Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Are you often obsessed with aging, or perhaps slowing it down? Many of us are, and we prove it over and over when we buy expensive creams and treatment lotions to smooth the wrinkles. Let’s face it, we all want to look and feel young. But looking and feeling young can be difficult when every day we lose approximately 432 billion cells. When we were young, those cells were easily replaced with 432 billion brand new cells. Unfortunately, age makes this more and more difficult with each passing year.
So, what can be done to slow this process? Our lifestyle can and does take a toll. With each turnover of the cell our DNA undergoes a systematic change. Each time your cell replicates, the DNA telomere, a tail like structure, shortens. When the tail cannot shorten anymore, it dies for good, never to be replicated. How efficient your cells are at "turning over" is determined in large part to your lifestyle choices. Good lifestyle choices can result in longer DNA telomeres while bad lifestyle choices result in premature shortening.
432 billion cells a day is a lot of cellular turnover. 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 a new layer of skin covering your entire body happens every four weeks. Even your entire heart is replaced every six to nine months! The liver, renown for its ability to regenerate, can renew and repair itself even if only 25% of the original tissue is remaining. About the only thing that doesn't regenerate is your brain... or at least until new studies indicated that even your brain cells have the ability to heal and regenerate themselves.
A recent review of the literature reveals that there are seven things that will make you sick or lead to premature aging.
While that might sound depressing, that is the reassuring part. You have control over how you age. Dr Kenneth Cooper MD and cardiologist 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! (sorry, spoiler alert). 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? Cooper ended his remarks by saying “It’s not so much that we die as it is that we kill ourselves through the lifestyles we choose”.
1. Lack of Exercise
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 and slow aging. So exercise not only reduces your risk of disease because it strengthens your organs and systems, but we now know that losing body fat also reduces your body’s capability of storing toxins. Toxins lead to accelerated free radical damage (aging) and premature death.
2. Consuming Sugar
A diet that is high in sugar (which includes processed foods, 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. Oh, and in case you were wondering, high sugar intake lowers your ability to burn fat too.
Processed foods are the primary culprit. Added sugars hide in 74% of processed foods under more than 60 different names. 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 over 60 different names in order to confuse the consumer and in order to lower the actual sugar gram content on the label.
Currently, Sugar accounts for 15 percent of the average American's daily calorie intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that number be reduced to no more than five percent, or roughly 25 grams (six teaspoons) per day. That's less than what's found in a single can of soda by the way.
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, we could live significantly longer. Dr. Kenyon is able to make such predictions through her research with roundworms. She was able to make C. elegans roundworms live six times longer than normal by eliminating what would amount to sugars and grains from their diet. Even more interesting, they also kept their health and youthful vigor until the end.
Now of course we are not roundworms, but her 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 these same genes, indicating these results should apply to us as well.
If that were all that cutting sugar did it would be wonderful, 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 inflammation.
We already know that insulin is a major accelerant of the aging process, and that 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 (blood vessels get smaller). 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.
For example, insulin resistance within the kidneys leads to chronic renal disease, within the brain manifests as Alzheimer's, and in the pancreas presents itself as type II diabetes.To reduce your overall risk of disease, you need to maintain low insulin levels and one of the quickest and easiest ways to do this is to avoid processed foods.
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. Did I mention that toxins age you faster?
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 prospective cohort 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), while eating high nutrient foods shuts off your hunger before you are full (satiety). See the difference?
In a nutshell, your hunger turns off when enough nutrients have been ingested. Eating foods low in nutrient content means you have to eat more before you reach that satiety level.
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 raising your risk of both obesity and diabetes. .
Specifically, the researchers found that artificial sweeteners alter metabolic pathways associated with metabolic disease. Decreased function was observed in pathways associated with the transport of sugar in the body. For example, artificial sweeteners were also found to induce gut dysbiosis (gut microbial imbalance) and glucose intolerance in otherwise healthy people. Glucose intolerance is a well-known precursor to type 2 diabetes, but it also plays a role in obesity, because the excess sugar in your blood stimulates the fat cell to store more fat.
Besides worsening insulin sensitivity and promoting weight gain, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners also promote other health problems associated with excessive sugar consumption, including cardiovascular disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
While poor diet is a major driver of Alzheimer’s in general (the primary culprits being sugar, fructose and grains, the key mechanism of harm here appears to be methanol toxicity—a much-ignored problem associated with aspartame in particular, and a particular area of interest in the new sugar alcohols being used in many “health” products.
Toxicology expert Dr. Woodrow Monte (author of the book While Science Sleeps: A Sweetener Kills), explains the links between aspartame and methanol toxicity and the formation of toxic formaldehyde.
3. Consuming Trans Fats
For decades, saturated fats were said to cause 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. The problem is that trans fat, along with sugar, is also a major contributor to insulin resistance. Americans' health has plummeted ever since, 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, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, is thought to act as 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.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed trans fats from the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list. This is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, instead of reverting to healthy saturated fats like coconut oil, lard, and butter, trans fats are being replaced with other non-saturated vegetable oils that produce toxic cyclic aldehydes when heated. These byproducts appear to be so harmful they may even make trans fats look benign in comparison, and we may not realize the full ramifications of this switch until a decade or two down the line.
4. Low Vitamin D
Optimizing your vitamin D stores can go a long way toward preventing disease and living a longer, healthier life. 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. 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.
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common with 41.6% of the US population finding themselves lacking in this important vitamin. You are especially at risk if you live in northern climates (such as Minnesota) because vitamin D is produced through a chemical reaction that is dependent on UVB light hitting your skin. Unfortunately, UVA light (causes sunburns) can get through easily during the winter but UVB is not as lucky. During the winter times, Minnesotans are exposed to no UVB light and therefore cannot make Vitamin D. While foods fortified in Vitamin D are enough to keep us from developing diseases like osteomalacia (softening of bone), they do not provide enough to protect us from chronic diseases such as cancer.