Canada now has more adults over 65 than it does children under 15. It's never too early to learn how to age positively.
People are living longer, and living well. The face of aging in Canada is changing dramatically as life expectancy increases, with an average increase of five years between 1990 and 2012, according to World Health Organization statistics.
With the ongoing pursuit of knowledge to slow down the biological clock, several new insights have helped uncover the science behind aging and its related diseases, unlocking an array of exciting antiaging strategies.
What do free radicals have to do with it?
The secrets of true antiaging lie in the health of our cells. Several vital cellular elements are involved in aging that determine lifespan and longevity. Among the various theories put forth to explain the phenomenon of aging, the “free radical theory” has gained the most acceptance.
Free radicals damage cellular components and DNA, resulting in altered and compromised cell function. This process is continuous and increases with age, causing oxidative damage to tissues that leads to inflammation.
This cellular inflammation and dysfunction has been linked with cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and neurological diseases. Antioxidants are said to deactivate or quench free radicals to neutralize them before they attack cells.
Recent research has shown that oxidative stress causes mutations in DNA, which further perpetuate a decline in cellular energy, and an ongoing production of free radicals. Natural antioxidants are proving to be powerful warriors in the fight against cellular aging.
What do telomeres have to do with it?
Telomere length is another intriguing concept that contributes to cellular health. A telomere is a repeating sequence of DNA that forms a protective cap at the end of a chromosome, much like the tags at the end of shoelaces.
Telomeres play a critical role in maintaining the integrity and stability of the genome, and telomere length is a unique marker of biological age. As each cell divides and replicates, the telomeres shorten. This process continues until the telomere runs out, rendering a poor state of cell health that eventually brings about dysfunction and cell death.
Cardiovascular morbidities, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and some cancers have been associated, in studies, with telomere shortening; this is further accelerated by oxidative stress and free-radical damage.
Nutrients that combat aging
Science is now revealing the remarkable capacity of certain nutrients to slow down biological aging, restore optimal cell health, and protect and promote telomere lengthening. Embrace healthy aging by incorporating the following 10 age-defying nutrients into your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Multiple studies have shown the cardioprotective benefits associated with high intakes of marine omega-3 fatty acids. They exert lipid-lowering effects, reduce blood pressure, and resolve inflammation.
In a study of 608 cardiovascular patients followed over a five-year period, those with the highest intakes of DHA/EPA (docosahexaenoic acid/eicosapentaenoic acid) had the slowest rate of telomere shortening. Omega-3 fats may also play a role in activating telomerase, the enzyme responsible for reversing telomere shortening.
A recent clinical trial with 71 diabetic women showed that omega-3 fatty acids lower serum glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1c)—the standard test for monitoring glucose control. The findings also showed an increase in antioxidant capacity, which reduces diabetic complications.
Famous for its role in the so-called French paradox (French wine drinkers with a low incidence of heart disease despite a high-fat diet), resveratrol is a polyphenol found in grapes, other berries, and peanuts. Its mighty antioxidant activity not only scavenges free radicals, but also enhances the production of another powerful antioxidant, glutathione, which is said to facilitate detoxification.
A major constituent of red wine, resveratrol enhances pancreatic function and improves insulin sensitivity in lab studies. Its anti-inflammatory activity may also have applications as a topical cream to treat aging skin.
Curcumin, the most active constituent of turmeric, a herb used in spicy Indian cuisine, has been extensively studied for its benefits in fighting cancer and in relieving pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. In particular, curcumin enhances immune activity and protects brain mitochondria against oxidative stress and amyloid plaque formation associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
This antioxidant is vital for several functions in the body and is ubiquitous (used by every cell). CoQ10 is involved in producing cellular energy and protects mitochondria from damage. Its use in improving vascular function in heart disease is well known.
Its relevance in the health of hair provides a novel use for this nutrient due to its positive effects on the mature hair follicle. CoQ10 stimulates the production of hair keratin, which is an essential component for strong and healthy hair.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
ALA displays strong antioxidant activity, improves blood flow to nerves, and increases glucose uptake in cells, making it an effective antidiabetic agent. Several clinical trials have shown its use as an effective vasodilator for hypertensive individuals, with promising results in improving cardiac function and reducing atherosclerotic burden.
In a study of 2,100 female twins, those with the highest vitamin D levels had the longest telomeres compared to those with low intakes and associated shorter telomeres. Declining vitamin D levels are also correlated with higher inflammatory markers—a double whammy that increases the risk for developing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The good news is that adequate vitamin D levels inhibit inflammation, thereby offering protection from many diseases.
Widely used as a qi-invigorating herb in Chinese medicine to alleviate fatigue and weakness, astragalus is also known for its antiviral actions. A compound using astragalus as a prime active ingredient has been shown in lab tests to boost the production of telomerase in cells, which allows dividing cells to replace lost bits of DNA, and even restore healthy cell division.
Telomere length is also influenced by processes called DNA integrity and methylation; both involve folate, and this association has been reported in men and women. Chronic stress is also linked to a lack of adequate methylation, which affects mood and energy, while low serotonin levels and depression also correlate with folate deficiency.
Low folate levels also lead to elevated homocysteine levels, which contribute to heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Supplement with folic acid if your folate levels are low.
Most people aren’t getting enough of this nutrient, which is found in green leafy vegetables and natto (fermented Japanese soybeans). Vitamin K is known for its role in blood clotting, and studies are pointing out its significance in decreasing bone loss and fracture risk among postmenopausal women.
Calcification of arteries leading to cardiovascular disease and formation of varicose veins are also linked to inadequate vitamin K levels. New research is now illuminating the protective effects of this vitamin in prostate cancer.
Interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory cytokine strongly associated with age-related loss of strength and muscle mass, is exacerbated with free-radical formation, leading to joint pain. Exercise decreases inflammation, but for older individuals the ability to recover from exercise can be challenging, enhancing the inflammatory cascade. Taurine is an amino acid that acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and reduces IL-6 production to enable proper recovery and sufficient energy for those who enjoy being active.