By Victoria Coleman
By Victoria Coleman
In a world that places such emphasis on defying the signs of aging with the help of botox
In a world that places such emphasis on defying the signs of aging with the help of botox, collagen injections, eye lifts, facelifts, and yes, now even kneecap skin lifts…what, really, does “growing old gracefully” mean?
It is a very personal journey, how we move through our years feeling secure, happy, and good about ourselves and, also, about our appearance. The word used most commonly to describe moving into our senior years with vigour is “anti-aging” – but would we not be wisest to redefine this as “healthy aging”? After all, we could all, with 100 per cent certainty, put on our tombstones, “I knew this was going to happen.”
Healthy aging could be defined as doing all we can do to keep our bodies functioning optimally internally and externally. Science has shown us that some things are genetically determined but this can be influenced, by our actions and efforts, to improve our genetic expression.
A discussion with Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed, author and highly respected naturopathic doctor, revealed some key concepts influencing healthy aging. Below is a review of the aging theories she discusses:
The aging process can be divided into three main categories: genetic, biochemical and physiological. However, another way to understand the aging process is to divide these processes into two main classes.
The first can be termed “programmed theories” that rely on the principles of biology, adhering to the idea that aging is a continuation of growth and development with gradual exhaustion of our cellular machine.
The second class concerns “error theories,” whereby environmental insults to our system gradually cause the body to “break down.” Although it is clear that aging involves the simultaneous progression and interaction of all these processes and theories, considering them separately helps our understanding and directs treatment.
Programmed theories can be broken down into three categories:
Genetic theory involves the process of the turning on and off of specific genes, and the correlation of these events to the occurrence and timing of age-related pathologies. It includes the antagonistic pleiotropy theory, which argues that evolution has endowed us with genes offering short-term benefits early in life but causing deterioration as we age.
Endocrine theory includes the changes in hormone synthesis and activity and the effect this has on the pace and rate of aging.
Immunological theory concludes that a decline in the strength of the immune system leads to an increased vulnerability to infections, pollutants and cancer, along with impaired ability to heal and repair.
Error theories are divided into four categories:
Wear and Tear states that cells and tissues lose their ability to replace themselves at their normal rate, ultimately weakening the body. This incorporates the idea of telomere shortening. Every time a cell replicates, its nucleic acid sequence, or telomere, is shortened. Once it becomes too short, the cell dies.
Cross-linking theory describes aging as an accumulation of abnormally formed cross-linked bonds between proteins. These cross-links obstruct the passage of nutrients across the cell wall, can react with other proteins in the body causing further cross-links and damage, and are a source of free-radical oxidation.
Free Radical theory attributes the aging process to an accumulation of oxidative inflammation and cellular damage to the point of tissue mutation, disease or death.
Errors in Repair describes damage to the mechanisms that synthesize proteins, repair and destroy faulty cells, and remove toxins from the body, resulting in metabolic failure, aging and cellular death.
As we reach our senior years, a complex interaction of all these factors has been clinically demonstrated. For example, a study in Korea demonstrated the relationship of age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and dementia to inflammation resulting from abnormal gene expression and oxidative stress. The up-regulation of inflammatory substrates such NF-kappaB, IL-1-beta, IL-6, TNF-alpha, cyclooxygenase 2 and Nitric Oxide synthase ultimately increases the rate of cellular destruction and aging1,2. This theory, catchily-termed “inflammaging” incorporates genetic, immune and inflammatory components and likely represents one of the many multifactorial explanations of the aging process.
DIET AND SUPPLEMENT STRATEGIES FOR SENIORS
Dr. Kendall Reed discusses the approach to supplementation strategies from a treatment point of view and, more interesting, from a preventative point of view.
- Treating the symptoms of aging as they occur
- Preventative treatment
Treating the symptoms of aging is a concept our society clearly understands – the problem exists so what we can do to deal with those effects. Examples would be using glucosamine to address the symptoms of osteoarthritis, or luetin for macular degeneration, or increasing fibre content in the diet for improving GI motility.
The more interesting approach Dr. Penny shares is the second strategy which is perhaps less well known, yet offers an exciting and more “naturopathic” approach to aging.
Dr. Kendall Reed elaborates on this concept:
Preventative treatment – A “more naturopathic” approach to dealing with dietary management in seniors is a preventative one, allowing the body to heal itself. By addressing the factors we believe to be associated with aging, physiologic deterioration is minimized, thereby preventing progression along the spectrum of dysfunction toward disease. It represents our ideal of allowing the body to function at its best for as long as possible.
Strategy for diet in seniors includes:
- balanced protein to carbohydrate to stabilize insulin, cortisol and leptin;
- slightly reduced caloric intake;
- appropriate protein to maintain growth hormone levels;
- avoiding inflammatory foods and adding antioxidants and omega fats;
- selection of foods to improve immune function;
- foods and supplements that promote repair.
Diet can address a number of hormonal factors associated with aging, including insulin, leptin, cortisol and growth hormone. By balancing blood sugar levels through an appropriate amount of protein at each meal – after the age of 65, if one leads a sedentary life, 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight divided throughout the three meals of the day is sufficient – and consuming low levels of complex carbohydrates, the regulation of all these hormones improves. Healthy protein sources include organic chicken and turkey, egg whites, fish, tofu, and whey or hemp protein powders. Protein or meal replacement powders are useful as they also contain digestive enzymes to help increase absorption of food, are easy to prepare and light on the stomach for those with difficulties digesting food or with poor appetite. Carbohydrates in the form of vegetables or salads are preferable to fruits or grains. Not only are vegetables and salads higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals than grains and starches, but also the bonds between sugar molecules in vegetables are inverted as opposed to linear, providing slower release and less insulin, particularly when the body is under the influence of cortisol. Both of these dietary changes will eliminate the recurrent release of cortisol associated with the stress of rapid swings in blood sugar and remove a tremendous load from the HPA axis.3 Although extreme calorie deprivation (see below) is not ideal for most seniors, a slight reduction in daily intake is beneficial. A drop in daily caloric intake by 200 to 400 calories starting at about age 50 or around menopause or andropause is all that is needed to minimize the associated inflammation seen when too many calories are ingested.
In addition, adequate protein provides the amino acid substrate for growth hormone production. It is important to maintain growth hormone levels in the low to medium normal range and not to increase them above normal due to cancer concerns.8
A number of dietary modifications are used to reduce inflammation. Increasing the intake of foods containing omega-3 essential fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, tuna or tofu drops prostaglandin and leukotriene production, greatly inhibiting inflammatory aging processes. Berries such as blueberries and strawberries contain powerful antioxidant phytochemicals that decrease inflammation, help prevent heart disease and provide beneficial fibre at the same time. Spicing up food with turmeric or ginger also reduces inflammatory load.
Avoid foods that are known to produce inflammation, especially the deadly nightshades, such as potatoes, aubergines (eggplants), tomatoes and peppers. Limit animal products such as red meat and dairy foods (yogurt, cheese, etc.), which can increase the production of prostaglandins, and minimize peanuts, which increase arachidonic acid.4 Avoid trans fats, saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, which cause significant inflammation throughout the body.
Supplements such as fish oil or flax oil, along with vitamins A, C, E, quercitin and selenium are great additions to the diet to help further reduce the inflammatory load.4
To improve immune function, lean, organic protein is essential for effective cell function and antibodies and mushrooms and onion or garlic have important anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties, including boosting IL-1, TNF-alpha and NK-cell activity.
Foods that contain the minerals calcium, magnesium and zinc are valuable to promote tissue repair and counteract the damage associated with the aging process. They include dairy, soy, green leafy vegetables, almonds and sunflower seeds. Omega-3 is also vital to cell wall and nerve cell integrity, and vitamin C acts as both a co-factor for cell function and repair as well as an antioxidant. The green, leafy vegetables also contain B vitamins, which are vital for maintaining neurologic function.
OTHER ANTI-AGING STRATEGIES
Severe calorie restriction – Severely calorie-restricted diets have been the focus of aging for quite some time. Extensive studies in rats reveal that when the number of calories is significantly lowered there is less free radical oxidation damage, and as a result, fewer free radicals being generated in the conversion of food to ATP. Studies also show a reduction in heart oxidative damage, increased mitochondrial differentials and energy efficiency, with a lower incidence of age-related disorders.5,7 Although calorie restriction in seniors has been demonstrated to offer beneficial metabolic, hormonal and functional changes, the precise amount of calorie intake or body fat mass associated with optimal health and maximum longevity in humans is not known. In addition, it is possible that even moderate calorie restriction may be harmful in specific patient populations, such as lean persons who have minimal amounts of body fat.9
Frozen mesenchyme cells – Frozen mesenchyme cells obtained from porcine tissue are one of the newest and most potent nutrients available for the treatment of aging and disease. They are undifferentiated pluripotent embryonic connective tissue cells that, when ingested, have the ability to become almost any type of cell to help restore damaged or aged cells. Researchers at Dalton Cardiovascular Centre in Missouri added fluorescent dye to pluripotent porcine stem cells and injected them into humans. They found that not only were they able to track these cells over 100 replication cycles, but also they migrated to areas of damage and injury with greater affinity than anywhere else.6 Quite surprisingly, a similar effect is noted when these cells are ingested. Mesenchyme cells also possess a metabolic function whereby they improve mitochondrial metabolism, increasing ATP production and restoring energy levels. Similarly, they have been shown to regulate the MMP (metalloproteases) activity, prevent collagen breakdown, and control inflammation and degenerative joint conditions.
Growth hormone – Despite its lack of approval by the FDA, HGH remains a popular anti-aging therapy. It does appear to offer some benefit in men at improving muscle mass and reducing body fat but at the risk of numerous side-effects, including diabetes, arthralgia, oedema and gynecomastia. Its potential to increase the division rate of malignant cells cannot be ignored and long-term studies will be needed to determine its safety with respect to cancer. My strategy is to ensure the body has sufficient substrate in the form of amino acids to synthesize growth hormone to its natural level.10
I think, again, the best approach to aging, is to embrace it with a healthy aging attitude and doing all you can to ensure the your life course is in a healthy state of progression with a sudden decline at the far end of the chronological age versus an early slow deterioration that minimizes function and joy of life for a prolonged time. Taking responsibility is never too late and never too early, in our path to our senior years.
Thank you to Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed for her insight.
- Chung Hy, Sung B, et al. The Molecular Inflammatory Process in Aging, Antioxid Redox Signal. 2006 Mar-Apr;8(3-4):572-81.
- Candore G et al. Biology of longevity: role of the innate immune system. Rejuvenation Res 2006 Spring;9(1):143-8.
- Fiocco AJ et al., Diurnal cycle of salivary cortisol in older adult men and women with subjective complaints of memory deficits and/or depressive symptoms: relation to cognitive functioning. Stress 2006 Sep;9(3):143-53.
- Dove A. MMP inhibitors: Glimmers of hope amidst clinical failures. Nat Med 2002 Feb;8(2):95.
- Boderick TL, Belke T, Driedzie WR. Effects of chronic restriction on mitochondrial respiration in the ischemic reperfused rat heart. Mol Cell Biochem 2002 Apr 233;(1-2):119-25.
- Price EM et al. Multipotent adult progenitor cell lines originating from the peripheral blood of green fluorescent protein transgenic swine. Stem Cell Dev 2006 Aug:15(4):507-22.
- Colom B, Oiver J et al., Calorie restriction and gender modulate cardiac muscle mitochondrial H2o2 production and oxidative damage. Cardiovasc Res 2007 Feb 12.
- Rieu I, Balage M et al. Increased availability of leucine with lieucine-rich whey proteins improves postprandial muscle protein synthesis in aging rats. Nutrition 2007 Apr 23(4):323-332.
- Fontana L, Klein S. Aging, adiposity and calorie restriction JAMA 2007 Mar 7:297(9):986-94.
- Liu H, Bravata DM, Olkin I et al. Systematic review: the safety and efficacy of growth hormone in the healthy elderly. Annals Int Med 2007 Jan 16;146(2):104-15.
Dr. Victoria Coleman is a 1994 graduate of CMCC and a BSc in Kinesiology specializing in Fitness Assessment and Exercise Counseling. Working with patients over the years, it became her mission to teach people that everything you eat, breath, drink, and think affects your health. This fuelled her desire to further expand her career and continue her studies. She is an avid follower of the Institute for Functional Medicine and is currently working toward her certification in Functional Medicine. Dr. Coleman is also the president of Douglas Laboratories/Pure Encapsulations Canada.