COLUMN: Optimal Aging
I have had many patients ask about optimal aging recently, therefore I have written a more substantial article about the effects of inflammation and cortisol on aging and how to reduce these to age optimally!
What causes aging?
· Aging is a natural process that is accelerated by oxidative damage to our cells. Oxidative damage occurs with poor diets, increased stress, excess alcohol, smoking or drugs, and excessive sun exposure. While we can’t stop the aging process, we can take steps to reduce oxidative damage to our cells and therefore age more gracefully. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to decrease cortisol and inflammation in our body and enhance detoxification pathways (ie. support your liver’s ability to excrete environmental toxins).
What is the connection between cortisol, inflammation and cellular damage?
· As we now know, chronic inflammation is a cause of many diseases because it causes damage to tissues and cells. It does this by increasing reactive oxygen species and decreases our body’s antioxidant capacity. One of the major causes of chronic inflammation in North America is chronic stress.
· Our body produces the hormone cortisol anytime we encounter a stressful experience. Cortisol also plays a large role in regulating the inflammation in our body. For example, when we see a bear in the woods our cortisol spikes and actually reduces inflammation in the body. But when we have a stressful job, take on too many tasks, or have a family member who is sick, we are constantly producing cortisol and our bodies essentially forget how to regulate inflammation, leading to an overall increase in inflammation.
Exercising for cortisol reduction (except when we really need it!):
· Get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes per day (running, hiking, biking, yoga). Intensive exercise for 30 minutes or less per day helps reduce cortisol in your body (thus reducing chronic inflammation), however intensive exercising for more than 30 minutes per day increases cortisol (thus increasing chronic inflammation). Using exercise to decrease inflammation in the body and slow aging is truly about balance. An optimal exercise plan includes 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart rate up five times per week plus at least 30 minutes of calming and stretching exercises two times a week. Keep in mind that practices such as yoga help bring blood flow and oxygen to your muscles and cells while also decreasing your cortisol, and therefore should be practiced regularly.
· Adrenal support:
o Our adrenals are two little glands that sit on top of each of our kidneys and are responsible for regulating our stress response. The two major stress hormones are Cortisol and DHEA. DHEA is part of our parasympathetic response and helps us feel more calm and grounded. Cortisol is part of our sympathetic response and contributes to feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
o There are many herbs that help increase DHEA and decrease cortisol while teaching our bodies how to regulate our response to stress. Some of my favourites include Siberian Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Licorice.
· Fish oils
o Fish oils are one of the best tools for decreasing inflammation. Fish oil consumption also increases the good fat in your body and will also help with dry skin, dry eyes and dry hair. To see these benefits, you need at least 1200 mg of EPA per day (caution if you are on blood thinners).
· Mitochondrial support:
o CoQ10: a potent antioxidant and precursor to ATP. ATP is what gives energy to every cell in your body, therefore enhancing the function of all of your cells. Other excellent nutrients for mitochondrial support are magnesium and acetyl-l-carnitine.
· Liver support:
o Our liver is our main organ for detoxification and needs to be supported if we want to decrease cellular damage from environment toxins. N-acetyl cysteine, milk thistle and burdock root are all excellent remedies for the liver.
Tips to decrease stress:
· Turn off all screens (TVs, laptops, cell phones) and unplug WIFI 2 hours before going to bed. This helps reduce cortisol and also helps us get into a deep sleep where our body spends time repairing itself.
· 5 minute daily morning meditation (phone apps such as Headspace and Simple Habit can be very helpful)
· 30 minute daily yoga routine
· Know and respect your boundaries—say no when you have too much on your plate and accept help from others
· Manage your time — Set priorities knowing you can only accomplish so much in one day. Listen to yourself and if you do not feel like completing a task, switch gears and do a task you DO feel like doing. You can get back to the other task when you feel more motivated.
Mediterranean anti-inflammatory diet:
· Research has shown time and time again that people who follow or start following a traditional Mediterranean style diet live longer and have less chronic disease, largely in part to decreasing overall inflammation in the body. I suggest combining this with an anti-inflammatory diet to further decrease inflammation and cellular damage in the body. The basics of the Mediterranean & anti-inflammatory diet are:
· Predominantly plant based foods: fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds
o To further decrease inflammation, reduce wheat and gluten consumption and eat primarily whole, unrefined grains such as quinoa, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and millet
· Use olive oil as your principle source of fat
· Avoid highly processed foods
· Eat locally grown foods that are in season
· Red meat is consumed in low amounts (lean red meats 3-4 times per month)
· Use fresh fruit as dessert instead of cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc.
· Fish is consumed regularly
· Poultry and eggs are consumed in moderation (up to four times per week)
· Refined sugar intake is limited, with honey being the main sweetener
With all supplements listed above, please always check with your ND or MD to ensure they do not interact with any medications you are taking or any conditions you may have.