Much of the time, life seems to be pretty smooth. We can move along with a little stress, a little digression from a good diet, an occasional cold, and the occasional whiff of carbon monoxide fumes from another car at a stoplight. However, if you analyze all of the various types of contacts our bodies have throughout the days and years, it seems almost overwhelming. There are free radicals, lipid overloads, excess insulin, excess sugar intake, toxins absorbed by the colon from over-nutrition, and an inability to burn calories because of muscle loss secondary to non-use. There are ultraviolet lights, external toxins, parasites circulating in your body or your GI tract, viruses, bacteria, toxic and oxidized food products, and an acid pH in your body in addition to microwaves from cell phones and kitchen microwave units.
Lack of adequate vitamins and minerals in food grown in depleted soil, an often inadequate response of the body to form good antibodies, and lack of immunity to many of these elements that attack us are a reality. As we age, the cells learn how to divide on their own without any direction and can become cancerous, and our mechanism for preventing this breaks down primarily because of a lack of nutrients, too much stress, and a depleted immune system.
In addition to these assaults on our health and longevity, there can be other things as well. Your genetic makeup may predispose you to illnesses such as diabetes or stress which is overwhelming. Inability to avoid toxic substances in your job or environment or poor knowledge of what to eat can be real problems. However, with the right information, you can reduce your risk of exposure to these negative assaults. You must be vigilant by gaining as much knowledge as you can and then perpetuating what good health you have by promoting healthy alternatives. For example, even if you have a small muscle mass genetically and you are in a sedentary job, you still have the ability to exercise and build your muscle mass so that it can burn calories and help reduce your risk for developing disease.
So, what are some of the things we can do to really make a difference? I received an email from a friend, which prompted me to give her the “full picture” about how some of these factors were really affecting her health. Her question was about a company that advertised a product which is supposed to help maintain the length of the body’s telomeres. Telomeres are small particles at the tail-end of our chromosomes that break off into component parts due to aging. Unfortunately, we only have a certain number of these telomeres, and their preservation is important for a long and healthy life. Now, make no mistake about this, any product which helps to nurture telomeres is a good product. However, there are many, many other factors which need to be dealt with first before you decide to take this supplement.
What we find, however, is that people want an easy and quick solution like taking a pill or getting a shot to solve the problem of aging without doing their homework on understanding all of the other assaulting agents which cause aging. For example, if you have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, you need to stay on a low-glycemic diet, keep your body mass index down on the lower end of normal for your age and sex, so that you can prevent the “penetrance” of the gene and ultimately developing the disease process.
We also know that in spite of all the studies that have been done, there is only one real factor proven to extend lifespan. This is relative caloric restriction with adequate nutrition. That means keeping your body weight stable, reducing your food intake, and always having a nutrient spectrum of food. The nutrient spectrum of food includes proteins, carbohydrates, fat, and water. It also includes 30-odd minerals and vitamins that are not produced in the body and which you cannot live without. In addition, there are the phytonutrients (green chemical nutrients) that nurture cellular function and growth. For example, in green vegetables there are anti-cancer chemicals and chemicals that nurture your brain. In spices, there are many antioxidants, and in chocolate the same is true. Coffee, tea, cumin, or curry powder have huge amounts of antioxidants that can help reduce the onslaught to your body by free radicals, which are produced from minute to minute in your body day and night.
In addition to thinking of these very basic things, being aware of ingesting hydrogenated or trans fat or excess sugar would be next on the list. Ingesting excess food and in particular the “bad” fats cause a problem in your body which relates to the deposition of AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products). These compounds are produced in your body from a combination of fat and protein. It is very similar to the glaze on your ham, and when found in the body, they are able to crystallize in your muscles and joints. This is one of the things that causes stiffness with aging. Most people who are on a caloric-restricted diet and mind their intake of fat and protein don’t have this type of stiffness and are able simply to get up in the morning and start moving without having to have that stretching period to get their joints working. In laboratory animals, the consumption of AGE-rich diets causes increased elevated circulation and tissue diseases such as arthrosclerosis, kidney disease, and decreased wound healing.
Some of the worst offenders for elevated AGEs include broiled steak, pan-fried steak in oil, margarine, fried eggs, and American cheese. Others include butter, sesame oil, and fried bacon. Marinating with lemon juice or vinegar before cooking can limit the AGE-generation potential of foods. We know that these techniques have long been a feature of Mediterranean and Asian foods, two cultures which have traditionally had longer life spans and freedom from heart disease and diabetes. Also, even though these particular foods have high AGE-factors present, eating smaller quantities of them helps reduce the incidence of these negative factors in the foods absorbed into the body. Although Advanced Glycation End Products have been studied for quite a while, there is a lot of new information evolving, particularly in regards to dietary intake. Keep your eyes open for this concept or go on-line and learn more about it so that you can protect yourself even further.
In addition to all of the other negative factors, viruses, bacteria, parasites, microwaves, and even excess ultraviolet light can attack us or reduce our immune system to the point that it is not very responsive. The immune system can be nurtured by eating a well-rounded diet such as the Zone, which includes protein, good carbohydrates, and good fat at every meal and snack. It really goes back to the same old story: don’t eat too much, be careful of what you eat, take your supplements (but remember that they don’t do everything), and always be aware of the factors lurking in your environment, your body, and your lifestyle which can prevent you from having a long and healthy life. Studies have been shown that people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s are some of the happiest people, as long as they are in good health. Here’s to your good health in the New Year!
Dr. Carraway is the director of the Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300 for more information.