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Aging Gracefully – A Primer for Longevity
The human body is a miracle of design. At conception, our cells are encoded with a genetic blueprint for the construction and maintenance of a full-grown adult human. If their work area is kept clean and all the necessary nutrients are provided, our cells continue to do their job perfectly. And for a lot longer than you might expect. Current thinking holds that the human body is genetically engineered to last up to 120 years. So why do so many of us wind up on the scrap pile, sputtering to a painful conclusion in our 60s and 70s? The reason is more a function of poor maintenance, how we live our lives, than it is the result of our genetic disposition or some mysterious biological clock winding down.
In other words, if people took better care of themselves, they would live longer…. a lot longer. It’s never too soon to start preparing for a healthy future. If you’re 30, 40 or 50 something, the information in this article could make the difference between aging gracefully and healthfully or going out in pain, prematurely.
In her book, Stop Aging Now, Jean Carper writes: “In the natural, universal order of things, as we get older, two critical things happen biologically to hasten aging. The rate of increase of cell damaging free radical reactions accelerates dramatically. Even worse news, your inborn abilities to diffuse and repair the damage from the free radicals – your detoxification systems – lose steam also as you age. This means that the older you get, the more damage accumulates in your cells and the more the aging process speeds up. We can never escape aging because nature’s plan builds it into our genes, some say, because nature cares little about us after 40 or 50, when we have performed our duties of reproduction, providing fresh gene pools for evolution. It becomes more difficult with time to fend off free radicals that are taking away our youth.”
Today the average life expectancy for the average American is 75.5 years. That sounds like a reasonable age, until you consider a recent Surgeon General’s report that concluded that 80% of Americans do not die of old age. They die of degenerative diseases. Diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arteriosclerosis. People don’t catch degenerative diseases like we catch a cold. We earn them over years of poor life style and inappropriate eating habits.
The aging of our cells, or senescence, is controlled primarily by two factors. Heredity (our genetic makeup) and the impact of internal and external elements that result from the way we live our lives (the kind of foods we eat, the quality of air we breathe, the amount of stress we hold in our bodies).To a degree, our life span depends upon the number of times our cells are programmed to replicate themselves (genetic potential) and the amount of time between the generations of cells. This time frame is not set in stone. The life span of cells and their replication rates are dramatically influenced by lifestyle factors like stress and the quality of our nutrition.
Many people have a fatalistic attitude about how long they will live and their potential for quality of life. The danger with this attitude is that it causes them to relinquish responsibility for taking care of themselves. For example, “If nothing I do matters, and I’m going to die anyway, why should I bother?” However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we can influence our potential for developing degenerative disease, improve our vitality, and improve the length and quality of our lives – regardless of the quality of our parents health or how long they lived.
Smoking, consumption of excess alcohol, rancid and oxidized fats, chemicals in food, nutrient deficient diets, overeating, stress, and pollution are all factors that speed the aging process.
One of the biggest culprits is polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oils, which can become rancid very easily. This fat absorbs oxygen molecules quickly, creating lipid hydroperoxide. In our bodies, these molecules split apart, releasing very powerful free radicals that cause a chain reaction of destruction. The overall acceleration of aging that these fats cause is even more common than heart or vascular disease. The most common sources of these fats are margarine, shortenings, and salad oils from corn, safflower and sunflower.
On the other hand, monounsaturated fats slow the aging process. They are slow to oxidize, curb free radical reactions, and lower LDL cholesterol. The best food sources of these oils are olive oil, macadamia nut oil, flaxseed oil, olives, avocados, almonds and hazelnuts. Cholesterol researcher Ancel Keys summed up the case for monounsaturated fats when he documented that Mediterranean people who use olive oil as their main source of fat have the lowest mortality rates. They are least likely to die prematurely of anything.
One of the other problems with oils is how they are used. Cooking meat, poultry, and even fish creates substances called Heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) when these meats are browned. HCA’s have been shown to cause colon, breast, pancreatic and bladder cancers in animal studies. They stimulate free radicals and damage the cell’s genetic material (DNA). Cooking at high temperatures, such as frying, grilling, broiling and barbecuing produce the most HCA’s. Roasting and baking produce less HCA’s, and stewing, boiling and poaching produce virtually no HCA’s.
Poor elimination and toxic build-up are responsible for a tremendous amount of the premature aging. Dr. Alexis Carrell, at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, took small pieces of heart tissue from a chicken embryo to produce one of the most remarkable experiments in medical history. He attempted to demonstrate that under suitable conditions, the living cell could live a very long time, perhaps indefinitely. The heart tissue was immersed in a nutrient solution from which it obtained its food. Likewise, waste material was secreted into this same solution. Every day the solution was changed, taking away waste substances and providing fresh nutrients. This chicken heart tissue lived for 29 years in this fashion. It died one day when an assistant forgot to change the metabolized polluted fluid. In other words, autointoxication claimed this great masterpiece of experimental scientific investigation. Said Carrell of this experience; “The cell is immortal. It is merely the fluid in which it floats which degenerates. Renew this fluid at intervals, give the cell something upon which to feed, and, so far as we know, the pulsation of life may go on forever.”
Constipation is the main culprit in producing toxic build-up in the body. Any of the following factors can contribute to why someone becomes constipated:
· Poor nutrition
· Ignoring the call to eliminate
· Lack of physical activity
· Emotional or mental stress
· Lack of adequate water
To improve elimination eat plenty of high water and fiber content foods, drink plenty of water, make sure your diet includes enough minerals (especially magnesium), and acidophilus. Super greens, supplemental fiber, flaxseed tea, flaxseeds, bran, whey, brewer’s yeast, yogurt, and leafy greens are all good colon health foods.
Poor digestion and absorption deprive aging bodies of the vital nutrients they need. The human body is a self-maintaining organism, but it can only repair itself if it receives the necessary raw materials. Digestive enzymes, HcL and pancreatic enzymes can be used to promote good digestion and absorption, but the single best thing you can do for proper digestion is to be sure to chew your food thoroughly.
One of the most powerful things we can do to slow aging and increase longevity is to eat a nutrient-dense, low-calorie diet. On the island of Okinawa, there are more people over the age of 100 than in any other population. These people eat 17 to 40% fewer calories than other Japanese and have 30 to 40% less heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes and age-related brain disease. This is exactly the opposite of the way Americans eat (low nutrient, high calorie). Excess calories are the enemy of youth because converting them into energy requires more oxygen, which releases more free radicals (a natural by-product of metabolism). The more free radicals in our bodies, the more potential damage to the body. Restricting calories by eating less but more nutrient-dense food reduces free radical production. Experiments have shown that underfeeding animals produced higher levels of antioxidant enzymes and that these caloric restricted animals have 1/3 stronger immune systems than normal animals. The answer is to eat whole foods, which are naturally low in calories and high in nutrients
The following are keys to a longevity diet:
· Eat at least 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (a serving equals 1/2 cup of cooked or chopped, 1 cup of raw leafy veggies or 1 piece of fruit)
· Eat vegetables both raw and lightly cooked (raw are highest in antioxidants, but cooking lightly will help nutrient absorption
· Eat vegetables and fruits that are deeply colored. The deeper the pigment, the more antioxidants. For example: red grapes, red onions and yellow onions have much more quercetin than green grapes and white onions. Blueberries contain high amounts of antioxidant flavonoids.
The following is a list of the best antioxidant fruits and vegetables:
· Avocado – high in glutathione, the widest acting antioxidant. Eating avocados lowers and improves blood cholesterol better than a low-fat diet.
· Berries – blueberries, cranberries, raspberries all loaded with antioxidants and protect us from premature aging.
· Broccoli – contains a broad spectrum of antioxidants including sulforaphane, discovered by Johns Hopkins scientists. Fed to animals, broccoli slashed cancer rates by 2/3. Other antioxidants in broccoli include vitamin C, betacarotene, quercetin, and glutathione.
· Cabbage – especially savoy cabbage, has the strongest antioxidants. Cabbage accelerates the disposal a harmful form of estrogen that promotes breast cancer. Researchers in New York found that about 70% of a large group of women who ate cabbage started burning off dangerous estrogen within 5 days.
· Carrots – a recent Harvard study found that women who ate carrots at least 5 times a week reduced their risk of having a stroke by 68%. The betacarotene in one carrot (6 mg) eaten daily cuts lung cancer risk in half.
· Citrus fruit – an orange is a complete package of every class of natural anti-cancer inhibitors known including carotenoids, terpenes, flavonoids and vitamin C. Grapefruit reduces cholesterol and may reverse arteriosclerosis – contains glutithione that fights off all kinds of free radical damage.
· Grapes – contain 20 antioxidants in the skin and seeds. The more colorful the skin, the more antioxidants. Red and purple grapes are more powerful than white grapes.
· Raisins – have 3 to 5 times more antioxidant content than fresh grapes
· Onions – loaded with antioxidants. Onions prevent cancer, raise HDL cholesterol. Red and yellow onions are the richest food in quercetin which inactivates cancer-causing agents, is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral.
· Spinach – high in lutein and betacarotene, reduces risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, cataracts, macular degeneration. Spinach cuts the risk of macular degeneration by 25%. It’s also rich in folic acid, a brain and artery protector
· Tomatoes – The richest and only reliable source of lycopene which preserves mental and physical functioning among the elderly. High blood levels of lycopene reduce the risk of pancreatic and cervical cancer as well as other cancers of the digestive tract. Cooking and canning tomatoes does not destroy lycopene.
Eating foods high in antioxidants is smart, but limiting the production of free radicals makes even more sense. There are plenty of things a person can do to limit free radical production in their bodies. Exercise puts more stable oxygen in the system. Poorly oxygenated tissue is more prone to free radical damage than tissue with healthy amounts of oxygen. Chlorine in water, pesticides in food, and smog are all toxic to the body. You may not be able to do a lot about smog, but you can drink purified water and eat organically grown produce and meats. Stress promotes formation of free radicals, so it’s very important to learn to manage stress. Maintain healthy intestines. The colon produces more free radicals than any other part of the body. Keep it clean and running properly. Repopulate the colon with bifidobacteria, a natural enemy of pathogenic bacteria. Get enough sleep. Melatonin, a powerful antioxidant, is produced during sleep. Sleep not only restores tissues, its also important for removing free radicals from the body. Drink plenty of water. It helps absorb the damaging effects of an excited form of oxygen called singlet oxygen (which is a free radical). If we’re drinking enough, this free radical will be absorbed into the water as heat and will be harmless. If we’re not drinking enough water it will damage the tissues.
In Stop Aging Now, Jean Carper says “Aging – the detrimental changes that occur as you get older – is actually in large part, a monumental, progressive deficiency disease. As we get older, our bodies are less and less able to extract nutrients from our food because our digestive systems weaken with age. But our older bodies don’t require less nutrients to stay well, and in many cases require more to avoid disease. High quality, easily-absorbed supplements seem like the best insurance for everyone over the age of 50. Older people don’t metabolize vitamins nearly as well as younger people. So, they have to take higher potencies of vitamins to get the same effect.”
Zinc deficiency, common in 95% of older people can lead to a decrease in appetite. Zinc deficiency can cause or worsen arthritis, depression, macular degeneration, and poor immune function. 40% of people 51 and older don’t eat enough. 30 to 50 mg of zinc a day can spark the appetite.
B vitamins are essential to keeping our minds sharp as we age. Niacin has been shown to prevent and even reverse symptoms of senility. 100 mg a day works well as a preventative amount. People with low levels of B-12 and folic acid also test low in cognitive function. Dementia and confusion have been shown to improve with B-12 injections and folic acid supplementation.
A Harvard study of 87,000 nurses found that incidents of major heart disease (the #1 cause of death in women) was reduced by 41% in women taking 100 to 250 IU’s of vitamin E a day for two years or more. They also showed a 29% lower stroke risk and a 13% lower overall mortality rate than women not supplementing vitamin E.
Antioxidants block free radical damage. They have an extra electron in their molecular structure to give up without becoming unbalanced. We produce fewer and fewer antioxidant enzymes in our bodies as we age, so if we want to stay young looking longer, we want to increase our intake of antioxidants in our foods and supplements. The best known antioxidants are vitamin C, E, betacarotene. These are helped by zinc, selenium, folic acid, B-6, manganese, and magnesium. Other powerful antioxidants include SOD, CoQ10, pycnogenol, quercetin, grape seed extract and NAC. It’s a good idea to use a variety, because they work in different parts of the body. For example: Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals in watery tissues and pycnogenol works more in the connective tissues. Polyphenols and bioflavonoids are found in many herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables and also have powerful antioxidant properties. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, raw nuts and seeds. Restrict iron. Unless you are a child, an adolescent or a woman of child-bearing age, chances are you don’t need extra iron. Excess iron in the body, especially past middle age, is much more apt to make you sick and old than keep you young and energetic. Iron turbocharges free radicals, making them more active and destructive. Iron converts harmless cholesterol into the type that damages arteries and the heart. If you have high cholesterol, too much iron is especially dangerous. In a 1992 Finnish study, men with high iron levels were twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as men with low iron levels. To minimize free radical activity, stay away from extra iron – cut down on animal products and iron-fortified cereals.
Sam Rose, CN MS is a licensed and certified nutritionist and owner of Rose Nutrition Center in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at [email protected] or 310-473-8835.
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