In part one of this article I began to explore my personal approach to health and longevity; that is, how to delay the usual pitfalls of aging as long as possible. As I discussed, while death is inevitable, the goal here is to have a joyous, fulfilling, and healthy life for as many years as possible along the way. I’ll share what has worked for me, my friends, colleagues, readers, and patients.
In part one I talked about:
1.) The Value of a Positive Attitude;
2.) Quality time spent in health relationships and,
3.) Stress management.
Let us turn next to:
4.) A healthy lifestyle including good diet, appropriate supplements, and regular exercise:
a. Lifestyle: Be careful not to overindulge in alcohol, drugs, or food. Beyond their effects on blood sugar and mood, drugs and alcohol also have toxic effects on the brain, liver, and other systems of the body. Don’t substitute food for drugs, either: excessive sugar and simple carbs will only make matters worse, playing havoc with your blood sugar levels, upsetting your mood, and draining your energy.
b. Diet: Have regular meals, of fresh, organic food. This includes lots of fruits and veggies (living foods), and a moderate amount of protein (fish, chicken, lean meat). It’s better to eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day rather than the 2- 3 large meals we are used to, and be sure to have a substantial breakfast. This eating pattern helps avoid large fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which are hard on the body and cause aging.
c. Nutritional Supplements: With age, our bodies are less resilient and forgiving. When younger, we were better able to compensate for deficiencies. Now, you must be more diligent in your supplementation. With stress, too, you need to replenish those lost in the stress response, which uses up many of the nutrients that we need to fully function both emotionally and physically. You can cover your bases by taking a high potency multi-vitamin and mineral combination that includes Vitamin B complex, vitamin C, D, E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, chromium, and manganese, plus trace elements such as boron, vanadium, and molybdenum. You’ll also need to pay special attention to antioxidants.
d. Antioxidants: A major contributor to aging are the “reactive oxidative species” (ROS), also called “free radicals. ” They are created both as by-products of normal metabolism and by the toxins that we ingest from our environment. Free radicals cause cellular damage, cell death, and ultimately, body death. The solution is taking large quantities of neutralizing antioxidants, in the form of both food (fruits and vegetables) and supplements. Antioxidants are potent anti-inflammatories, too, as well as immune system boosters, battling infection and even, potential cancers.
At this point, the American Cancer Society has joined the bandwagon of recommending increased fruits and vegetables for prevention. The most commonly recognized antioxidants are vitamin C, E, selenium, alpha lipoic acid, and plant extracts such as ginkgo, green tea, and ginseng. You need a whole array: they all work together like instruments in an orchestra, each with its own role in the process, to quench the dangerous free radicals. So, a single antioxidant, even in large quantity, won’t do it. Essential fatty acids in the form of fish, fish oil, and flax oil are also important for brain health, hormones function, and even, for soft smooth skin.
a. Supplements for Your Brain: As a psychiatrist by training, I focus a great deal on the mind. Mental capacity and mood are closely related to hormone levels, and respond well to hormone therapy. I also prescribe supplements based on specific deficiencies. For example, as we age, levels of vitamin B12 decrease due to difficulty in absorption, causing such symptoms as depression and mental fog. Treated by injection or sublingual tablets of vitamin B12, these symptoms often clear up nicely.
b. For depression I will also include amino acids such as 5 HTP and SAMe, plus an array of B vitamins and fish oil.
c. For anxiety, I recommend the amino acids, theanine, GABA, glutamine, and taurine, and the herbs, hops, lemon balm, and passion flower. I combine these in my CALM Natural Mind formula, available on my website.
Memory is a big issue in aging, and fortunately, we can save our brains! Besides exercising our brains with quizzes, crossword puzzles, social interaction, physical exercise is a known mental health enhancer. Antioxidants are essential for keeping our brains young, then add some other specific nutrients that have other actions. Here are some of the supplements that I recommend to preserve and protect our brain: phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl serine, acetyl-l-carnitine, ginkgo biloba, and vinpocetine. These can be found in my Brain Cell Support .For details, you can read my books, Natural Highs, and 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health.
My website carries a variety of formulas that address these mood and memory issues.
a. Sleep: Be sure to get enough sleep, since sleep deprivation can undermine overall health—and even cause weight gain. If you have trouble falling sleep, and/or staying asleep, take 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), kava or valerian, combined with some deep breathing. You can add some specific muscle relaxation exercises as well: in sequence, clench each muscle of your body for 10 seconds as you inhale, then release as you exhale to the count of 15. Again, avoid using prescription sleeping medications. They can be addictive, and lead to rebound insomnia when you try to quit. My favorite is my own formula: Nightly CALM, containing CALM plus valerian.
b. Minimize Medications: Half of the U.S. population is taking at least one prescription drug, and in the over- 65 age group, half take 3 or more. They have serious side effects, including nutrient depletion in an already depleted population. Before rushing to take prescription medications, with their side effects including possible addiction, try one of the many safe, effective natural remedies. In Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition, I explain how drugs deplete the body of essential nutrients, causing some of the known side effects (eg statins deplete coenzyme Q10 causing muscle pain and weakness, and cognitive problems). I explain not only how to protect yourself while taking prescription drugs, but natural substitutes for dealing with your condition.
c. Exercise: Use it or lose it. We were meant to move and without regular movement, we deteriorate. Don’t you better when you’re exercising regularly? At the age of 80+, my mother created a weekly aerobics class in her condo complex and invited her octogenarian friends to join her. They were all the better for it. Exercise increases circulation, oxygenates our cells including brain cells, enhances neurotransmitter production, helps us maintain our weight… and countless more benefits.
d. Hydration: To provide the substrate for our body chemistry, it’s important to drink the obligatory 8 glasses of pure water daily,. Often older people are poorly hydrated, and this can show up as impaired brain function. Just add water and see what happens!
5. Hormonal Supplementation: Many of our body processes are regulated by hormones: chemicals released in minute amounts from specific glands and carried through the bloodstream to target areas where they do their job. The pituitary, the master gland found in the brain, just above and behind the eyes, produces specific ‘stimulating’ hormones that activate the thyroid, adrenals, testes, and ovaries to produce such hormones as thyroid hormone, cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
As we age, these hormones go south, and so do we. In my practice, I recommend testing hormone levels, then restoring levels to those closer to youthful ones. There have been scares about women having an increased incidence of cancer after taking female hormones. The Women’s Health Initiative Study on which this is based was using synthetic Premarin and Provera, rather than the bio-identical hormones that integrative physicians prescribe. We just still monitor for any abnormal responses, but the risks are not as great as with the synthetic ones, and the benefits, many. For details, there are a number of excellent books, including my 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health and Dr. Uzzi Reiss’ The Natural Superwoman.
Then, for mental and spiritual health, you can combine prayer, meditation, and emotional clearing, and breathing techniques. This, plus a healthy combination of good nutrition, including the right supplements, exercise, water, and adequate sleep will provide an excellent buffer against aging, while restoring mind, body and spirit. The time and attention required for this pays off enormously. You deserve a life lived long and well!
Adapted from Dr. Cass’ chapter in The Fountain: 25 Experts Reveal Their Secrets of Health and Longevity from the Fountain of Youth by Jack Challem, editor; Basic Health Publications, Inc, 2009. Learn more about Dr. Hyla Cass on our Contributors Page and at cassmd.com.
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