inside of the cell. These messages fall into 2 categories – pro life or pro death messages. Science has now proven that the constant influence of pro – death chemical message can actually alter the genetic structure within the nucleus, potentially leading to chronic degenerative disease and hence accelerated aging.
- high stress levels – ‘I’m so stressed’ is one of the more common affirmations that I hear in clinical practice today. I say affirmation, because, by constantly acknowledging that you are stressed, even when the initiating stressor is something trivial, you cause the release of additional stress chemicals, further aggravating ROS release and further programming yourself for chronic stress syndrome. Try to remove the word stress from your vocabulary; or at least use the word appropriately.
- lack of exercise – exercise stimulates the release of endorphins – happy chemicals. Feeling good and happy and feeling stressed and wired are mutually exclusive, even if only on a temporary basis.
- smoking – smoking is a major free radical generator which contributes to the aging process, not only internally, but the effects are very often highly visible externally as dry and wrinkled skin.
- exposure to chemicals – ‘foreign’ substances have to be filtered through the liver, kidneys and skin. These substances are often in the form of pollutants, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers and the like. Again this exposure will up-regulate the release of ROS’s
- unfiltered water – another contaminant source that up-regulates the release of the ROS’s
Our amazing bodies have built-in antioxidant safeguards to naturally reduce cellular exposure to the free radicals resulting in a natural slowing of the ageing process. However, due to higher levels of exposure our natural safeguards are often outstripped leading to more rapid cellular degeneration and ageing.
How do we avoid free radical toxicity? Modifying the factors above is an extremely powerful way of directly influencing free radical production.
Supplementing with antioxidants is an excellent way to reduce free radical damage. An antioxidant supplement regime should include vitamin A, E, C and Beta Carotene. Alpha Lipoic acid is also a powerful antioxidant as are the phyto- nutrient complexes containing, for example, Spirulina, Chlorophyll, Barley and Wheat grass and vegetable extracts. In terms of dosage, it’s probably best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
The effects of modifying lifestyle, addressing dietary imbalances, managing stress, exercising, stopping smoking etc. will yield remarkable, measurable and rapid results. Normal body mass index ranges and balanced fat to lean weight ratios (body composition) are associated with decreased risk of chronic degenerative disease and slowed and healthy aging. If one did nothing else but manage these two parameters, damage can be reversed, but, at worse, the hands of time will be markedly slowed.
- Oppen J, Vaupel JW, “Broken Limits Of the Life Expectancy” Science, 2002; 296:1029 — 31
- Booth FW, Gordon SE, Carlson CJ, Hamilton MT, “Waging war on modern chronic diseases, primary prevention through exercise biology” J Applied Physiology 2000; 88:774 — 787
- Champion EW, “ageing better” New England J of medicine 1988 : 338(15): 1064 – 1066
- Harmon D, “The Ageing Process”, Proc. Natl. Acad. Of Sc., USA, 1981:78 (11) 7124 — 7128
This article was also published on Youve-earned-it.co.za.