Food Freedom Friday Edition 165 - Aging Gracefully
The normal process of aging is never going away. However, the impact of age-related issues is becoming more prevalent, since the number of older Americans (over age 65) will double by 2060. Not only that, but it’s becoming more common to work longer and retire later. Life expectancy has increased drastically, from 68 years to 79 years (between 1950-2013), but so have age-related illnesses and obesity. While scientific advancements have minimized or eradicated communicable diseases, non-infectious diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer continue to be a major, growing problem.
While it’s common to rush to a cosmetics counter to find the “next big thing” in anti-aging, we should remember that aging affects our internal biology before it shows on the outside. In a clinical trial to test biological age, meaning “declining integrity of multiple organ systems,” scientists published results in 2015 showing that people with higher biological ages suffered more lost physical mobility, mental decline, reported worse health in general and even looked older.
Nothing can reverse aging entirely — it’s built into our DNA and is truly a normal part of life. However, there are signs of aging poorly that, recognized early enough, can often be reversed or healed. This usually means doing what you can to make your telomeres, the DNA segments at the end of chromosomes associated with age, longer. The longer your telomeres, the younger you are inside.
So, what are some of these signs, and what can you do about them?
10 Signs of Aging Poorly
1. Joint Pain
Unfortunately, tender, aching joints are one of the hallmark signs of getting older and conditions like osteoarthritis become even more common with age as your cartilage begins to break down. This breakdown of cartilage is known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). Joint pain is often also associated with inflammation and swelling. There is no known cure for osteoarthritis or DJD.
2. Fatigue and Bad Sleep Habits
If you find that you’re constantly feeling drained, exhausted and unable to get a good night of sleep, it may be a sign of aging. Chronic fatigue and daytime sleepiness are some of the most common symptoms of aging, particularly after age 40, and can be caused by several different underlying conditions.
One of the most common causes is sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes interruptions in your breathing during sleep. Although sleep apnea can occur at any age, your risk increases as you get older.
3. Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation also increases with age, which is why systemic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as leaky gut, can be an early sign of aging. Leaky gut syndrome is an autoimmune condition characterized by gut permeability, which allows proteins and molecules through the lining of the digestive system. These are things that wouldn’t typically be able to get through.
Common signs of leaky gut include food sensitivities, digestive problems (even including inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s or IBS), thyroid dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies, mood and fatigue problems and inflammatory skin issues like acne or psoriasis. Since 70 percent of your immune system exists in your gut, it’s not surprising that problems with the gut microbiome affect systems throughout your entire body.
Since inflammation is at the root of most diseases, it’s not surprising that inflammation is known to increase as you age. Like most parts of aging, it’s impossible to prevent chronic inflammation entirely, but it seems that stress also plays a role in fueling age-related inflammation, a common sign of aging poorly. For example, primary caregivers, who are known to be under high levels of stress, show an increase in inflammation four times higher than their non-caregiver counterparts over the same period of time.
The pro-inflammatory cytokine observed in this study is IL-6, which is “associated with a spectrum of age-related conditions including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, periodontal disease, frailty and functional decline.”
As you can see, the chronic inflammation associated with faster-than-normal aging can contribute to the development of a large group of diseases, not just one or two symptoms.
4. Brain Fog
Another cluster of symptoms that might point to premature aging is brain fog caused by chronic inflammation. How do you know if you’re living with brain fog? It’s characterized by several symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, concentration problems, forgetfulness, headaches, lack of motivation/mild depression, anxiety and insomnia.
5. Weight Gain
To some extent, a small amount of weight gain (about 1 pound every one or two years) can be considered a “normal” part of aging. The problem is that many adults gain much more than this, due to factors like having a busy schedule that leaves little time for exercise, a lack of sleep, stress and eating a poor diet.
Active people typically have a lower overall RER than inactive ones, which means their bodies are more efficiently burning fat. That’s why staying active is such an important part of reversing this sign of aging poorly.
6. Varicose Veins
Varicose veins, or bulgy veins that appear lumpy and dark in color (usually blue or purple), affect up to 50 percent of people over the age of 50. Even though they are so common, and not necessarily always a health concern, they can be due to hormonal fluctuations (like in pregnancy), blood pressure changes in leg veins or increased inflammation.
Depending on how severe they are, varicose veins can sometimes be hard to treat or prevent, especially since genetics/family history can increase the odds that some people will develop them as they age. Some of the risk factors for varicose veins include being female, obesity, low physical activity, later-onset menopause and high systolic blood pressure. Varicose veins are one of those signs of aging poorly that can be indicative of a highly sedentary lifestyle, and they’re also associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
7. Skin and Appearance Changes
The most obvious sign of aging poorly is typically alterations in the appearance of skin. Skin fibers are affected in a number of different ways during aging and effects of this may include sun spots, patchy-looking skin, itchiness, wrinkles and general sagging.
A major factor in the way your skin ages is how much it’s exposed to the sun versus protected by the best sunscreens you can use. When you’re very openly exposed to the sun over the course of many years, skin quality degrades much more quickly. For example, collagen and elastin in the skin function normally for decades longer in those who protect their skin from direct sun exposure. Those two features of skin are what support good elasticity as well as visual appearance, so they’re directly related to basically all skin changes that happen as you age.
Dementia is a symptom that affects many people as they age. The most common reason for dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, although there are other conditions that may be responsible, including frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), vascular dementia caused by strokes, normal pressure hydrocephalus, dementia caused by medication or that induced by depression.
Contrary to previously held belief, dementia is not necessarily a normal part of aging. The symptom of dementia in diseases like Alzheimer’s are very closely related to diet, inflammation, activity level, the job a person has and even gut health. When these things are out of whack, you’re more likely to develop dementia, or to develop it earlier, as a sign of aging poorly.
9. Digestive Issues
In every person getting older, aging will impact the function of the gastrointestinal system. Common age-related symptoms in the GI tract include slower digestion (which may lead to constipation), bacterial overgrowth in the microbiome, incontinence, diarrhea, diverticulitis, poor nutrient absorption, delayed drug metabolism, stomach ulcers, GERD, polyps and alterations in the immune system.
Factors that may bring these issues on sooner include medication usage (like NSAIDs), chronic inflammation and leaky gut, poorly structured diet and smoking.
10. Hearing Loss
A hallmark of the perception of aging, hearing loss is a very common sign of aging poorly. While many people still think of this as a loss of sensory input, age-related hearing loss is really a problem with the neurons, blood vessels and overall biological function of the ear. It’s very closely related to oxidative stress, which can cause cell death (apoptosis) and cochlear dysfunction from the mitochondrial level.
There is a genetic component to hearing loss, but other risk factors for losing your hearing earlier than normal include diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, smoking, poor cognitive function, excessive alcohol intake, noise exposure and ear surgery.
Natural Ways to Age Gracefully
1. Eat a Brain-Supporting, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The number one way to naturally slow aging is to eat a better diet. Many signs of aging poorly are directly correlated to chronic inflammation, which is something you can manage with by filling your diet with anti-inflammatory foods. An anti-inflammatory diet is full of green, leafy veggies, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (think: colorful!), high-quality meats and seafood, healthy nuts and seeds, bone broth, spices such as ginger or turmeric, healthy fats like coconut oil and other anti-aging foods. It also requires getting rid of inflammation-causing foods and drinks, which can actually promote faster aging — for example, did you know that drinking sugary sodas is associated with shorter telomeres?
Healthy fats are super important for your brain health, which is why cycling the keto diet on and off is another great option for keeping your brain in great shape. You should also consider eating probiotic foods and drinks like kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi, which will also support your immune system, brain and digestion.
While diet is the best way to get all the nutrients you need, it’s also not a bad idea to supplement with nutrients or additional things if you’re deficient. For example, dietary supplements such as multivitamins (preferably fermented, for better digestion), probiotics, omega-3s, anti-aging essential oils and turmeric may all be valuable options for slowing the process of aging.
2. Stay Active
Looking back through these 10 signs of aging poorly, you’ll see that many of them are related, at least in some way, to the type of lifestyle a person leads. While this doesn’t mean everyone should be an athlete, it does suggest that a sedentary lifestyle is a bad idea if you’d like to age well.
Find activities and create habits that require you to stay active throughout your life. These can be as complex as having regular workouts and activity schedules, or as simple as learning to walk more, like during meetings or while you’re on the phone. If your job is sedentary by design, try a standing desk or set movement breaks for yourself.
3. Reduce Stress
Stress is another factor closely tied to inflammation that can exacerbate signs of aging poorly. By aiming to eliminate unnecessary stress from your life, you may have a better chance of aging well.
It’s also important to surround yourself with a strong support system throughout your life. Whether you’re in a challenging season or feeling like nothing can go wrong, family and friends who love and support you are a great way to combat stress.
In fact, combined with a healthy diet and active lifestyle, social support is one way to actually lengthen your telomeres and reverse the process of aging.
Aging is a normal process that no one can avoid entirely. While it’s great to introduce lifestyle and dietary changes to support natural aging, it’s important that you know there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening. Instead, embrace the wisdom and beauty of age and learn to surround yourself with people, activities and even foods that support this process in a healthy, life-giving way.