Dr. Eric Wood, ND, MA
The way that life has evolved in many Western countries, especially in places like the United States, it’s almost a guaranteed prescription for premature aging. In a culture that prioritizes work and excess over self-care, family and personal time, it’s a challenge for each of us to stay healthy and to prevent aging before our time in this era. In this article, we’re going to explore five of the biggest and most common culprits that are accelerating aging and age-related problems for many people and what you can do differently to turn things around.
Most people don’t realize that we have a certain amount of hormonal ‘raw materials’ that our bodies draw from to make all of our hormones. Namely, these materials are cholesterol and the cofactors needed to convert into the mother or father pregnenolone hormone. However, when we are stressed, much of our hormonal resources are diverted into making our stress hormone, cortisol, which helps the body cope with stress. This process is termed thepregnenolone steal.
While this system works well and contributes to our resilience as human beings, we are not without limitations. Over time, the body can ‘use up’ these hormonal resources, gradually leaving us hormonally imbalanced and depleted. Essentially, when hormones are not balanced, bodily function suffers. If hormonal levels are declining, this also accelerates the aging process. You see, cells and tissues rely on hormonal messages to repair, divide, replace and grow. And if these messages are diminishing and imbalanced in how they’re coming in, that tends to have negative effects on the body.
It is so important to maintain moderation and limits on our daily demands to prevent hormonal depletion. Note that this depletion also contributes to premature decline in fertility and menstrual irregularities for women! Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests, based on thousands of years of study and case research, that a healthy woman (not in premature hormone decline) should be able to conceive and deliver a healthy child through age 42, on average. Men do not experience as dramatic of a fertility or hormonal shift, but Chinese medicine suggests a similarly corresponding situation for men happens around age 48, with declining sperm quality, motility, health and reduced stamina (1). Ideally, for both genders, it is optimal to have your children before your late thirties, as common hormone decline associated with aging, mounting oxidative stress and declining egg reserves for women all conspire to make pregnancies and delivering healthy babies more and more difficult with increasing age.
Many people are unaware of whattelomeres are and why they’re important as it pertains to aging. My simple explanation is that telomeres are like the shoestring-caps on shoelaces, holding together the string. Except in our case, they ‘cap’ the DNA in our cells to keep it from unraveling. This mechanism is essential to ensure a cell can repair or replicate itself as needed.
Thankfully, research continues to illustrate more and more things we can proactively do to protect our telomeres. This includes eating a nutrient-dense diet low in refined sugars and carbohydrates, performing high-intensity interval training, employing intermittent fasting and supplementing strategically with evidence-based supplements such as resveratrol, magnesium, b12, folate, astragalus, omega-3, and vitamin D (2, 3, 4, 5). It also includes thingsnotto do such as smoking, drinking in excess, getting too little sleep (less than 7 hours nightly is widely agreed upon as too little), having high levels of continual stress, abusing and using excessive amounts of drugs (illicit as well as some prescriptions) and limiting environmental toxin exposure including high levels of EMF (i.e. electromagnetic frequency waves from electronic devices).
Nowadays, it is vital that we employ both proactive defensive and avoidance strategies to shield ourselves from the potential damaging vectors that can impact our telomeres negatively!
Many times, in and out of practice, I listen to many people from different walks of life complain about this thing and that thing going wrong because “they’re just getting old.” While aging is real and we haven’t yet unlocked the secret to reversing this process for all, much of what happens and the extent of what happens is connected to accruing nutritional deficits that can be readily corrected. Aging from such deficiencies can start as early as someone’s twenties and thirties!
Once these corrections are made, whole-body function can be improved, sustained and maintained in a variety of ways. For instance, I am now in my early forties and I am finding it easier to build muscle and be in the best shape of my life now than ever before. And that is due to smarter physical training, nutrient-dense eating and supplementing—not because I’m a genetic anomaly! Jack Lalane, one of the pioneers in physical fitness, was one of the early examples of someone who took his nutrition and physical training seriously for the majority of his life. This undeniably contributed to his considerable longevity, living to the age of 96 (6, 7).
This trend can be observed among many athletes in diverse sports such as swimming (Dara Torres), tennis (Serena Williams and Roger Federer) and football (Tom Brady), being able to compete still at the highest level well into their late thirties or early forties due to their strategic focus on optimal training and eating (8, 9).
Because I review many nutritional labs in practice, I see the common situation of individuals having multiple nutritional deficits that play active roles in many of their presenting health issues. Some of the most common deficits I see include:
All of these nutrients are important for many functions in the body including collagen repair, energy production, inflammation control and more, all of which are highly implicated in the aging process.
Every chronic disease plaguing Americans nowadays has inflammation as a common denominator. And inflammation, if chronic and unchecked, can be destructive to the body in many ways. One of its biggest driving forces is an imbalance in omega-6 versus omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. In traditional diets—those before the industrial revolution and the rise of big agriculture—the ratios between omega-6 and 3 were believed to be close to 1:1, or maybe 2:1. But over the last few generations, this ratio has become increasingly imbalanced, more commonly 15-20:1 in favor of omega-6 (10). When this happens, the excess of omega-6 drives and keeps inflammation up. Over time, that can contribute to tissue destruction in joints, heart disease and a host of other inflammatory conditions.
Thankfully, this problem is pretty easy to resolve if you have a desire to do so. It primarily involves cutting out the processed oils and fats found in refined fast foods and including real, whole foods as the foundation of your diet. These foods include nuts and seeds, olives, fish, free-range poultry, an abundance of vegetables, lower-sugar fruits like berries, green tea and other herbal teas.
Once you’ve reduced your intake of foods rich in omega-6, ensure you’re eating plenty of ground flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, walnuts and oily fish, which are some of the best food sources of omega-3. Top this off with a goodomega-3 supplement from fish, krill or algae (the most sustainable option), and you can make great improvements to your diet. Your body will thank you for it!
A revolution is coming in the medical understanding of age and disease reversal. It largely relates to the understanding of mitochondrial damage being a major underpinning of all degenerative processes in the body. For those of you unfamiliar, your mitochondria are the ‘powerplants’ in your cells that produce energy for the respective cells. That energy is used for an array of needs, including cellular repair and replication.
Unfortunately, mitochondria can be easily damaged by a lot of the same forces that damage your telomeres. Thus, it’s important to live proactively, focusing on minimizing negative habits and maximizing protective ones. This can help you stay ahead of the curve!
Many of the best nutrients for mitochondrial health have other health benefits for telomeres and overall improved function (11). These nutrients include
To avoid many of the common premature aging issues facing people as they move into their thirties and beyond, it is paramount to take a proactive, smart approach to your lifestyle. This includes paying close attention to nutrition, stress levels, supporting energy production and shielding the body from damaging forces that can shorten telomeres and lead to inflammation.
Thankfully, a variety of lifestyle and supplemental strategies are now easily accessible and evidence-based, helping anyone make proactive changes with the power to improve their ongoing quality of life.