To ageless aging players, the most insidious foe you will ever have to pit your wits against is Kronos - the god of time. There appears to be no way to destroy what Milton called his `silent touches'. We can, however, go a long way towards softening them.
As science probes the secrets of the cell and begins to decipher the genetic code, theories about slowing down the process of aging are rapidly turning into practical techniques for doing so. Researchers have already been able to do this for animals and in some cases even to reverse age-related changes. Now they can also double an animal's life span. The patterns of age-changes in humans appear to be very similar to those of the animals they are working with.
the three faces of aging
There are almost as many theories as to what aging is all about as there are scientists studying the process. Generally speaking, however, research falls into three main areas about which there is much agreement: `genetic clocks', random damage and the immune system. First, there seems to be some kind of internal genetic `clock' or `clocks', the control for which is probably centered in the cells themselves or an area of the brain, that appears to `switch off' specific vital functions at certain times. This could account for a number of `life events' that tend to occur around the same period in almost everyone, such as the way women go through menopause. Just where and what these age clocks in the body might be is still debatable. Once we learn what they are, and how to manipulate or to reset them, we should be able to reprogram predetermined occurrences so that our bodies age much more slowly. But there is, as yet, very little in the way of practical treatments or advice from age researchers on how to do this.
The second major area of age research and practical methods designed to slow aging lies in the process of cumulative wear and tear your body goes through - the kind of random damage on a cellular level which is triggered by external agents such as ultraviolet light, air pollution, poisons in food or in the environment, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or simply the by-products of metabolism in the body. These influences result in the formation of free radicals - highly reactive molecules which do serious damage to the body. Alex Comfort once referred to these free radicals as `promiscuous' because, `like delegates at a conference, they seem to race around frantically combining with everything'. They are a major cause of `cross-linking' which makes your body's protein tissues age rapidly and results in wrinkled skin, stiff limbs and a degenerating cardiovascular system. About combating age-related changes in this area there is much information and even a number of practical suggestions of what you can do now.
the all-important immune system
Central to the whole question of aging is the third area of intensive research, which investigates the role that a gradually weakening immune system plays in aging. As you get older your immune system, which is responsible for protecting your body against invasion, illness and allergy, gradually loses these capacities. Its function declines and your body becomes more susceptible to illness, bacterial invasions and deterioration. A poorly functioning immune system is also much more likely to attack your body's own cells in error. This produces what are known as `auto-immune' disorders such as arthritis. When your body is not able to repair random damage done by wear and tear, you get into a kind of vicious circle of age decline where the immune system is further weakened. In turn, it is less able to protect your body from further random damage. A lot of people have come to believe that this downward spiral is an inevitable part of growing older. But is it? There are a number of very good treatments that appear to offer support to the immune system and prolong its potency. Some may even help prevent aging and repair random damage at the same time. They can play an important part in any well-informed bid to keep Kronos in his place. An editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association not long ago stated that, `Nature did not intend us to grow old and ill'. We are instead, it said, supposed to `die young in old age, but free from disease'.
You can look and feel great at 60 or 70 and beyond; you need never lose brain power as the years pass. Time doesn't have to take its toll.
how old are you?
Not an easy question to answer. For, regardless of when you were born, you are at least three ages: your chronological age as measured by the calendar, your psychological age and your biological age - probably the most important of all. In fact, the latest research into aging indicates that the rate at which you age has but little to do with the simple passage of time. There are far too many other variables, like genetic inheritance, the food you eat, the way you live, your mental attitude and the number of pollutants in your environment - to name only a few. Interestingly, the things you do to achieve a state of high-level wellness and vitality just happen to be the things which many age researchers insist are important in slowing down body degeneration. But, some insist, there are a number of other things you can do as well. The most important of all is to eat less. Weight does add years!
secrets of the long-lived
Dr Alexander Leaf, from Harvard Medical School, spent several years studying three cultures where the people were exceptionally long-lived (some claimed to be as old as 140), but who at the same time showed few signs of degenerative changes traditionally associated with age. They were the Vilcabamba Indians in an Andes valley, the Hunzas in a mountainous part of Kashmir, and the Abkhazians in Soviet Georgia. They suffered neither tooth decay, heart disease, mental illness, obesity nor cancer. Leaf wanted to find out what these peoples had in common and to discover the secrets behind their youth. He discovered that they led extremely active lives, regardless of their age, and that they had vigorous sex lives well into their 80s and 90s. Men and women of ninety or more also spent many hours each day in physical labor - for physical fitness was an inevitable consequence of the active life of these peoples. They also ate a very low calorie diet. While the average Briton or American eats somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 calories a day, his Vilcabamban brother contents himself with a mere 1,700. Also, in all three groups, their diet was low in fats and in proteins from animal sources and high in fresh foods, a great many of them eaten raw. All of their foods were grown organically, as these people had no access to artificial fertilizers. They had never heard of sugar but ate mostly rough grains, fresh vegetables and fruits.
eat less and stay young
More than 80 years ago a researcher at Cornell University, Clive McCay, noticed that brook trout which were growth-retarded as a result of being underfed lived far longer than normal-sized trout. He experimented with rats to see what effect feeding them on a very low calorie diet from birth would have on their life span. He found that these animals on a calorie-deprived diet - which was carefully supplemented with nutrients so the rats did not suffer deficiencies - had increased life-spans. This was by far and away the most exciting practical discovery anybody had made in the area of how to make an animal live longer. But it was relatively useless to human beings since nobody would attempt to restrict a baby's diet in the same way from birth, because of the possible risk of brain damage. Also restricted animals are smaller than fully-fed ones and a small percentage of the restricted group tends to die very young. So for many years McCay's findings were largely ignored by those looking for concrete anti-aging methods.
In the 1980s, however, a number of studies in the United States and Australia were begun into the effect of calorie restriction on life span of `middle-aged' animals - studies not begun on the animals until, in human terms, they are in their forties. One of the scientists who did much in this area was Roy Walford, a professor at the University of California Medical School and one of the world's leading experts on aging. In projects which Walford described as `undernutrition without malnutrition' - administering a diet low in calories but high in basic nutrients such as vitamins and minerals - he was able to add 40 percent to the maximum life span of mice and keep fish alive 300 percent longer than usual.
underfeeding improves immune responses
The exact mechanisms by which dietary restriction extends life is still largely a mystery. But researchers do know that a low-calorie-but-nutritionally-potent diet substantially improves immune system functioning - in effect, by rejuvenating it - so that signs of auto-immune responses are markedly reduced. It seems also to protect the immune system from the usual age degeneration an animal is subjected to so that its ability to combat disease and eliminate toxic materials from the body, which ordinarily declines to a level of 10 or 20 percent of what it was in youth, occurs only very slowly. Instead, the immune response of these highly nourished but underfed animals remains excellent. Their bodies, unlike those of `normal' aging animals, are able to repair much of the age-related damage that occurs at a cellular level and are prevented from turning against themselves.
Restricted animals also show increased intelligence and have a much lower incidence of degenerative illness such as cancer and heart disease. What disease does occur comes only much later in the animal's life. And how great a calorie restriction appears necessary to bring about these beneficial changes? The diet of Walford's mice had been restricted by about a third of the calories they were raised on.
Walford's work and the work of other scientists using calorie restriction has generated a great deal of excitement about what human beings might do now to lengthen life span and to avoid age degeneration. Many age experts have begun to recommend that healthy people who have already attained their full growth and maturity could benefit from restricting their calories to somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day (depending on how active a life you lead). But cutting down on calories is only half the formula. It just won't do to go on some slimming regime you find in a magazine, you need high-potency nutrition with it. Processed foods play no part in any such diet. The foods that you do eat have to be superbly high in nutritional value: fresh fruits and vegetables (as many as possible eaten raw), whole grain cereals and breads, pulses and seeds with very little fat and only moderate protein. Your food intake has to be balanced and no salt should be added to foods - salt is something that in animal studies has been shown to shorten life span considerably. Such a diet is, by its very nature, also high in fiber. Most experts also insist that you supplement your diet with a full complement of essential vitamins and minerals.
is ageing all in the mind?
Perhaps more than you might think. Psychologists have found that many of the changes that take place in our bodies and minds associated with aging depend on our `programmed expectations'. In our society it is assumed for instance that, at thirty the first wrinkles appear, at forty `middle-aged spread' sets in, and at seventy the mind begins to lose its clarity. But according to studies only 12 percent of the population has even the slightest predisposition to the kind of changes that result in senility; yet as people get older they become increasingly worried about it until they may work themselves into a kind of vicious circle of depression and anxiety which results in decline. How you age may have a lot to do with what you expect to happen. Change your expectations and that can change too.
regular fasts can help too
Periodic fasting of animals is another way of restricting calories which has shown itself to be useful in increasing their life span. This is a fact which I find particularly interesting because European experts on fasting have for a hundred years been saying that, done sensibly and regularly for short periods and in combination with a nutritionally excellent diet, fasting will make you live longer and reduce the incidence of illnesses.
Roy Walford tended to be slightly more liberal with his own calories than sticking to a rigid 1,500 a day. But he then fasted for two days a week in order to end the week with the recommended number of calories. He claimed that a healthy normal weight adult will lose weight on such a regime but only very slowly until you are, say, about one fourth to one fifth of the weight you were when you started. Such weight loss appears to have no disadvantages (unless you fancy yourself slightly plump for aesthetic reasons) and indeed may be an important factor in the way such a calorically restricted, but nutritionally superb, regime appears to improve immune functions. And because the weight loss is so slow - it occurs in normal weight people at a rate of, perhaps, six pounds a year until they reach their `plateau' at which they remain - there is no chance of becoming flabby or tired from it. Indeed, such a regime tends to create the most extraordinary amounts of energy, according to people following it.
raw power for youth
A diet high in raw foods (where they make up 75 percent of the calories you eat) has quite remarkable rejuvenating abilities. It raises the micro-electric potentials of the cells, increases oxygenation and eliminates stored wastes and toxins which interfere with proper cell metabolism and cause cross-linking. It will also keep you mentally alert, make you lose excess weight and it tends to eliminate feelings of depression associated with aging.
regular exercise keeps you fit
Your body was made for use. When you regularly pursue an aerobic form of exercise, you help to protect your cardiovascular system from arteriosclerosis (which is otherwise inevitable) and you increase your metabolic rate, which helps protect against fat - a precursor to many degenerative diseases. Exercise also protects you from disturbances in blood sugar such as adult onset diabetes and from high blood pressure, and relieves many mental conditions often associated with age such as depression. Aerobic exercise improves circulation and optimal oxygenation of the tissues in your body - one of the most important measurements for health and vitality.
exercise makes you look younger
As far as good looks are concerned this increased circulation brings to your skin cells a better supply of the nutrients needed for their proper functioning. It also more efficiently carries away wastes, which can contribute to genetic damage in your cells, and to cross-linking of the collagen which produces wrinkles. Albert Kligman, one of America's leading dermatologists, believed that exercise may serve another purpose in retarding skin aging as well: if you keep yourself really fit you may lay down more fibrous proteins in the dermis, that deep layer of the skin where the structural network of collagen and elastin fibers gives strong young skin its firmness and cushiony feel. Then your face will preserve its youthful contours.
Another way in which vigorous exercise helps to hold back skin aging is connected with the relationship between muscle and hormone production in the body. The amount of physical activity you get is a significant factor in maintaining optimal functioning of endocrine glands which provide hormones that are not only vital to youth and energy, but keep the skin smooth and soft in appearance. When you don't work out regularly, muscle mass declines. So does the amount of steroid hormones from the adrenals and sex glands - in direct proportion to the decrease in muscle mass, not (as was once believed) simply as a result of the aging process itself. Rebounding, swimming, dancing or running for 30 minutes or more several times a week can prevent these degenerative musculo-skeletal changes from happening and help you maintain optimal levels of hormones essential to skin softness and resiliency. When you are inactive, even for as little as 24 hours, your muscle mass starts to deteriorate.
the exercise-age controversy
Lounge lizards are forever congratulating themselves on the fact that they don't `waste their time' exercising. They cite well known studies which are purported to show that exercise will make you die younger. It's a great excuse. The trouble is that when you examine some of the research they refer to you find that it is all based on the popular method of examining death records of athletes - a method that is faulty in a number of ways. For instance, there was a study carried out at Michigan State University comparing 629 varsity athletes with 583 non-athletes, which showed that there was no difference in life length. Another at Harvard involving some 6,300 athletes showed that they died significantly earlier than the non-athletes. Their definition of the athlete was someone who was active athletically while at university. But the problem is that just because a man plays football or runs during his university career does not mean that he continues to exercise afterwards. Most athletes give up their training once they leave the atmosphere of the university. This was demonstrated by an interesting study carried out at University of Auckland in New Zealand. Looking at the training habits of 100 athletes out of season, Michael Colgan and his team of researchers found that only 34 of them continued training once the season finished. Studies examining the death records of former university athletes are of no use in determining what effect regular exercise has on life span.
The only studies that are able to assess the effect of training on aging are those which attempt to measure how active a person is throughout his life, such as the one published in 1977 by Charles Rose and Michael Cohen from the Veterans Administration Hospital in Boston. With the help of relatives who were able to rate their level of physical activity from sedentary to very active, researchers - using the death records of 500 men - discovered that men who continued throughout their life to exercise in their leisure time lived 7.1 years longer than those whose level of activity had declined with the passing of the years. Other studies have shown that ordinary athletes who continue to exercise even as they grow old (up to 90 in some cases) show much less physical degeneration than non-athletes. They shrink in height only half as much, have a far better musculo-skeletal system, less body fat, and better heart and lung function.
hydrochloric acid and aging
A decline in hydrochloric acid in the stomach is a common event with the passing of the years. It results in an inability to break down proteins in your foods into their constituent amino-acids so that the body can make use of them for rebuilding tissue and making enzymes and hormones. This can be remedied by taking food supplements of HCL and digestive enzymes with meals containing protein foods. This is especially true with animal protein foods.
diet, exercise and rejuvenation
Not only can changing to a highly nutritious diet and getting yourself into a program of regular aerobic exercise help retard your own aging rate and make you feel great, it can also rejuvenate your whole body, quite apart from whether or not you choose to make use of any of the other anti-aging devices now available - from nutritional supplements to organic-specific antisera.
Your body is not the fixed size and shape you may believe it to be. It changes slowly with use. And these changes can be for the better or for the worse. Most of your body's cells completely renew themselves so that the cells you have today are not the ones you will have five years from now. I have seen bodies and faces with flaccid muscles and loose skin be transformed in a few months by those two simple things, diet and exercise. They are far more powerful than any of the more sophisticated and more expensive rejuvenation treatments and really they will cost you nothing more than commitment and a little time.