Finally, an important aspect of both dental and general health is immunity. It has been determined that a suppressed immune system is associated with the rapid progression of periodontal disease. A Midwestern research group found that cigarette smoking was one habit that dragged down immunity and sabotaged periodontitis treatment (4). Other lifestyle behaviors that theoretically could do the same include poor eating habits, stress and other immune depressors.
Myth #3: The older I get, the sicker I'll get.
It's true that as we age, our physiology changes. These changes can lead to poor health if not addressed. But old age doesn't have to mean feeling sick and tired. An important part of staying well into the older years is keeping your immune system operating at its peak.
Aging is generally associated with lagging immunity and consequently more infections especially of the respiratory system. However John Hopkins' Professor Chandra discovered that when independent, apparently healthy, elderly people were fed nutritional supplements for a year, their immunity improved. Immunological responses were so marked that those who were supplemented (versus the placebo group) were plagued with less infections and took antibiotics for less days. It should be noted that these effects were achieved with a moderate amount of nutrients in a balanced formula; megadoses of some vitamins can actually impair immunity (5).
Besides taking care of your immunity with supplementation, diet, exercise and other measures, you can prevent many age-related diseases with specific health precautions. For example, there is evidence that smoking and low plasma levels of vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene contribute to cataracts (6). Dr. Dean Ornish showed that a one year program of stress management, moderate exercise, no smoking and a low-fat vegetarian diet may reverse the development of coronary atherosclerosis. Left untreated, atherosclerotic plagues usually continue to grow (7).
Many other chronic diseases can also be prevented or treated with lifestyle changes. Calcium and magnesium supplementation helps some individuals with hypertension. Most are helped by high potassium foods (fruits and vegetables), salt restriction and weight maintenance. Keeping blood pressure under control can also decrease the risk of a stroke.
Adult-onset diabetes is usually treated best with dietary measures such as reducing simple sugars, consuming a lot of fiber and taking chromium supplements (8). It's estimated that half of all types of cancer are linked to diet. This explains why less fat, lots of fruits, vegetables and fiber, vitamins A, B6, C and E and zinc and selenium all appear to play a role in cancer prevention (9).
Myth #4: Lifestyle changes won't help me when I get old.
It's a mistaken notion that at a certain age, you reach the lifestyle modification point of no return. If you've used this as an excuse to cling to old, comfortable, unhealthy habits, it's time to let go. Of course, it's always best to live as healthy as possible as young as possible. But for those in their golden years, there's still plenty of hope.
Two of the most difficult habits to break, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, can, when discarded, yield great health results. In 1990, the Surgeon General at that time, Antonia Novello, MD, MPH, declared that "even people who quit smoking at older ages can expect to enjoy a longer and healthier life compared with those who continue to smoke" (10).