As my body raced full-speed into the “golden years”, or the “rust years” as I like to call them, I started thinking about how I could maintain my health as I aged. As a physician I had seen the effects of aging first hand in many of my older patients. Fortunately, a friend recommended I attend the annual Cleveland Clinic Wellness Conference which focuses on just this issue. Despite the knowledge I had gained from many eminent professors and well-respected peers, I had very little exposure to the importance of nutrition in the aging process. At the conference, I learned about the locations in the world with the highest concentrations of healthy aged individuals. Seeing what these places have in common, it’s easy to understand why they are healthier.
So, what do the healthiest aged individuals in the world have in common?
1) A diet that is 95% plant based (vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts)
2) A tendency to eat a lower calorie diet including episodic fasting
3) Increased physical activity
4) 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily
5) A healthy social network
High intensity aerobic type exercises (such as jogging, bicycling, or swimming) have the ability to turn back the clock. Studies have found about 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, 5 days a week is needed to make a difference. Less strenuous exercising such as walking or cutting the grass can also be a great benefit, just with less of an effect.
Many cultures have a period of fasting or caloric restriction as part of their traditions. Research over the last few decades has discovered that these periods of fasting can support healthy aging. Studies in animals have also shown that giving animals only about 80% of their calculated caloric needs resulted in a slowing of the aging process and a reduction or delay in the age-related diseases. However, prolonged fasting is unpleasant and potentially dangerous for many people, especially those over age 65 to 70. Intermittent short periods of fasting and have been found to benefit many people with the least amount of unpleasant effects.
One expert in this field of fasting is Dr. Valter Longo who heads the University of Southern California Longevity Institute. Dr. Longo originally experimented with water-only fasts for 5 days but went on to develop a “fasting mimicking diet” which allows people to get the same benefits as a water fast while still eating a reduced caloric diet for 5 days. Blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and Visceral fat (the “bad” kind in our bellies) were all greatly reduced during this 5 day program. Plus, the levels of an important hormone called IGF-1 (high levels are correlated with a greater risk of cancer) also showed a significant reduction and tended to stay down for several months after. This therapy helps to make our healthy cells stronger and allows our body to discard and recycle damaged cells through a process called autophagy. Some people are now confining their food intake to a 8 to 12 hour period or less each day to allow some autophagy to occur during the fasting period. Certain spices such as curcumin, ginger, and ginseng and foods such as coffee, green tea, lentils, mushrooms, and blueberries along with regular physical exercise also stimulate autophagy.
For many of us, especially the elderly and those who have already developed physical ailments that limit their ability to exercise, calorie restriction and exercise aren’t always practical or even possible. Fortunately, researchers have discovered genes that help control our aging process and can be tweaked to enable our bodies to rejuvenate themselves. Among these genes are the sirtuins which have a major role in daily body repair. Unfortunately, the activity of the sirtuins declines with aging. This reduction in activity is due to a fall in the level of a molecule called NAD+ which plays a key role in cellular energy production. A naturally occurring substance, nicotinamide riboside, found in trace amounts in foods such as milk has been found to significantly raise the levels of NAD+. Red grapes and blueberries have also been found to energize the sirtuin genes.
One aspect of aging that seems to frighten more people than anything else is dementia, mainly in the form of Alzheimer’s disease. The hippocampus is a structure lying deep in the brain which seems to be the key regulator of memory and our mood. The hippocampus is generally the first part of our brain which shrinks as we age. We now know that it is possible to grow new brain cells in our hippocampus and forestall the consequences of its shrinkage.
Supplements are one of the ways we can support brain health as we age. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) supplementation has shown increased levels of neurotransmitters in the hippocampus. Omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, caffeine, and vitamins B12, folate, A, and E as well as the mineral zinc have all been shown to support a healthy brain. BioCurc® a form of highly potent curcumin, is a revolutionary supplement that supports cognition and is 400 times more absorbable than standard curcumin. Exercise and intermittent fasting also encourage new brain cell growth, while a high sugar, high fat diet discourages new brain cell growth.
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