Ageing is an extremely complex, multifactorial process and there are many theories of its pathophysiology. It is a natural and gradual decline of our functional organ reserves to maintain the right balance, especially under conditions of stress (diet, lifestyle, medical history, family history, trauma, injuries, income, environment, and so on). It is believed that this loss of function can start as early as 30-40 years old, and decline at an annual rate of 1 %.
Particular concerns as we age and how to age gracefully while we support our health and wellbeing
- Immune system: Natural decrease in our ability to fight disease .The immune system is directly linked to levels of inflammation in the body and as we age, our ability to turn off the natural inflammatory process is lost. When the body is subjected to poor lifestyle choices amongst other factors, the result is chronic inflammation. Over time this puts us at risk of developing atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes or alzheimer’s disease.
- Endocrine system : Decline in thyroid function ,metabolism, energy levels, sex hormones and glucose tolerance. There is also a reduction in DHEA, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands from cholesterol. It stimulates and strengthens the immune system, aids dietary protein synthesis, helping the mood, optimum wellness and reducing food intolerances.DHEA also helps prevent osteoporosis.
- Cardiovascular system : Thickening of arterial walls, decrease in heart rate response to stress, and maximum heart rate. Our lifestyle, nutrition and weight as we age can further impact on the cardiovascular system.
- Gastrointestinal system: Decrease in digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid levels which support the breakdown of proteins, Vit B12, decrease in our liver’s ability to clear toxins and metabolise drugs as easily. The health of the gut also impacts on the immune system.
- Nervous system: Cognitive decline made worst with chronic stress and low mood.
- Musculoskeletal system: The body increases its bone mass until the mid 30’s after which a gradual loss begins. Genes decide on the bone shape and size, but mechanical stress by muscle, body weight, and physical activity influence the bone shape and density , and health throughout life. Other factors which contribute to osteoporosis include smoking, medication such as HRT, inadequate intakes of calcium, magnesium, boron, activity of weight bearing exercises.
Research shows that our relationship with food also changes as we age. Changes in appetite, loss of interest in preparing meals, social aspect of eating, gastrointestinal disturbances and therefore avoiding certain crucial nutrients or reducing the absorption of particular nutrients; chewing difficulties or changes in financial stability leading to less focus on healthy eating.
Principles associated with longevity
- Regular balanced meals to avoid fluctuations in blood glucose levels and the stress hormone, cortisol. Be gentle on your digestion by eating 5 small meals daily
- Moderate intake of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco smoke, stress, sugar )which impact on cortisol levels, oxidative stress on the body and affect our balance of nutrients
- Anti-inflammatory diet which includes herbs such as curcumin, ginger, boswellia, and omega 3 essential fatty acids from safe cold-water fish (3-5 servings/ week) , nuts (other than peanuts) and their respective milks, seeds, butters and oils, avocadoes etc.. Cook with fats (coconut oil, small amounts of organic butter or even small amounts of animal fat seldomly) which are resistant to heat and are not prone to oxidation ( destructive to our cells).Reduce your use of vegetable oils including canola, safflower, sunflower and corn oils, because they are heavily processed and oxidise upon heat.
Healthy fats also increase your levels of DHEA, our youth hormone !
- Eat a rainbow of colours and maximise on vegetables, for their content of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals packed with antioxidants. The latter are naturally occurring compounds with disease prevention properties .
- Your fibre intake should be 30-40g daily which would support healthy gastrointestinal health
- Phytochemicals : Green tea , Blueberries, Bilberries, Dark Chocolate, Resvetrol found in grapes , protect the health of our cells from oxidation, retards the ageing process of the skin and protects against sunlight .These fight off inflammation as well.
- Protein (focus on fish and vegetarian sources of protein), and less processed food. Be always wary of the label content. Protein requirements increase slightly with age to 1.0 to 1.25kg/kg. Protein helps to boost collagen production and will help you to keep a youthful appearance
- Remain hydrated, with an approximate consumption of 2L of water daily (including herbal teas or coconut water). Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration is more common as we age as well as our thirst perception
- Antioxidants– help protect the ageing body from the harmful effects of so-called free radicals – a type of highly reactive molecule which can destroy cell walls and lead to diseases such as cancer.
- Glutathione : a naturally occurring protein that protects every cell, tissue, organ from toxic free radicals and disease. Made primarily in the liver, It is one of the most important antioxidants in the body. Older cells contain 20 to 30 % less glutathione than young cells !
- Boost your levels with milk thistle; sulphur amino acids (from proteins found in eggs, meat, legumes ) and the amino acid glutamate (ripe tomatoes, walnuts, fish, turkey, rabbit, oats, barley)
- Vitamin C , Selenium
- Lutein (healthy vision) (kale, spinach broccoli) and lycopene (tomatoes)
- Carotenoids (yellow and orange fruit and vegetables)
- Take regular exercise which suits your ability, age and interest. Thus increasing the production of the hormone DHEA, glutathione levels, endorphins .Weight bearing exercise also enables you to lay down as much bone as possible during growth and keep as much as you can later on, preventing conditions like osteoporosis
- Intakes of calcium (cruciferous vegetables, sesame seeds, dairy products )and adequate vitamin D levels should be kept in check regularly.
- Stress reduction measures on a daily basis may include meditation, breath work, bio-energetic exercises (qi gong or tai chi), yoga, pilates, spiritual practises, adequate amounts of sleep, (8-10hours daily
- Strong family and community ties
- Last but not least : Be happy!