by Dr. Sarah Myhill
By understanding some of the underlying principles, which result in us ageing, we can make interventions to slow this down. The biological clock starts ticking at birth and gives us the potential to live so many years. The potential appears to be about 120 - if we lived the most perfect life we could not expect to live longer than this. This is because Evolution gets in the way - in order to adapt to our environment we need a new generation of Homo Sapiens - if the older generation persisted we would simply fail to adapt to the changing environment and become too overcrowded for the planet. So the natural history is for us to die and pass our selfish genes down to our children who, of course, go through the same process. So although you may think I am advocating all sorts of unnatural supplements to keep us healthy in our old age, actually the business of being old is in itself unnatural. By the time we have bred and raised our children, we are on the evolutionary scrap heap.
I subscribe to the free radical theory of ageing. The ageing process is determined by our mitochondria. These are inherited down the female line, so look for longevity genes in your mother and her mother. Free radicals are an inevitable product of normal metabolism - that is to say they can come from internal toxic stress, but in our increasingly polluted world also external toxic stress. We can see examples of this in our everyday life - people who smoke have an accelerated ageing process - just look at their skins and the fact that they die younger from heart disease and cancer. So the principles of slowing the ageing process are:
1. To reduce external toxic stress.
2. To reduce internal toxic stress.
3. To improve our anti-oxidant status (these are the key molecules that mop up free radicals).
4. Use supplements to support the body where damage has occurred.
Avoid Toxic Stress
Most people are aware of the sort of toxins that produce ill health. In order of importance these are smoking, sugar, (excess of which causes diabetes which accelerates the normal ageing process), alcohol, pesticide residues, heavy metals in dental amalgam and jewellery (especially nickel), prescription medication, industrial pollution, food additives, background radiation etc. I've probably forgotten a few! Not only do these chemicals accelerate the ageing process, but many switch on allergy and autoimmunity. Avoid.
Reduce Internal Toxins
The single most important factor proven to increase longevity is the amount of food we eat. Food is intrinsically toxic as well as being nutritive and getting the balance right is very difficult! However, the less we eat the longer we live. Particularly as we age, we need to eat small amounts of the best quality food we can find. In modern societies we are seeing people eating large amounts of poor quality food, which is clearly accelerating the ageing process.
Improve Antioxidant Status
It is very likely that much of the ageing damage is caused by low-grade inflammation, which is triggered by free radicals (produced as a part of normal metabolism as well as toxic stress). But poor antioxidant status will mean that these free radicals are not effectively mopped up and hang around to cause damage. The "front line" antioxidants are co-enzyme Q 10, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase. These can all be measured by blood tests. The results are given in parts per million. These front line antioxidants mop up free electrons (ie free radicals which are highly destructive) which are released by normal metabolic activity and xenobiotic stress. These "free" electrons are then passed on to second line antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin A and beta-carotene and these are measured in parts per thousand (milligrams). In doing this the front line antioxidants are recycled. The electrons are then passed back to vitamin C, which is measured in gram amounts - vitamin C is the ultimate repository of many "free" electrons, which can then be excreted safely. In the short-term, one can supply "instant" antioxidant cover with vitamin B12. As well as ensuring that you have good antioxidant status by taking a range of nutritional supplements (see below), there are many other antioxidants in fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Make these your staple foods.
During our wakeful hours, we are constantly damaging our body and breaking it down. During sleep healing and repair takes place. Getting the balance between the two right is essential. If we get insufficient sleep then the rate at which we break the body down exceeds the rate at which we can heal and repair and our overall health gradually ratchets downhill. The average sleep requirement is for nine hours sleep between 9.30pm and 6.30am, a little more in the winter, less in the summer, with of course a certain amount of individual variability.
It has long been demonstrated that exercise improves longevity. The mechanisms of this have not been fully worked out. However, one possible mechanism is that the process of exercising helps the body to detox by getting rid of xenobiotics through sweat. Indeed when I do fat biopsies on people, I invariably find a spectrum of pesticides and volatile organic compounds. These are readily got rid of through doing sweating regimes and of course this is what exercise achieves. People who do not exercise should take a weekly sauna in order to reduce their toxic load in fat.
If you don't use it you lose it. Our bodies are dynamic organs which need to be used - failure to do so and they deteriorate. Remarkably little exercise is required to achieve this!
Acquired Metabolic Dyslexias
As a result of nutritional deficiencies, exposures to viruses and allergens, physical damage from the trauma of life, exposures to internal and external toxins, failure of antioxidant status and so on, we cause internal biochemical damage to the body. This may be to DNA and chromosomes, it may be to the molecular machinery that renews essential molecules daily, it may be to cell structures themselves or even organ damage. The overall effect is that we get what I want to call 'acquired metabolic dyslexias' - that is to say our ability to make certain key molecules is impaired. There are several ways we can get round this. The first is that we should all be taking a package of nutritional supplements including a good multivitamin, multi-minerals, essential fatty acids, vitamins C and D. (See my nutritional supplements handout). Many enzymes go slow because of a lack of essential co-factors such as zinc and magnesium and therefore the metabolism works far more efficiently when these essential molecules are present.
Secondly, as we age there are some key molecules which are difficult to make because the biochemistry is complicated, or natural supply is in short demand and a bottleneck occurs at this level. Since the ageing process is determined by mitochondria, the mitochondrial package of supplements is vital. So probably from the age of 50 onwards we should be all taking a small daily dose of D-ribose 5 grams, Co-enzyme Q10 100mg, Acetyl L-carnitine 1 gram and NAD 500mg.
Again it has been well demonstrated that as we age, our ability to produce certain key hormones declines. This may be an acquired metabolic dyslexia. It is likely that melatonin is one of these and if the quality of one's sleep starts to deteriorate then this should be taken regularly at night in doses between 1 and 9mg. Melatonin is also an important antioxidant and therefore slows the ageing process. With age our ability to produce DHEA also declines and at the age of say 60 one should measure DHEA levels and if low then a daily supplement should be given. The same is also true for thyroid hormones. As the pituitary starts to fail, our ability to produce TSH declines and therefore the output of the thyroid gland. I would recommend measuring levels of Free T4 and Free T3 say every three to four years and if they slip into the lowest 25% of the normal range, one might consider a trial of thyroid hormones.
I do not recommend sex hormone replacement therapy in women or men - all these hormones are growth promoters and major risk factors for cancer. However, in men there is an acquired metabolic dyslexia, in which the enzyme that normally breaks down testosterone fails and one can get a toxic metabolite of testosterone building up, which is probably what causes prostate cancer. It might be advisable to take a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor (such as Saw Palmetto) on a regular basis after say the age of 60.
Use The Body and Brain for the purpose for which it was Designed If you do not use it you lose it. As soon as the body and brain ceases to function, their functions will be shut down. This is an evolutionary mechanism for conserving energy and preventing waste. Of course in harsher times we had to be constantly using our brain and bodies to their limits in order to survive. Now that we live in comfortable times, we can shut these requirements down through sheer laziness, but the brain then switches them off as part of an ancient energy saving reflex. It is essential to keep all departments alive by using them.
So What does this Translate to in Practical Reality Take my standard range of nutritional supplements daily ie multivitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, vitamin C and D (sunshine). See Nutritional Supplements - what everybody should be taking all the time even if nothing is wrong.
As we age we become less efficient at absorbing certain nutrients - after the age of 50 everyone should take additional vitamin B12. I suggest 1mgs ie 1,000mcgms orally daily (perhaps only 1% is absorbed), increasing with age until at some stage using injected B12 (I suggest 2mgs, ie 2,000mcgms per month) to ensure good levels in the blood.
Aim to eat a largely stoneage diet at home, but have what you fancy when going out! The diet should be low glycaemic index, strictly avoiding eating sugar (which I consider to be as dangerous as smoking), avoiding the growth promoters in food (dairy and high glycaemic index foods), avoiding additives and ideally organic. See Stoneage Diet - the elimination diet I use most often.
Include probiotics routinely by making your own - see Probiotics - we should all be taking these all the time and double the dose following antibiotics and gastroenteritis.
At about the age of 50 onwards take the mitochondrial package of supplements as well ie D ribose 5grams, co Q 10 100mgs, acetyl L carnitine 1 gram, vitamin B3 500mgs. At about the age of 60 get thyroid (free T4 free T3 and TSH) and adrenal gland (adrenal stress profile) regularly checked.
Symptoms are an early warning sign of something going wrong! Try to work out what is causing that symptom - do not just put it down to "age"! This includes fatigue, arthritis and depression.
- Sleep well
- Exercise brain and body
- Do sweating regimes either by exercise or sauna
Tests to pick up problems before they arise:
- Antioxidant status - SODase, glutathione peroxidase and co Q 10
- Homocysteine - this is the most important nutritional risk factor for arterial disease - corrected with vitamin B6, folic acid and B12.