This month I have been reading a few different approaches to healthy aging, including those of some well-known writers in the natural health world, including some unusual skincare advice. The main message is that for many of us, there is no ‘quick fix’ or magic bullet when it comes to aging well. Generally speaking, the better you treat your body throughout your life, the better your aging experience will be. And it is certainly worth doing some research in order to ‘future-proof’ yourself!
Firstly, let’s think about what and how we eat. Most of us know by now that there are food that suit us and foods that don’t — but listening to our bodies can sometimes be hard! I like American Food writer Michael Pollan’s approach to a healthy diet for all ages: ‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants’. The first two words are probably the most important — ‘Eat food’ means to eat real food — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat — but not eating ‘edible food-like substances’ with ingredients that you can’t pronounce. And ‘mostly plants’ is worth reflecting on for many of us; protein can be healthy in small amounts but vegetables are healthy in large amounts — the more veggies you eat the better! Another good guiding principle is, don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions —honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says. And finally, it is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.’”
Patrick Holford, one of the UK’s most respected nutritional writers, has recently published a book called ‘The 10 Secrets of Healthy Aging’; it’s really worth a read. Patrick is nearing his 60th birthday and he says turning 55 really focused his mind on aging — which is lucky for the rest of us who get to benefit!
At the start of the book, Holford asks a good question: imagine you have a newborn baby, and the doctors tell you that she has an unusual genetic condition that will mean she gradually gets weaker and weaker until at the age of 10 she will most likely end up in a wheelchair. However, they go on to tell you that if you follow a very healthy diet for your newborn, keep her on a moderate exercise programme and give him a few key nutritional supplements you may well be able to avoid that wheelchair. It’s not certain, but it is probable that you will be able to give her a much more able life if you keep to the programme, so wouldn’t you do it, to give your newborn every possible chance of a healthy life? What about if we were talking about you rather than your newborn? Why is it we don’t follow the same advice for ourselves?
What I like about Patrick’s books is that they all give you an action plan, which he has made as easy as possible to follow. In ‘The 10 Secrets to Healthy Aging’, his action plan involves changing what we eat, taking exercise on a regular basis, getting enough sleep, spending some time just chilling out, having a positive mental attitude and taking a good programme of nutritional supplements. He also advises enough sun exposure to maintain your vitamin D levels, and paying attention to your hormone levels (this is a bit more complex but he has guidance for how to do it). Most of it is all very familiar to anyone who has paid attention to nutritional research over the last couple of decades; it’s not rocket science, as they say, but you do still need to focus on it.
More and more research is going on into healthy aging, and every now and again someone finds out something useful. A recent study into brain health in the US was published in the American Journal of Clinical nutrition, and it found that a combination of omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins can slow brain shrinkage by up to 73 per cent. The study, which was led by Professor David Smith, involved 168 patients who were 70+ and showing the first signs of memory decline. The patients were all given either a high dose B vitamin supplement or a placebo. Those who were given the B vitamins and who started with a high level of Omega 3s in their blood had 73 per cent less brain shrinkage than those on the placebo. The key seemed to be the combination — the patients taking B Vitamins who didn’t have a good level of omega 3 fatty acids in their blood showed no improvement, which seems to suggest that the key is in the combination, which to me means it’s worth taking a good B complex regularly alongside a good quality fish oil.
And finally, an easy to grow Superfood, which is being constantly researched for its anti-aging properties is the humble Beetroot. Beetroots are packed with very high concentrations of antioxidants, carotenoids, folate, fiber, iron, manganese, potassium and Vitamin C. They also contain nitrates, which are very healthy for our hearts, helping produce nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and naturally decreases blood pressure. What surprised me when doing this research was that apparently beetroot juice can be used on the outside, as well as inside! In an essay, which I found by skin specialist Dr Mark Rosenburg, I found reference to using beetroot juice as a skin treatment: “As a dermatologist, in addition to the general health boosting properties of beets, I’m particularly impressed by their anti-aging skin benefits. In studies, it was shown that the high levels of folates and antioxidants can decrease the depth and severity of skin wrinkles by 60 per cent! This is best accomplished by eating beets (or drinking beet juice) as well as by applying beet juice topically, directly to skin.” He goes on to suggest the following skin therapy:
1. Juice a whole beetroot and a whole carrot, mix with pure, filtered water and pour into a glass bottle. Store in your refrigerator and stir or shake before using.
2. Once a day, morning or night, take a cotton ball and dip in the beet/carrot juice mixture and apply liberally to your face, be sure to saturate any age spots you have. Leave for 15 minutes then rinse with cold water.
This is only a taster of the different approaches we can take to our health as we age. It’s worth doing some reading and working out what works for you, what makes you feel well and happy. For particular advice on your own body, call in to Organico or your local HealthFood Shop; our staff can advise you on joint health, keeping to health cholesterol levels and keeping to a healthy weight. And I would certainly recommend buying Patrick’s book — we have it in Organico if you are interested. Have a great July folks!