Aging is inevitable, but how you age might not be.
There is wide individual variation in the aging process. The signs – wrinkled skin, decreased muscle mass and bone mineral density, age spots, sensory changes (a decreased sense of taste, smell, and sight), and blocked arteries or the onset of disease show up at different times in each person. How your parents aged is a good indicator of how you’ll grow old, but the fields of science and nutrition are providing evidence that our rate of aging might be within our realm of influence more than we once realized.
The most widely accepted theory of aging is the free radical theory. Free radicals are unstable molecules produced inside and outside the body from cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants, exposure to radiation and ozone, stress, constipation, and inflammation. They break apart healthy tissues causing wrinkles, blocked arteries, and impaired memory.
While the body produces enzymes to guard against free radical damage, antioxidant nutrients provide a mighty secondary defense system. The antioxidants listed below are currently being investigated as our best defenses against the aging process
Vitamin C: The famous antioxidant, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid is associated with fewer wrinkles and slower appearance of the signs of aging. One of vitamin C’s most important functions is the formation and maintenance of collagen, the basis of connective tissue and elasticity of our skin, ligaments and cartilage. Another anti-aging effect of vitamin C is its role in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis. It has been shown to reduce platelet aggregation, a factor important in reducing the formation of plaque and clots. Vitamin C needs increase with all kinds of stress – one of the reasons why stress promotes aging. Birth control pills, estrogen for menopause, cortisone use and aspirin use also increase ascorbic acid needs. Vitamin C must be obtained from the diet, the best sources being raw, brightly colored fruit and vegetables.
Resveratrol: Resveratrol first received attention in 1992 when it was attributed to the cardio-protective effects of wine. Since then, numerous published clinical studies have shown its beneficial effects on health and longevity, and today, resveratrol is available in a different type of bottle as a popular nutritional supplement. Wine is not the sole source of resveratrol, however. It’s also found in grapes, peanuts, mulberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Harvard researchers suggest that resveratrol intake mimics the effects of calorie restriction, increasing DNA stability and extending the lifespan of yeast by 70%. 5 Whether or not these results translate to humans still remain to be seen.
Quercetin: A powerful antioxidant, quercetin is a flavonoid obtained from the white, inner rind of citrus fruit as well as apples, buckwheat, capers, and onions (particularly red onions). In vitro, quercetin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, reducing heart attack risk and working like an anti-histamine to treat allergies. 6 In vitro research also shows quercetin’s anti-cancer properties, inhibiting the growth of cancer cells from the breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, endometrial, and lung tumors. 7 However, there is some evidence that the antioxidant may act as a pro-oxidant under certain conditions, so until more is known, it’s best derived from foods rather than supplements. 8
Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone): CoQ10 is made by the body and can be obtained in the diet, mainly from oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines, organ meats (liver, kidney, heart), and whole grains. Our cells have trouble generating energy without CoQ10, particularly when those cells are in highly active organs like the heart, which has almost twice as much CoQ10 concentration of any other organ. Predictably, heart problems benefit the most from CoQ supplementation, including angina, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and mitral valve prolapse. Though the American Heart Association will not endorse CoQ10 supplementation until further evidence is provided, cholesterol and statin drugs block the body’s production of CoQ10. 9 Some health experts strongly recommend supplementing with CoQ10 while on those drugs. 10 Doses for CoQ range widely, from 30-100 mg daily. With more severe cardiovascular problems, the required amount is greater.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA): This small, sulfur-containing antioxidant plays a direct role in protecting our cells from oxygen damage. Alpha-Lipoic Acid derived from food or supplements directly scavenges free radicals and recycles and augments the function of other antioxidants like vitamins C and E. More recently, topical ALA has entered the anti-aging scene largely thanks to Yale dermatologist, Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of The Perricone Prescription: A Physician’s 28-Day Program for Total Body and Face Rejuvenation, who claims that ALA this “superior antioxidant helps defer visible signs of aging.” 11 Food sources of ALA include dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach and collard greens, broccoli, steak and organ meats.
If the mounting scientific literature doesn’t convince you to try supplements, keep your anti-aging regimen simple by loading your diet with brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. Citrus, spinach, berries, broccoli, and apples are rich sources of antioxidants and provide numerous other anti-aging and health-supportive properties.
References1] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 4, 1225-1231, October 2007
2] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 4, 1225-1231, October 2007
3] PNAS vol. 101 no. 23 8797-8802, June 8, 2004
4] JAMA, Vol. 281, No. 15, April 21, 1999.
5] Howitz KT, Bitterman KJ, Cohen HY, Lamming DW, Lavu S, Wood JG, Zipkin RE, Chung P, Kisielewski A, Zhang LL, Scherer B, Sinclair DA. Small molecule activators of sirtuins extend Saccharomyces cerevisiae lifespan. Nature 2003 Aug 24:5 pp (online).
6] British Journal of Nutrition 2006;96:482-488.
7] Int J Cancer. 2005;114:628-633; Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14:805-808; Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2006;4:1035-1038.
8] Mol Cell Biochem. 2007 Feb;296(1-2):137-49.
9] Cardiovascular Diseases. Research in Biomedical Aspects of Coenzyme Q10. Tel (903) 595-3778, Fax (903) 595-4962 1107 Doctors Dr., Tyler, Texas 75701,USA.
10] Michael B. Schachter M.D., F.A.C.A.M. http://www.mbschachter.com/coenzyme_q10.htm