Ageing is inevitable. We will all age and die. However, the relatively new profession of anti-ageing medicine could now greatly influence how early we descend into our decline. Anti-ageing medicine is unlocking the secrets of ageing and how to slow it down based on the principals of traditional medicine – evidence-based practice on a foundation of rigorous scientific research.
The oldest living human is now 122 years old and it is proposed that young adults of today may live until they are 150 or more. So what about the ageing population and the economic strife that it will incur for future generations? By 2050, there will be 3 times as many people retired as those working. It is unsustainable and will bring about global economic collapse.
The purpose of anti-ageing medicine is not to prolong life even when quality of life is poor as we are doing now with traditional medicine. It is to improve longevity so that we can still be healthy and independent and useful to society for much longer. Anti-ageing medicine takes a holistic view of a person’s health rather than just treating the disease. This is something “alternative” practitioners have been doing for a long time. What’s new is that now the doctors are doing it too. But it won’t necessarily be your local GP, you may have to find an anti-ageing practitioner. They are starting to pop up around the place now. Look for one who is a member of the Australasian Academy of Anti-ageing Medicine.
The Theories of Ageing
I have always thought ageing was just caused by the wearing down and wearing out of our bodies. Our joints pack up, our organs get tired (including our brain) and our skin gets wrinkly. So I suppose I am a believer in the Wear and Tear Theory of Ageing. But did you know there are many scientific theories of ageing? They all make sense and ageing is probably a combination of them all. Understanding these theories can empower us with the knowledge to fight ageing and the decay and disease that it brings.
The Wear and Tear Theory
This is the simple theory that we age because of insults to our bodies over time. Our skeleton is eroded and our organs – heart, liver, kidneys, skin – are worn down by toxins (sugar, fat, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, ultraviolet light, pollution, pesticides and emotional stressors). This damage accumulates and not only causes our body systems to work less efficiently, it decreases our ability to fight off further insults. What can we do to prevent this wear and tear? Avoid toxins and stress! Easier said that done I know and this article does not give you the solutions, there is abundant information out there. Some notable sites include Low Tox Life and The Whole Daily created and run by smart Australian women. This article can merely enlighten you as to how all the bad things in our life make us age. With that knowledge, we are able make the connection between action and reaction and how the lifestyle choices we make either reward or punish us.
The Genetic Control Theory
This is the idea that although we can’t change our genetic makeup, we can protect our genes in many ways so that the path of our programmed ageing (our genetic destiny) is altered. As we go about our lives, our DNA (which contains all our genes, there are approximately 20,000 of them) is damaged. DNA is constantly replicating to replace our cells and after a while bits break. Eventually the cells that are being replaced don’t always turn out the way they should, leading to mutants that either die or cause disease. The Genetic Control Theory proposed that it is the condition of our DNA that controls how we age as broken DNA leads to disease, illness and ageing.
The Genetic Control Theory is closely linked to another theory, The Free Radical Theory. We have all heard of free radicals and know they are bad for us but did you know why? Free Radicals are constantly being produced by the metabolic processes that go on inside our bodies. Other free radicals may be introduced from outside our bodies in the form of all those toxins I mentioned before. Free radicals damage us because they are atoms or molecules that have an extra electron. They unstable and are said to be in an oxidative state.
If you know any basic chemistry, you’ll have learned that all atoms (except hydrogen) have protons, neutrons and electrons. Stay with me, I’ll make it really simple. The number of protons should equal the number of electrons. If there is an extra electron, the atom is not happy and bounces around frantically trying to give away an electron to anyone who is passing so that it can regain equilibrium. They cause a lot of damage in the process. They target cell membranes, DNA and RNA, leaving a trail of destruction.
We can protect ourselves from free radicals by consuming nutritious foods that are known for their antioxidants properties or by taking antioxidant supplements like Vitamin E and Vitamin C. Antioxidants are guardian angels who travel around the body and neutralise the free radicals by taking that extra electron and leaving behind happy and stable atoms and molecules. They stop the destruction.
The Hayflick Limit Theory of ageing
This theory was put forward by Leonard Hayflick in 1961. If the Genetic Control Theory purports that ageing is caused by damage to our DNA, the Hayflick Limit Theory states that this same damage is a result of telomere shortening. Now, telomeres are pieces of junk DNA (DNA that doesn’t actually do anything) that sit at the ends of our proper DNA. They protect the ends of the DNA strands from damage. Just like you hem a fabric so it doesn’t fray, the telomeres prevent the fraying of our DNA by protecting the ends of it. When you hear about being tested for your genetic age as opposed to your year age, this is what they are looking at. How long your telomeres are.
Free radicals and oxidative stress are responsible for the damage to our telomeres just the same as it damages the rest of our DNA, so the answer is again antioxidants in the form of nutritious food and supplements and by reducing psychological and physical stress.
The Neuro-Endocrine Theory of ageing
This theory was developed by Vladimir Dilman in 1954 and is founded on the belief that it is the decline in neuroendocrine activity that makes us age. If our nervous system is the queen bee of our body, our hormones are the workers. Pretty much everything that happens in our body is the result of actions by our hormones. It is an unbelievably complex system that I am not even going to try to explain but if you keep this system running smoothly, your body will perform well. As we age many hormones decline. Especially after 50. After menopause. You can monitor your hormones and supplement them if necessary, something that your local GP may not tell you. Be proactive and ask about your hormones. Or find an anti-ageing practitioner. Your hormones will be one of the first things they investigate.
Inflammation Theory of Ageing
Inflammation is the body’s response to physiological stressors. The reaction to a stressor usually goes like this. We detect the stressor (hormones again). All sorts of biochemical reactions occur which lead to increased permeability of our blood vessels. In other words, your capillaries become leaky at the site of the injury. The purpose of this is to allow our Immune cells (our white blood cells) to get out of the blood stream and into the tissue that is damaged and attack the invaders and repair the tissue. This leakiness of capillaries is what causes the swelling and inflammation that you see when you injure yourself. Think hitting your thumb with a hammer or spraining your ankle. The problem is, more than just your white blood cells leak into that area, a lot of plasma goes with it and the swelling ends up causing more problems than the actual injury. That is why we ice and elevate our injuries, to stop the swelling. All that pooled fluid actually impedes circulation and slows down the healing process. Now imagine that same inflammation going on throughout your body in capillaries everywhere and you can see why inflammation is so harmful. Inflammation also causes increased mucous production. That constantly runny nose, sinus pain or mucous in you stools is a sign of chronic inflammation. And what is the stressor that the body is reacting to? Oxidative stress usually. Free Radicals.
And if that’s not enough, add to this The Autoimmune Theory of ageing that states that as we age, the ability of our immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies declines as does its ability to distinguish invaders from our own cells. So not only do we have capillaries leaking all over the place, we have immune cells leaking into our tissues that are attacking our own cells, not just the invaders. I don’t blame you if you want to stop reading now but I’ll try to finish this on a positive note.
You have the power. Go forth.
All of these theories have some truth. Ageing is a combination of them all. But no matter what sort of genes you were dealt when you were conceived, whether you have “good genes” or “bad genes” you can change your destiny for the better (or worse). If you are not already eating nutritious foods, exercising, meditating and abstaining from things that are toxic (almost impossible but moderation is a good start), it’s time to give it some serious thought. Ageing is not pleasant no matter how “normal” it is. I’m going to procrastinate. You can too.
If you are struggling to follow these principles. It’s time for some trickery. Personally I find the best way to trick yourself into giving up something you love or taking up something you don’t love is via hypnosis. Get the ideas into your subconscious and your conscious self will follow like a faithful Labrador. You don’t even need to leave the house let alone go into an expensive retreat or hire a psychologist. Just find some hypnosis or affirmation podcasts on iTunes or YouTube on whatever you want to improve and listen to it before bed. Plant those seeds before you sleep. Get them into your subconscious and watch the results unfold. You’ll be amazed at the changes you can make without even trying.
My personal favourite it The Honest Guys. They are English and have dozens of hypnosis exercises. If you prefer an Australian accent, Jason Stephenson is also good. He has some funky visualisations. Just find a 20 minute one to start with so you don’t get bored and make yourself do it for a week. After that you will be addicted and you can start to take control of your life instead of life controlling you. You don’t have to battle your dark side any more. Let your subconscious do it for you.
As for ageing. I hope this article has provided some insight into what ageing is and what you can do to slow it down. Knowledge is power. Know your enemy and keep it on the other side of the trench as long as you can. You only live once. Eat well, exercise, meditate. Give it all you’ve got.