The Categories of Aging
In our last issue, we stated our premise that aging is not the result of any one single factor, but is the cumulative result of a number of factors. The upshot was that if that were true, looking for a magic bullet to make us “eternally young” was pretty much a non-starter. With this issue, we’re going to begin taking on some of those aging factors we touched on the last issue and talk a little about what we can do to slow down and, in some cases, even reverse them.
But first, we need to separate the aging factors into three distinct categories. This is important because the three categories give us clues as to how to handle the factors contained within them. The three “primary” categories that affect how we age are:
- The things we do to ourselves and which are easily correctable (relatively speaking)
- The micro level factors programmed into our very cells, which until a few years ago seemed impossible to change
- The macro level factors programmed into our body as we age such as hormonal changes, many of which can indeed be modified
In a moment we’re going to begin discussing these categories in a little more detail. But before we begin, there’s one more important concept that must be understood. Biologically speaking (genetically speaking, that is), aging and death have a purpose.
The Purpose of Aging and Death
Although it may not seem so from an egocentric point of view, aging and death are good things for the species. The concept is simple — adaptation and evolution. It’s the reason that so many people who live in Sweden, for example, are blond and fair skinned and so many people who live in Africa are dark skinned.
In order to ensure the survival of the species, nature selects those traits most useful for the survival of a species in a particular environment and passes them on to the next generation — evolving over time so that the species becomes more and more capable of surviving in its environment. Light complexions in areas where the sun is in short supply and dark complexions where the sun is overabundant are just one example.
Okay, that part makes sense, but why do “we” have to die after passing on our genetic information? How does that advance the genetic cause? Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if we could hang around and watch the genetic parade march on by? And the answer, from a genetic point of view, is quite simple. If the older generation didn’t die off, it wouldn’t allow the species to advance because the older generations would continue to procreate and advance the “older” gene pool generation after generation. It’s only by eliminating the older gene pool that the species advances.
How Nature Ages Us and Kills Us Off
In order to accomplish its purpose, nature has programmed our bodies with certain time bombs.
- For example, at the micro level nature allows our cells to replicate only so many times before the cells become non-functional and die off.
- Nature programs certain macro-level changes into our bodies so that once our “biological” usefulness has been fulfilled, aging is accelerated. Menopause is a prime example.
The benefits of this process of the old dying off and being replaced by the new is not just reserved for the next generation. Although it may not seem so, it provides immediate benefits for us too. We can see it at work in our bones for example. Our bones grow when older generations of bone cells die off and are replaced by new cells. Without this mechanism, we wouldn’t be able to repair broken bones. If all we had were one set of immortal cells, we wouldn’t be able to repair breaks.
Actually, there was a cute movie based on this premise called Death Becomes Her in which Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are immortal. They cannot die, and the cells in their bodies cannot die. But without death and replacement, there is no mechanism for repairing the damage. So, by the end of the film, although they are both alive, their bodies have suffered ghoulish comic damage. The bottom line is that this whole mechanism of death and replacement works. And if it weren’t such a personal issue when we ourselves die, we’d all be pleased with the process.
It’s worth noting that the only “immortal” cells in our bodies are aberrant cancer cells.
Isn’t It Tampering with Nature?
A number of people have suggested to me that trying to change this process is contrary to the laws of nature and shouldn’t be attempted. I don’t think so.
I would like to submit to you an opposing “genetic” point of view. If the purpose of the whole process is to advance the species, then with man we have a new element. No other species relies on its brain, on “thinking” if you will, for its edge in the world. That means that other species advance strictly by improving their gene pool in terms of physical adaptation. But humans advance not just according to physical traits, but according to what they know and how they think. (If that were not true, then why are so many computer nerds now moving to the top of the gene pool?) That means that knowledge and experience are becoming far more important for the survival of mankind than for any other species. Books and computers can capture the knowledge of an individual, but not their experience. The longer we can hold onto that experience, the greater our species’ chances of survival.
And I believe that nature supports this premise. As our knowledge grows, we are now learning that we can indeed manipulate and alter some of the limiting factors that nature built into the “early prototypes” of our bodies. In a sense, at the point knowledge has become fundamental to our survival, nature is allowing us to view and alter some of her previously hidden secrets.
And with that in mind, let’s start talking about some of those things we’ve learned.
The Things We Do to Ourselves
These, of course, are the easiest things to modify.
The Immune System
One of the major causes of death in the elderly is the collapse of the immune system as we age. This makes us susceptible to everything from pneumonia to cancer. Some of this is inevitable, of course, but it is amazing how much of it can be prevented and even reversed.
Chronic inflammation is a major aging factor and a primary contributor to premature death. It is implicated in everything from lung problems to chronic heart disease, and even cancer. There are a number of things we can do that help reduce inflammation far better and more safely than taking an aspirin every day. Probably the two most important are:
- Regular intake of proteolytic enzymes.
- Bringing the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids back from the 20 to 1 (actually often as high as 40 to 1) where it now sits closer to the 1 to 1 ratio where it needs to be.
Every day we are exposed to over 100,000 “new” chemicals that have been released into the environment over the last 100 years. Many of them are chemical estrogens potent in amounts as small as a billionth of a gram. Cleansing those toxins out of our bodies with colon and liver detoxes and neutralizing estrogen imbalances in the body are essential for maximizing health and life span.
Circulation and energy flows
Proper circulation in the broad sense (blood, lymph, and energy) is essential for maximized life span.
If there is any restriction of blood circulation (caused by anything from narrowing of the arteries to tension in the surrounding muscle tissue) several problems arise.
- Sufficient oxygen can no longer reach key areas of the body.
- Sufficient nutrients can no longer reach every cell in the body, thus starving them, weakening them, and making them vulnerable to mutation.
- The waste material produced by the cells can no longer be efficiently removed. The build-up of toxic waste in the cells eventually leads to cell mutation and death.
Your lymph is your body’s sewer system, removing dead cells, waste, toxic matter, heavy metals, bacteria, etc. from body tissue. Unfortunately, the lymph system has no pump of its own. If for any reason your lymph is stagnant, you end up poisoning yourself. This accelerates the aging process and the onset of age-related diseases such as cancer.
Fundamentally, our bodies are pure energy systems. As you look more and more closely at the subatomic structure of all matter, the physical world begins to disappear. All that’s left is a series of force fields and probabilities that create the illusion of matter as we know it. Certainly, we have to deal with this illusion (the physical world) as we see it, but we also have to deal with the consequences of the world of energy that remains unseen—but is nevertheless the true reality behind all physical matter. The bottom line is that a major factor in the aging process is when these energies in our body become unbalanced or diminished in any way.
Scientists now know that free radicals play a major role in the aging process as well as in the onset of cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and possibly allergies and a host of other ailments. The link between free radicals and the “aging diseases” is one of the most important discoveries since doctors learned that some illnesses are caused by germs. The use of a full-spectrum antioxidant supplement at a maintenance level may provide the ultimate defense against the premature aging effects of free radicals. At therapeutic levels, antioxidants may actually play a significant role in reversing many of the effects of aging and disease.
Exercise and Wear and Tear
No one likes to hear this, but it’s true. If you don’t move, you die. Exercise fundamentally changes every system and function in your body. And the older you get, the more important it is — and the more pronounced the benefits are.
- As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two 45-minute weight (strength) training sessions a week can improve bone density, muscle mass, strength, balance, and physical activity in older women (ages 50-70). After one year of strength training, women emerged physiologically younger by 15-20 years than when they began. Other studies have demonstrated the same results for men who weight train.
- People in their 70s and 80s can experience strength gains of as much as 180% in a matter of just a few weeks.
Understand, exercise includes weight-bearing exercise, aerobic exercise, and the almost universally forgotten stretching exercise.
The operative words when it comes to exercise are balance and common sense. If you overdo it, the benefits start to reverse, and you’re looking at long-term disability from ligament and cartilage damage.
Diet and Nutrition
This is a big topic — bigger than we can cover in this report. If you haven’t already done so, you can read our articles at Organic Healing Foods.
What You Think
What you think absolutely matters — not just mentally, but physically. Stress and depression are major aging factors.
I don’t really have to talk about this, do I? Smoking not only shortens your life, it makes you look older in the process.
Calories and Sugar
Of all the things one can do to increase longevity, only one has been proven to actually extend life across the board: caloric restriction (CR). Caloric restriction is the only means of retarding aging that is both well-researched and proven. (Note: CR is not the same as dieting or starvation. It entails the reduction of caloric intake while maintaining the optimal intake of essential nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals.)
What effects does CR have on the body that extend life? It appears that its effects are threefold:
- Lowers body temperature
- Raises DHEA levels
- Lowers plasma insulin levels.
Interestingly enough, lowering plasma insulin levels also tends to lower body temperature and increase DHEA levels, indicating that insulin may be a prime factor in the aging process. And in fact, this was supported by studies that showed that the glucoregulatory agent, metformin, might be just as effective as CR in reversing aging and rejuvenating the elderly — thereby resulting in Life Extension’s article indicating that regular use of metformin might be the “Most Significant Anti-Aging Discovery in Medical History.”
So what’s the reality?
First, although, as far as drugs go, metformin is relatively benign, it is not totally without side effects. It occasionally causes death from lactic acidosis, for example, which is not insignificant for those who die.
But more importantly, it is quite likely that some minor changes in lifestyle and the use of natural supplements can offer the same benefits with no negative side effects and at less cost.
- Cut way back on your intake of high glycemic foods. (This is the positive side of the low carb craze.)
- Use natural glucoregulatory herbs with your meals. These include herbs such as:
- Nopal cactus
- Konjac mannan
- Gymnema Sylvestre
- High galactomannan fenugreek extract
- Banaba leaf extract
- Bitter melon extract
- Blueberry leaf extract
- The use of these herbal extracts will significantly reduce the number of simple carbs your body absorbs and minimize the insulin response from those that get through. In effect, they will mimic the effect of metformin, without the side effects.
One final note. It’s never too late to start. Studies have shown that CR is just as effective in extending life span late in life as it is early in life. In fact, many of the major benefits can be received in as little as four weeks on the program.