No one can say exactly which nutrients slow the aging process because we don’t know exactly why we age.
However, one of the major theories of aging, the “Oxidation and Free Radical Theory,” argues that aging is the result of accumulated cellular damage caused by free radicals and oxidation .
In other words, our mental and physical abilities are burned under piles of metabolic trash caused by oxidation and free radicals.
Using this theory, many nutritional healers recommend the antioxidants and free radical scavengers found in foods and supplements. The antioxidants are a large “family” of substances that “patrol” the body, preventing the oxidants from “rusting” cells and tissue and “dousing” free radicals before they can grab electrons that are needed elsewhere.
Many vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other substances have antioxidant or free radical quenching properties, including:
• Beta carotene, the “plant form” of vitamin A, which is found in yellow, orange and dark green leafy vegetables such as carrots, spinach, collard greens, mangoes, broccoli and other foods. Almost all of us who are experts in the field of antiaging medicine believe that the powerful antioxidant and free radical properties of beta carotene (and the other carotenes) slow the aging process and the onset of associated degenerative diseases.
Despite recent studies questioning the vitamin’s efficacy against cancer, I continue to take beta carotene myself and recommend it to my patients as part of my anti aging program.
• Vitamin C, which is found in green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, citrus fruits and other foods.
• Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, which is found in soybeans, vegetable oils, nuts and other foods.
• Selenium, which is a mineral found in whole grains, poultry, meat and fish, and in smaller, variable amounts in vegetablesand fruits.
• Glut athione, which deactivates free radicals and is found in watermelon, asparagus, avocado, strawberries, oranges, squash, broccoli and other foods.
• Lycopene, which is a more recently recognized antioxidant that some researchers believe is more powerful than beta carotene. It is found in tomatoes, watermelon and other foods.
• Quercetin, which is a powerful antioxidant and member of the bioflavonoid family, found in many fruits and vegetables, including red and yellow oranges, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
• Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, mackerel and other fish, help to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, arthritis and other age related diseases.
The recommended doses may vary from practitioner to practitioner. Other foods that contain large amounts of antioxidants include garlic, onions, cantaloupe and chili peppers.
Here are some other nutritional anti aging techniques emerging from laboratories and being tested or put into practice by physicians and healers around the world. The science of anti aging is new, so there hasn’t been time to gather long-term data on all of the approaches. However, many show promise and should soon be helping us to remain healthy and vital as we move into our later years.
Acetyl L-carnitine. One of the major problems associated with biological aging is the loss of memory and mental acuity. We call this unhappy process age-associated memory impairment (AAMI); Generally speaking, we lose more than 1 percent of the brain cells called neurons every year from age 30 on, thanks to oxidation, free radicals and other processes.
Acetyl L-carnitine, which is closely related to the amino acid carnitine, is a natural compound that helps to keep these important neurons alive. In the past, the amino acid carnitine was used to help patients with certain heart and skeletal muscle problems. Doctors began to notice that the carnitine seemed to improve their elderly patients’ moods and affects, and began to wonder what it or its relative, acetyl L-carnitine, might do for the brain.
Acetyl L-carnitine apparently works by helping to prevent cellular debris from “piling up.” It is visible in the skin as “age spots.” Acetyl L-carnitine helps to reduce a substance called lipofuscin, which has long been associated with age related mental decline. And as an antioxidant, acetyl L-carnitine helps to prevent other damage associated with aging.
Alpha-lipoic acid. Although aipha lipoic acid has been known for more than four decades, only recently have medical researchers begun to appreciate its powerful effects against aging and disease. Alpha-hpoic acid is not a vitamin It is made by the body, but because we don’t make enough of it and because the natural production slows with aging, we must get more of it from supplements So it’s called a “conditionally essential” nutrient
Coenzyme QlO. Also called ubiquinone because it is ubiquitous everywhere) in plants and animals, coenzyme Q1O is a natural substance produced by the body. It works with the mitochondria, the “motors” of body cells, to extract energy from food. For years, in fact, cardiologists have been using Q10 to help increase the strength of heart contractions.
Some studies suggest that Q10 has other beneficial effects:
• Aiding in the reduction of high blood pressure.
• Aiding in the reversal of gum disease.
• Assisting in weight loss.
• Revitalizing the immune system and aiding in the fight against infections and biological aging.
• Serving as an adjunct in the treatment of cancer.
• Playing a role in life extension.
Most of these benefits come indirectly, as Q10 “revs up” the body on a molecular level. Coenzyme Q10 is available in health food stores.
DLPA. Phenylalanine (PA) is a natural amino acid found in foods, and used by the body for various purposes. Like other amino acids, PA comes in the “right handed” and “left handed” forms, which are mirror images of each other, just like your right and left hands. The right handed form is called DPA while the left-handed form is known as LPA. A 50/50 mix of the two forms produces DLPA.
DLPA also increases the levels of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, a natural substance that decreases as we age. Lower levels of norepinephrine increase our susceptibility to fatigue, depression, pain and other problems associated with aging. By boosting norepinephrine, DLPA helps to slow the advance of our biological age, even as the chronological age moves ahead.
Phenylalanine is found in eggs, cheese, beef, chicken, fish and other foods. It is also available in health food stores.
DMAE. DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) has been used to treat chronic fatigue and depression. It also seems to help combat the mental deterioration and memory decay that are associated with biological aging, and acts as a mild central nervous system stimulant.
DMAE easily crosses through the blood-brain barrier into the brain, where it plays a role in the formation of a very important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. DMAE helps to enhance the ability to scan the memory and retrieve information, an ability that often declines with age. It also helps to improve alertness and concentration, to moderate fatigue and depression and to increase energy.
Ginkgo bioba. Ginkgo biloba is made from the leaves of ginkgo trees, common to China. This unique substance contains terpenoid derivatives called ginkgolide A, ginkgolide B and ginkgolide C, plus biobalide and proanthocyanidins.
We’ve known for a long time that ginkgo biloba increases the flow of blood to the brain, as well as to peripheral parts of the body such as the hands and feet. Ginkgo helps to prevent blood platelets from sticking together inappropriately to form potentially dangerous clots, and is also a free radical scavenger. In the brain, ginkgo assists in cell metabolism and in the functioning of certain neurotransmitters.
Animal studies have shown that ginkgo bioba extract can finprove the memory process and the ability to retrieve what was learned. Studies in healthy humans have shown that extracts of ginkgo bioba can enhance memory and alertness. I have given ginkgo to my patients to help treat the deterioration of memory, attention span and vigilance caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain (cerebral insufficiency).
I’ve also been using ginkgo myself, as part of my own anti aging program. One of the beneficial side effects for me is that my previously cold hands and feet have warmed up. Generally, my patients take 50 to 60 mg, two to three times a day. Ginkgo bioba is available over the counter in health food stores.
Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by a tiny part of the brain called the pineal gland. When I was in medical school, we wondered about the pineal. We knew that it calcified with age, but we didn’t know what it did or what substance it made. Now we know that the pineal gland produces melatonin. Although melatonin is made in the pineal gland, it is only released when light fails to strike the retina; in other words, when it’s dark or we’re sleeping. Melatonin secretion is turned off by light, which means (for most of us) it is not released during the day.
One of melatonin’s primary functions is to nudge us off to sleep. Melatonin also stimulates the immune system and helps the body to fight infections and cancer. There are hundreds of studies showing its
beneficial effects against cancer, with a large number linking low melatonin levels to skin cancer (melanoma) and to breast cancer in women.
Lack of melatoriin has also been associated with immune dysunction and depression, two important problems of aging. As we get older, melatonin secretion drops off. Indeed, the maximum amount of melatonin released into the bloodstream of the elderly is only half of that of young adults. This most likely is the reason older people have trouble sleeping at night and are tired during the day.
Many researchers believe that we should look upon melatonin as one of the many biological markers of aging. They suggest that greater levels of melatonin in the body suggest that one is biologically younger. Melatonin is available in health food stores.
Warning: Melatonin should not be used if you have leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma or lymphoma. Pregnant or lactating women or those who wish to become pregnant should consult with their physicians before taking melatonin.
When selecting a nutritional healer, remember that there is no widely recognized school of nutritional therapy and no standards or agreed upon training for nutritional healers, except for Registered Dietitians, who tend to be very conservative in their approaches.