The good news is age doesn't have to mean forgetful days, heart attacks and brittle bones. As middle aged baby boomers approach the senior years, geriatric research is gaining momentum. We're learning how preventive health practices--exercise, diet, no smoking, alcohol and stress reduction--increase and enrich life.
Nutritional investigations are also uncovering the vital role vitamins and minerals play in age related illnesses. As you get older, your need for certain nutrients rise--something the current U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances don't take into account. Add to this the facts that the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, necessary for proper nutrient absorption, and skin capacity to manufacture vitamin D from sunlight both decline with age. In some cases, vitamin and mineral supplementation is the only way to overcome these problems and diminish the ravages of old age.
Slow Aging with Antioxidants
More and more ailments, including chronic diseases of old age, are being blamed on free radicals. Experts theorize that these highly reactive molecules speed up aging and promote cancer. It's the free radical's unpaired electron that makes trouble, as it scrounges for a partner--almost any molecule will do--before it will rest. This snatching up of protein and other bystanders by free radicals damages cells and tissues, the basis for aging's aches, pains and afflictions.
The first and largest source of free radicals is your own body, odd considering the harm they cause. Your body uses oxygen to burn food and create energy, not unlike blowing on a smoldering fire to increase its flame. Free radicals are the sparks that fly off this metabolic blaze. Your body stomps out these free radical sparks with its own stockpile of firefighters called antioxidants, such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Even melatonin, the hormone released by your pineal gland, has antioxidant capabilities says Ronald Klatz, DO, President of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.
However, free radicals are exceedingly helpful in the right amounts. In a sense, they're part of your immune system. White blood cells harness free radicals to disarm invading germs, and the liver uses them for detoxifying hurtful toxins. It's ironic then that an aging, faltering immune system is partly due to free radical overload (1).
In today's world it's easy to push your burden of free radicals over the top with pollution, too much sun, pesticides, radiation, some drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, rancid fats, and even frequent flying or exercise. These stressors also tend to eat up antioxidants and other nutrients. When free radicals climb too high or antioxidants fall too low, chronic diseases and premature aging are more likely to ignite. Richard Cutler, PhD, investigator at the Gerontology Research Center of the National Institute on Aging, says studies suggest an almost linear relationship between life span and antioxidant levels in some animals (2).
Luckily Mother Nature has given us a shopping cart of foods that experts believe possess antioxidant abilities such as lectins in legumes, indoles in cabbage, and terpenes in citrus fruits. Many antioxidant herbs hold a special affinity for particular body parts. For example, the flavonoids in milk thistle target the liver. Those in ginkgo biloba are attracted to the central nervous system, including the brain. Pycnogenol, derived from pine trees or grape seeds, is actually the registered trademark of a flavonoid called procyanidolic oligomer or PCO. This antioxidant may prevent cancer (3), and treat high blood pressure (4) and poor vision (5).