Basic theories of ageing

Posted on: 02 August 2012 by 50connect editorial

Dr John Mayer looks at the process of ageing, why we feel rusty and what we can do to minimise the impact on our lives.

anti ageingThere are many theories of aging but to keep things easy we will start with two basic categories; oxidation reactions and sub-optimal hormone levels.

Oxidation reactions occur when the combustion of oxygen that keep us alive and well produces by-products called oxygen free radicals. When this process occurs in metals we call it rusting. When it happens in us we call it aging, which may make us feel rusty as well!

Free radicals are molecules that have lost an electron. When this happens to oxygen, we call it singlet oxygen, because it has only one of its electrons left. This is a highly unstable condition, and to restore balance the radical either tries to steal one away from, or donate the remaining one, to another nearby molecule. In doing so the free radicals create "molecular mayhem", disrupting, damaging and destroying nearby cells. If DNA is involved, mutations occur, a favored theory of a common cause of cancer. In time, free radical damage accumulates, thereby aging us.  Free radicals are not only produced inside us, but we take them in through smoking, food, air and water pollution, x-rays, sun exposure, various poisons to name the most common.

The other major theoretical cause of aging is sub-optimal hormone levels. As we age some hormones begin a precipitous decline that strongly parallels the onset of aging signs and symptoms. These include human growth hormone, melatonin, DHEA, androstenedione, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.  Conversely, insulin levels tend to rise, culminating in adult onset diabetes. Also, a relative rise in cortisol, the stress hormone, is all too common as well. Thyroid hormone doesn't generally decline with age. Many anti-aging doctors insist that slow thyroid function is common however, and when present, definitely hastens aging and heart disease.

Human Growth Hormone, aka HGH - as the name implies, stimulates the growth of our tissues. Our internal organs, skin, muscles, nerves and bones are all stimulated to grow by HGH. As our levels of growth hormone shrinks, so do we!

Melatonin - helps us sleep and may help prevent cancer. One reason why people over 60 sometimes find it hard to go to sleep is declining melatonin levels. DHEA is a building block out of which estrogen and testosterone are made. (It is first converted to androstenedione, however.) DHEA also boosts our immune systems and brains.

Testosterone, Estrogen and Progesterone - gives us our sex drive, builds muscle, skin and bone, keeps our minds sharp, protects our hearts, and helps us feel and be attractive.

Thyroid Hormone - helps keeps us energetic and trim, like the other hormones mentioned. It helps us burn fat. That spare tire that develops around our bellies at middle age (central obesity) has much to do with declining hormone levels, often one of the main reasons diets don't work!

Excess insulin levels are associated with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and the mysterious sounding "Syndrome X" when insulin no longer moves sugars well.  This is known as insulin resistance and both insulin and eventually blood sugar rise. The excess blood sugar is forced into your tissues, damaging them with "advanced glycation end-products", known as "AGE" appropriately enough!

Cortisol levels don't decline with age. Excess levels of this stress hormone are catabolic. That means it literally "eats you up inside".

Now that you have had a brief introduction as to some of major factors in aging, let's do an overview of a rational anti-aging program.

  1. Regardless of age, we want to fill our bodies with an abundance of anti-oxidants, while we do our best to avoid oxidant poisons. (Some of us may even need to detoxify to rid our bodies of accumulated oxidants like heavy metals or pesticides). This is done through a good diet and aggressive supplementation.
  2. We want to prevent sugar imbalances, Syndrome X, diabetes and the accumulation of advanced glycation end products (remember AGE?) by good diet, supplements and exercise.
  3. We want to minimize stress and maximize our ability to handle it by balanced healthy life-styles, and vitamins and herbs designed as stress handlers and relievers.
  4. We want to restore our hormonal levels to closer approximate those levels we had when we were young. Today, most anyone can afford to do so safely, without prescription.

By Dr John Maher

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