Updated: Mar 3, 2019
A paradox exists as we age. It is an obsession with aging, or stopping it from happening anyway. Even though it continues on, relentless in its progression. We prove this obsession over and over when we buy expensive creams and treatment lotions to smooth or hide our wrinkles, dye our hair or feel and look younger. Not you? Ever ask anyone how old they think you are? Let’s face it, we all want to look and feel young, but no matter what we do, every day in our body approximately 432 billion cells will die. You cannot stop it. It is relentless and absolute!
And yet, a paradox to the paradox does in fact exist. You see, when we are young we will replace almost all of those cells with about 432 billion new cells. But our lifestyle can and does impact our health, even when we are young. With each turnover of the cell our DNA undergoes a systematic change. With each change that cell can replicate healthy or poorly. Each time that cell replicates, the DNA telomere, a tail like structure, shortens. When the tail cannot shorten anymore, it dies for good, never to be replicated.
That 432 billion number is a just a scientific guess of course. Cells are so small and there are so many in your body (somewhere between 60 -100 trillion) that no one could ever actually count them individually. This is also why you don’t notice your body renewing itself all the time, but it is!
God gave us a miraculous body. The cells in our digestive system, from the stomach to the large bowel are replaced every 5 minutes. The liver is replaced every five months, and our heart is replaced every six to nine months. You also produce a new and complete covering of skin every four weeks. Yes the entire organ. Studies tell us that even brain cells can regenerate.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper once said “The average body was built to last 120 years, but what we do to it, how we treat it, actually determines how long it lasts”. The proof lies in the pudding, or in this case your refusal to eat that pudding! The underlying factor in longevity boils down to two simple truths. Is your body healthy due to exercise, or unhealthy due to inactivity; and, is your body healthy because of what you eat, or unhealthy due to what you eat?
So now we are beginning to understand why we age and how we can hold on to our youth a little better. Let’s start with things that make us age faster, because slowing down the rate by which the cells are lost significantly affects our longevity. A recent review of the literature reveals that there are seven things that will make you sick or lead to premature aging, according to the science.
1. Lack of Exercise Ages You
Mounting research confirms that when your body becomes accustomed to burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel—which is what happens when you exercise—you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease. We now know that by losing body fat (or keeping your fat content low) we reduce the body’s capability of storing toxins. Toxins lead to accelerated free radical damage (aging) and premature death. Exercise has a host of additional benefits too. It keeps you strong and mobile, independent and capable. It gives you energy and allows your body to maintain its youthful cell structure for longer.
2. Sugar Will Age You
A diet that is high in sugar (which includes processed fructose and grains) causes a host of health problems that will age you faster and increase your risk of disease, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. All disease will age you faster, since disease accelerates cell turn over (remember your telomere?).
Added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names, so you may not even be aware of just how much sugar you’re eating on a daily basis. That’s right, you did read it right. Sugar is listed under 60 different names in order to confuse the consumer and in order to lower the actual sugar gram content on the label. Devious huh?
Professor Cynthia Kenyon, a geneticist on aging, discovered that non-vegetable carbohydrates directly affect specific genes that govern youthfulness and longevity. She postulates that by eliminating non-vegetable carbohydrates (processed foods, fructose and candy etc), we could live significantly longer. Dr. Kenyon began her research using roundworms. She took nematode roundworms and made them live six times longer than normal by eliminating what would amount to sugars and grains from their diet. Even more interesting was that these roundworms maintained their health and youthful vigor throughout their lives. Now of course we are not roundworms, but Kenyon’s findings have been successfully replicated in other labs around the world using other animals, including rats, mice, and to some extent, monkeys. Humans also have similar DNA, indicating that these results should apply to us as well.
Sugar has a double punch however. Not only does it speed the loss of the telomere, but excessive amounts of refined sugar and processed fructose and grains also cause insulin resistance and inflammation, and most of the disease-promoting effects of a processed food diet can be traced back to this.
Insulin is a major accelerant of the aging process, it affects many bodily processes, all of which can impact your longevity. For example: insulin alters the expression of numerous hormones, stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, and promotes vasoconstriction. Many of the chronic disease that we struggle with today are based on this insulin resistant, inflammation state. Whatever organ is ultimately affected by this condition eventually develops its own metabolic syndrome and fosters the genesis of a disease state.
Fructose issues get even more complicated. We know that too much fructose leads to high levels of gout and fatty liver. A fatty liver is unable to properly detox your body which leads to a buildup of toxicity, first by way of body acidity, then by organ dysfunction and eventually disease.
Artificial sweeteners are no better by the way. Contrary to what you hear in the media, research over the last 30 years, including several large scale studies, have shown that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite and increase cravings for carbs. It’s complicated but basically your hunger mechanism shuts off when it has been stimulated by enough nutrients, not calories. In other words, eating low nutrient foods cannot shut off the hunger signals until you are full (satiation), whereby eating high nutrient foods shuts off your hunger before you are full (satiety).
Research also shows that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame may worsen insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar. More recently, scientists have discovered that artificial sweeteners disrupt your intestinal microflora, thereby suppressing your immune system and increasing your risk of overall disease.
3. Trans Fats Age You
By now every American is aware of the dangers of Trans Fatty Acids. For decades before this, saturated fats were wrongly blamed for heart disease. Responding to such health concerns, the food industry replaced saturated fats with trans fats, giving rise to a whole new market of low-fat (but high-sugar) foods. But turned out trans fats are not only a major contributor to insulin resistance, but also a major cell killer. As a result, Americans' health plummeted, and millions have been prematurely killed by this ridiculous assumption that saturated fats are bad and vegetable oil fats, especially hydrogenated ones are good.
Trans fat is found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. It is thought to act a pro-oxidant, contributing to oxidative stress that causes cellular damage, and many researchers agree that there is no threshold at which trans fats are safe.
4. Low Vitamin D
Researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. This would correctly suggest that low levels of vitamin D would accelerate aging and disease. Compelling evidence actually suggests optimizing your vitamin D can reduce your risk of death from any cause. At this point, the known health benefits of vitamin D number in the hundreds, if not thousands, in part due to the fact that it influences about 10 percent of all your genes.
As a side note, magnesium is also important, both for the proper function of calcium, and for the activity of vitamin D, as it converts vitamin D into its active form. Magnesium also activates enzyme activity that helps your body use the vitamin D. In fact, all enzymes that metabolize vitamin D require magnesium to work. As with vitamin D and K2, magnesium deficiency is very common, and if you’re lacking in magnesium and take supplemental calcium, you may exacerbate the situation. Vegetables can be a good source of magesium. As for supplements, magnesium glycinate and magnesium threonate are among the best.
As for safe levesl, it is generally accepted that anything below 50 ng/ml is unsafe. Optimal leels should be between 50-70 ng/ml except when treating heart disease or cancer (which should be 70-100 ng/ml) Anything above 100 ng/ml is excess.
Many people do not realize the importance of hydration. But to be clear, your body is mostly water, about 76 percent. It is the medium by which we survive and by which we bring oxygen and other nutrients to the tissues. But, your body loses water every time you breathe, perspire, urinate, and have bowel movements. For your body to work right, you need to keep it well hydrated. Your skin contains up to 20 percent water, but dehydrated skin can drop below 10 percent. This dehydration of the skin makes you dry because it dries up the sebum or oil that keeps your skin moist. Most people constantly add lotion to their hands and face, but it’s really dehydration.
Obviously dehydration will lead to dry skin and premature aging. So dry skin requires more hydration, not more lotion. I should add that just drinking water alone will only solve part of the problem. In order to keep the moisture in your body, you need minerals. Minerals help you to maintain the right osmotic balance in order to keep everything working properly. When the minerals are missing your body has to reduce its own hydration levels to maintain the right levels of electrolytes.
6. The Importance of Sleep
Sleep is vital in maintaining youth. Poor sleep can impact virtually every aspect of your health. During sleep for instance, your brain cells shrink by about 60 percent, which allows for more efficient waste removal, or brain detoxification. Research also indicates that sleeping less than six hours may increase your insulin resistance and risk of diabetes. Recent studies show that less than five hours of sleep at night can double your risk of being diagnosed with angina, coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. The same appears to be true when you sleep more than nine hours per night.
Sleep has many other important benefits. For one, you produce melatonin when you sleep. Melatonin has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Another study found that after sleep deprivation, blood sugar levels take 40% longer to drop following a high-carbohydrate meal, compared with those who get plenty of sleep. The ability to secrete and respond to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, dropped by 30% in the study. These changes echo the effects of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. In addition, the sleep-deprived men had higher nighttime concentrations of the hormone cortisol, which also helps regulate blood sugar, and lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. These raised cortisol levels mimic levels that are often seen in older people, and may be involved in age-related insulin resistance and memory loss.
7. Reducing your Stress
A study published in Lancet confirms that eating a diet rich in vegetables while exercising and managing stress may modify cell aging and potentially help you live longer. It’s not rocket science… the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ really is true, and combined with other healthy lifestyle factors is the best ‘fountain of youth’ currently known to humankind. Other studies confirm this finding, stress accelerates cellular aging.
So there’s your 7 factors that age you. Can this be reversed? Well, there is a paradox to the paradox. We can in fact look and feel younger for longer with better health-habits, although we cannot live forever, we can slow down the process of loss. As Dr. Cooper said, it’s not that we age as it is that we accelerate that aging by the lifestyle choices we choose to make.
So here are 7 habits that can make you live longer.
Exercise is one of the fastest and most powerful ways to lower your insulin and leptin resistance, a factor that is known to age you. But exercise also helps your body to burn fat more effectively, which helps your body stay detoxified. Exercise, especially strength training triggers mitochondrial biogenesis, a decline of which is common in aging. Thus strength training reverses significant age-associated declines in mitochondrial mass.
This is not the first time researchers have linked exercise to mitochondrial changes. A 2011 review in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found that exercise induces changes in mitochondrial enzyme content and activity, which can increase your cellular energy production and in so doing decrease your risk of chronic disease.
Aside from impacting your muscle and fat tissue, researchers have also noted that exercise induces changes that may also benefit your liver, brain and kidneys. The mitochondria are the "power plant" of your cells, responsible for generating the energy that drives all metabolic functions and exercise increases their size and number.
2. Reduce your Stress
I realize that’s easier said than done, especially given the landscape of today’s politics, world problems, financial stresses and interpersonal relationship stress. But the fact is stress ages you. All of your feelings, positive or negative, create physiological changes. Your skin, heart rate, digestion, joints, muscle energy levels, the hair on your head, and countless cells and systems you don't even know about change with every emotion.
Stress plays a major role in your immune system, and can impact your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, and hormonal balance. It can even "break" your heart, and is increasingly being viewed as a cardiovascular risk factor. So it makes sense to reduce it where ever you can.
There are four factors that can help you reduce your stress. These are diet; what you eat; lifestyle: how busy and overwhelmed you are; cognitive factors, or how we perceive our situation; and the trigger, or that which takes you over the edge. Once you have identified these factors in your life, you can go about changing it and dealing with your stress.
I’ve mentioned sleep, or lack of it, in the 7 factors that age you. We know that 5 hours is too little and over 9 hours is too much. We also know from the previous blog that it is a major factor in allowing the body time to recover and detoxify itself. We also know that People with chronic insomnia have an elevated risk of death. Research indicates that the adjusted hazard ratio for all-cause mortality is three times higher in people with chronic insomnia.
4. Consume high quality fats.
Hard to imagine that fat is now considered healthy, but it’s not all fats, it’s mostly your omega-3 fatty acids and medium chain triglycerides. Correcting the ratio of omega-3 to healthful omega-6 fats is a strong factor in helping people live longer. This typically means increasing your intake of animal based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, while decreasing your intake of damaged omega-6 fats (think trans fats). Another excellent anti-aging fat is coconut oil, known to reduce your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, and lower your cholesterol, among other things.
5. Surround Yourself with Friends and Family
Harvard Professor of Public Policy Lisa Berkman, among others, cite social isolation as a significant factor in longevity. It would appear that those who isolate themselves more also have poor health and a shorter lifespan.
6. Avoid Pharmaceutical Drugs
Avoiding prescription drugs and the conventional medical system appears to be a good idea if you want to live a long and healthy life. According to data collected by the National Center for Health statistics, poisoning by prescription drugs has now surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. The most commonly abused prescription painkillers (including OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, and Soma) now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
If you watch what you eat, get enough sleep and exercise your chances of needing a drug to treat a health issue is greatly reduced. If you are already on drugs, find out how you can improve your health and wean yourself from them.
7. Improve your diet.
There are so many factors that improve your health and longevity from food. Another exciting anti-aging discovery is related to the process of slowing down telomere shortening. There is evidence that this can be done nutritionally, by consuming high quality whey protein and eating low oxidative stress foods. Getting plenty of high nutritious foods helps you to eat less and absorb more anti-oxidant rich foods to lower oxidative stress. Good sources include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, vegetables, and artichokes.
Incorporating these healthy lifestyle guidelines will help set you squarely on the path to optimal health and give you the best shot at living a much longer and more important, healthier life. Other healthy choices may be adding a little wine to your night. Yes, wine. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who drank 1-2 glasses of red wine per day (dry red wine, not sugary dessert wines) had higher levels of beneficial bacteria in their gut and lower levels of pathogenic bad bacteria in their gut.
The study concluded that while red wine consumption decreased pathogenic bacteria in the gut, it actually had a prebiotic effect in the gut in that it supported the growth and colonies of healthy gut microbes which protect your health.
Gavin loves to point out things that should be obvious to me but are not always knocking on my door for observation. He stated, upon reading this article that what we all really want is to age well and live a long, happy, and active life that is free of disease and health troubles next to the ones we love. I do not think I could have said it better.