Nobody leaves this planet alive, unless you happen to be an astronaut. Generally, we don't think about aging though until we reach middle-age, usually considered to be about 50 years old. Then we may begin to notice changes in our body that indicate that we can’t do the things that we used to quite as easily. Perhaps we don't move with quite as much flexibility. Perhaps we begin to notice that our ability to read the phone book decreases as the print is out of focus. Perhaps our energy is less than it used to be. In one sense, aging is natural; and yet from another perspective we can certainly slow it down, compress it so to speak, so that there is more time for healthy living later on in life. There seem to be certain parts of the body that age more easily than others -- bones, eyes, ears, brains, and general metabolism, seem to be areas that are hardest hit.
The latest research shows that a number of factors can be introduced through simple lifestyle changes and supplementation, so that some of the problems of aging can be considerably reduced or at least delayed. Below you will find some tips for different organ systems -- tips that you can use on yourself, or tips that you can use to help aging family members. As always, a healthy diet low in animal fat, moderate in healthy fats from cold water fish, high in fibre, with moderate sensible exercise underlie all of these suggestions as a foundation.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Cataracts. These are common diseases of aging that can affect up to 20% of the population over the age of 65. Because the eye is continually exposed to light, it is particularly susceptible to oxidation. Research has consistently shown that age-related macular degeneration can be modified, and prevented, by increasing antioxidants particularly those that contain lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamin A, zinc, and riboflavin (vitamin B2). Lutein and zeaxanthin are a part of the carotene family found in eggs, and red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits. Vitamin E is also critical to delaying the development of cataracts -- 400 international units per day of mixed tocopherols taken with dinner should be used. Carotenes can be found in supplements but are best obtained from fresh vegetables and fruits. Lutein is also found in the brand of eggs known as Omega Plus®.
Energy, Fatigue, and Cognitive Decline. As we age our metabolism changes. Our ability to digest decreases and as a result our ability to absorb nutrients decreases. Stomach acidity frequently goes down and our ability to absorb vitamin B12 from our diet decreases as a result. Many elderly people are suffering from GERD, also known as acid reflux, and taking drugs to decrease stomach acid to prevent those symptoms. These people are particularly susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency. In this age group vitamin B12 can lead to significant cognitive decline, tinnitus and even hearing loss. There are a number of studies to suggest both energy and cognitive ability can be raised through the injection of vitamin B12 on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, blood testing for vitamin B12 does not always yield useful results, and only a trial of 1000 mcg vitamin B12 injected weekly will tell us whether it is necessary – you should notice a significant increase in energy for example, if you really need it. There are some oral vitamin B12 preparations that can be taken but if the stomach is low in acid, B12 may not be absorbed. If you are taking vitamin B12 by mouth it should preferably be in the form of methyl cobalamin. Methyl cobalamin works in the brain better than the standard cyano-cobalamin. The herb Ginkgo Biloba has also been found to be helpful here for mental alertness as well as the macular degeneration noted above.
Osteoporosis. A disorder of aging that is far more common in women than in men, osteoporosis is the new epidemic in women after menopause. It is more prevalent in short, slightly built, light-haired women. Fortunately it can be detected by bone scan, and I recommend all women who are in menopause get a baseline bone scan. Although Premarin® used to be recommended for post-menopause, most doctors rightly shy away from using this treatment anymore as a result of the long-term negative heart effects of synthetic estrogen. Regular exercise, calcium carbonate (1000 mg/day) and magnesium gluconate (500 mg/day), and Vitamin D3 (1000 IU/day) can all help bone loss. Natural progesterone cream may also be helpful. Check with a doctor who prescribes bioidentical hormones. Bone maintenance after menopause is critical; once bone is lost it is really hard to get back.
Depression. A common problem with age, depression can often be helped by taking more B vitamins, especially Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), instead of anti-depressants. In addition, S-adenosyl methionine, (fondly known as Sammy), in doses of 200mg can often beat depression single handed. It’s available over the counter in many stores. The herb St. John’s Wort can also be used in mild to moderate depression.
Attitude. Obviously attitude plays a huge role in how we feel at any age. If you can laugh and joke and be grateful it goes a long way. The aphorism “If you don’t use it you lose it” is true particularly as we age. Mental challenges like games, crosswords, puzzles etc. keep us on the ball and using those brain cells. It all helps.
Aging is a huge topic, and I have covered only a few issues. If you want more detailed information I highly recommend the Life Extension Foundation as a reliable source of information about aging. Its generous website is at www.lef.org. Almost any aspect of aging can be read about on the site, and you can easily search for any further information you might need.