All-New: Dietary Choices Clearly the Path to Healthy Aging

The more health researchers discover about aging-nutrition, the more it becomes glaringly apparent that dietary choices are vital to delaying the beginning of aging and diseases associated with aging. Not only is nutrition our “fountain of youth”, the opposite can also be said – what we eat can speed up the aging process. So, if you are still searching for that next great diet or pill, stop now and start eating a good diet, because facts are facts: food will either speed aging or slow it.

healthy-agingIn fact, many health professionals claim that age related disease and deterioration of the body that is considered the natural process of getting old is not natural at all. Interesting, many health professionals assert that nutrition, to a degree, is a major key to the prevention of the signs of aging and age-related disease.

Aging originates at the cellular level and that’s exactly where nutrition has its greatest impact. In each and every cell in the body there are three key dynamics at work:

  1. Inflammation
  2. Oxidation and Free Radicals
  3. Blood Flow

Each interacts with each other to help prevent – to a certain degree – the aging process.

Inflammation and Aging

Research has shown that the correlation between inflammation and aging is the single greatest cause of aging and diseases associated with aging, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, certain forms of cancer, diminished mental and physical energy, the loss of muscle mass and wrinkled, sagging skin.

Inflammation may be caused by:

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      • Eating simple carbohydrates
      • Environmental stresses
      • Weakened immune system
      • Excess exposure to the sun
      • Hormonal changes
      • Stress
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As previously eluded to, food choices are vital when it comes to causing and controlling inflammation. Not only is making the right food choices the key to controlling inflammation, it also impacts longevity, mental clarity, well-being and the health of your skin.

Foods that are pro-inflammatory include:

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      • all forms of sugar
      • processed foods
      • white pasta
      • white breads
      • pastry
      • baked goods
      • snack foods (cakes, chips, pretzels, etc)
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These foods wreak havoc on the body. If you choose sugary or starchy foods, you trigger a pro-inflammatory release of sugar into the bloodstream that causes the body to store fat rather than burn it for energy. And this is a significant contributor to the acceleration of the aging process of all organ systems, causing an increased risk of degenerative disease. And if that wasn’t bad enough, eating those cookies will result in an insulin response which will trigger the appetite. What does this mean? You will crave more and more of these types of carbohydrates, resulting in a vicious cycle of consumption of these awful types of foods.

Thankfully, you can control inflammation in your body by avoiding the types of foods that produce a “glycemic” response in the body which causes a rapid rise in blood sugar. Make every effort to eliminate, as much as possible, the aforementioned pro-inflammatory foods from your diet.

Oxidation and Free Radical Damage

Our bodies normally make free radicals as part of daily metabolism. And they occur as a result of food and environmental pollutions from everyday things like air, water and sun. As we age, we become more susceptible to the long-term effects of oxidative stress (or too many free radicals) and inflammation on the cellular level.A fundamental key to staying young is cellular renewal and minimizing the damage to cells over time. We all age. Some of us age better than others. Why? Studies have linked oxidative stress to aging. Simply stated, oxidation occurs when the body produces by-products more commonly known as free radicals. The result is something akin to a machine rusting. And when this rusting is applied to humans (and not iron), it results in aging and age related diseases.

The process of oxidation is abundant and can actually help our bodies work properly. But this very same process can also cause us harm.  The oxidizing process creates free radicals which are electrically charged molecules. These free radicals interact with cells to create both good and bad results. For example, the immune system uses free radicals to help fight infection. However, when oxidized, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)  can be produced.

Oxidative stress is when the free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system causing cell damage. As previously mentioned, free radicals have useful functions in the body, but are extremely unstable molecules. If left uncontrolled, they will destroy cells, enzymes and DNA, and ultimately accelerate the aging process. Moreover, free radicals can also contribute to the development of many age related diseases including arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

Inflammation is caused by free radical damage.  And the negative effects of free radicals are due to oxidation. How can this be addressed in a nutritional regimen? Antioxidants can play a major role in combatting oxidative stress. Antioxidants eliminate the damage free radicals cause in the body. Some foods are high in antioxidant content. Some food contains phytonutrients that many health professionals believe are capable of unlocking the key to longevity.

Phytonutrients can also be referred to as health boosters. Plants produce these substances to protect themselves from bacteria and viruses. But they help the human body as well. They are highly nutritious, active compounds within plants that promote good health. Phytonutrients are members of the antioxidant family, and are responsible for ridding the body of free radicals, and, as a result, slowing the rusting, or the aging process. That’s one of the reasons that a diet of high antioxidant foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is your first defense against aging.

Some of the more commonly known antioxidants include Vitamins A, C and E. There are other antioxidants that are available in both food and supplement form. The following are very effective at fighting oxidative stress:

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  • Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): Often called the universal antioxidant because it is both fat and water soluble. This means that it can effectively combat the oxidative effects of aging in all tissues of the body. In addition, it easily crosses the blood/brain barrier, thus helping prevent oxidative stress in the brain.
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): Found in flax oil, but a better source comes from cold water fish, such as salmon. Also available as supplements, EFAs are important because they are not only antioxidants, but also help reduce inflammation in the body. Another great source of EFAs is Krill Oil.
  • Resveratrol: A substance most often associated with red wine, it is also a potent antioxidant. You’ll need to take a fairly large dose, up to 200 mg daily, to get the full benefit from it as a supplement.
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Lower Blood Pressure to Increase Blood Flow

Low blood flow is a major contributor to aging. Certain foods can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. They work on the capillary level to keep microcirculation working at peak efficiency. And that affects the heart, the brain and eyes and prevents the diseases of aging that attacks them.

Your blood pressure and blood flow work together. So when you lower blood pressure, you increase blood flow throughout your body. Blood flow is the amount of blood circulating through your cardiovascular system in a specific amount of time. Blood pressure (BP) is the pressure your blood puts on blood vessel walls as your heart pumps.

Your blood pressure has a major impact upon your blood flow. Interestingly, even though blood pressure and blood flow (circulation) are two different systems in the body, they can both affect each other.

Your blood pressure is controlled by two systems. One is your heart as it pumps blood into the arteries and through the circulatory system. The other are arteries as they resist blood flow pressure.

High blood pressure can be the result of one or more of the following:

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  • Smoking
  • Medications
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Being overweight
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Sustained severe stress
  • Bad posture
  • Eating too much salt
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • More than 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a day
[/list]

Blood vessels are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress and inflammation, and keeping them healthy is vital to prevent age-related disease. Blood flow to the heart protects the heart muscle from damage, and prevents restricted blood vessels, which helps every organ in the body.

As previously mentioned, certain foods can improve blood flow and promote healthy blood vessels:

Beans:  Kidney, pinto, lima and black beans are rich in magnesium and potassium.

Dark Chocolate: Good news for many people was a study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2002 scientific sessions confirming the beneficial effects of eating dark chocolate for healthy blood vessels.

Fish: Studies show the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for blood vessel function, including salmon and tuna.

Fruits: Banana is a potassium rich fruit and ideal for blood vessel health. Kiwi is also rich in potassium and vitamin C. Additionally, Kiwi is rich in lutein, another potent antioxidant that helps fight age-related disease and is great for the eyes.

Garlic: Used for many conditions, garlic helps with blood clotting and the thickening of blood vessels.

Skimmed milk: Rich in calcium and vitamin C and promotes healthy blood flow.

Vegetables: Broccoli is loaded with potassium and is often recommended to patients with high blood pressure. Broccoli also contains chromium which promotes cardiovascular health. Spinach is rich in magnesium, folate, iron and vitamin C. Tomatoes also reduce blood pressure as they are rich in calcium, potassium, vitamin A, C and E.

Other healthy blood vessel foods: These include walnuts and almonds, ground flaxseed, oat bran and oatmeal, whole-grain breads and cereals, avocadoes and papaya.

The worst foods for blood vessels are those high in fat, trans-fats, and refined carbohydrates. Palm oil, coconut oil, lard, shortening, butter and fatty meats should be avoided as much as possible.

Anti-Aging Focus: The Brain, Heart and Eyes

The primary objective for preserving vibrant health as we age is focusing on the health of our brain, heart, and eyes. If these areas of the body are healthy, it is likely you are doing all the right things to maintain vitality as you age. Interestingly, these three body parts work together and are highly susceptible to inflammation, oxidation and decreased blood flow.

If brain function, along with body function, can be preserved, the aging process can be delayed. Research has shown that one of risk factor of deteriorating brain function is how the body manages glucose. Also, high antioxidant foods possess anti-inflammatory benefits for the brain, which has shown to increase cell signaling pathways. As previously mentioned, certain nutrients help to fight oxidative stress. And oxidative stress is a major cause of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Similar to the brain, sound nutrition can have a major impact on aging by preserving the function of the heart. By decreasing inflammation in the arteries surrounding the heart, this vital organ will function longer and better. Antioxidants-rich foods protect the heart from damage by acting as anti-inflammatory agents. Good nutrition reduces bad cholesterol levels which helps prevent cardiovascular disease. And research also suggests that certain fruits can help regulate blood pressure and combat atherosclerosis.

Finally, studies show that anthocyanins from blueberries may protect critical eye tissue from premature aging. In fact, the vision-nutrition connection is part of a growing body of research that links nutrition and healthy eyes. Studies indicate the vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables slow the progress of age-related vision loss.  For example, certain foods with anthocyanins work on the capillary level to maintain optimal microcirculation, which has a profound impact on eyes and vision diseases that occur with age.

Healthy aging is increasingly becoming a hot topic for adults young and old. Whether you’re concerned about weight gain, sex drive or chronic diseases, the key to healthy aging is a healthy lifestyle. And that means making a meaningful commitment to nutrition. Eating a variety of healthy foods, taking supplements and including physical activity in your daily routine will go a long way toward promoting healthy aging. This, in turn, will have a positive effect on inflammation, oxidation and blood flow. It’s never too late to make healthier lifestyle choices to maintain a high quality of life that will extend well into your senior years. Start now!

About Mark Becker

Mark Becker has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. He has written more than 250 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor's in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors.

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