Friday, April 16, 2010

How to age gracefully by Jerry Brainum

No one wants to age, but as they say, it sure beats the alternative. A frequent term applied to the aging process is "successful aging." Since every human ages, what makes some do it "successfully"? From a scientific perspective, successful aging means that you stay relatively healthy to the end. You are able to avoid the most common causes of premature death, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. Indeed, people fortunate enough to make it to century mark are able to avoid the most common degenerative aging diseases. They stay healthy until they reach about the 105 mark, when their health takes a rapid downward trend. Often overlooked in discussions on aging are quality of life issues. Specifically, what's the point of living to an advanced age if you are sick or generally unhealthy? The ideal scenario is to remain healthy as long as possible, so that you can continue to enjoy life.
     Many people seem to be concerned about aging when the signs of aging, such as hair loss and facial wrinkles begin to emerge, usually around age 40. Such people become more motivated to do anything they can to hopefully forestall the aging process. Often, this involves changes in diet, such as more attention to eating clean and avoiding established "bad" foods low in essential nutrients, or rich in empty calories. Others turn to increasing the use of various food supplements, particularly those thought to delay aging, such as antioxidants. A recent trend in this regard is the use of large doses of resveratrol, a natural antioxidant found in red wine and some other foods. The use of resveratrol is based on numerous animal studies showing that resveratrol seemed to prevent some of the effects of aging. But all of these studies involved animals. There is to date no definitive human evidence that any dose of resveratrol will have any benefical effect on aging. But this hasn't stopped countless people from paying a lot of money to purchase high dose resveratrol supplements from questionable Internet sites. What these people don't know is that some newer animal studies suggest that high dose resveratrol may cause long-term damage to health.
     Other animal studies show that the only method known to maximize lifespan is caloric restriction (CR). This involves a reduction in daily caloric intake ranging from 30 to 40%. One advocate of this technique, Roy Walford, M.D., claimed that using the CR technique would enable most people to reach the age of 120. Unforntunately for him, Walford succombed to Lou Gehrig Disease in his late 70s.Ongoing animal studies involving monkeys, who are close to humans in a genetic sense, show that the monkeys do show delayed aging while on CR regimes. More importantly, they don't show age-associated increases in diseases such as cancer, CVD, and diabetes. Whether they will live longer than usual hasn't yet been established.
      Some humans aren't waiting for the final answer. They have placed themselves on CR regimes. Most claim to feel younger than their chronological ages, but photos of these people show no evidence of any delayed aging effect. Recent studies of such people, however, show that they do tend to have low body fat levels, along with low blood pressure, blood lipids, glucose, and so on. In short, they show health indicators that would indeed translate into protection against the onset of degenerative disease. But following a CR regime usually involves consuming a vegan diet, which can be filling, but is still low in total daily caloric intake if the food is eaten in limited amounts. A typical CR breakfast consists of 3 walnuts and 3 blueberries--that's it. This was an actual breakast consumed by Roy Walford's daughter, who weighs 70 pounds at about 5 feet tall. And she is an adult.
    As to the mechanisms of how CR can delay aging, various theories are offered. One involves a concept called hormesis, which involves imposing stress to have the body compensate by upregulating certain processes. In regard to CR, the body interprets the lack of calories as a stress, and responds by increasing cellular elements that protect the cell. The cell thus lasts longer, and shows more effective repair mechanisms. But everything slows down with a CR regime. All anabolic hormones, including testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin drop to low levels. Thyroid hormone also declines, explaining the common side effect of CR, feeling cold all the time. A recent study of female monkeys on a CR regime showed that when caloric intake is drastically reduced, as it is during a CR regime, the body compensates by decreasing energy production to the point that activity level, as in exercise, is also curtailed. Indeed, most of those who religiously follow CR diets look emaciated. They have little or no muscle,no surprise when you consider their lack of anabolic hormone release. Oh, and the sex drive also dissipates considerably on a CR regime.
      Some researchers have calculated that a human following a long-term CR regime can expect to live only 5 to 7 years more than other people. But it does seem clear that for those on CR, most of the threats of early mortality from cancer or CVD are also eliminated due to a lowering of most significant risk factors. I think the key to successful aging involves a combination of staying as lean as possible, as in low body fat levels, along with maintaining as much lean mass--as in muscle-- as possible. A loss of muscle is the primary cause of frailty linked to aging. A recent study of 1,488 Japanese men and women, ages 18 to 85, found that the older people in the study who had lost large amounts of muscle, a condition called sarcopenia, also showed accelerated signs of aging, including higher levels of advanced glycation, or deposition of glucose in protein structures that leads to stiffness and limited mobility.The older women in the study showed increased rates of arterial stiffness, which sets them up for CVD onset.All this doesn't bode well for those on CR regimes,who have sacrificed most of their muscle in the hopes of extended lifespan. The best way to really be able to enjoy the passing years and live life to the fullest is to maintain muscle mass and also maintain low body fat levels. This can be accomplished through weight-training and a diet that limits total caloric intake, but only by about 10% as you age. It's also prudent to reduce carbs as you age, but maintain higher protein intake. This helps to control glucose levels, while also supporting muscular mass.And I promise you this: you will be far more content than those sitting down to a hearty meal of three walnuts.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited. 

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