Nutrition Is Key To Successful Aging: Kidd

By Parris M. Kidd, Ph.D.

Also see:
Antioxidants: An Antidote to Aging?
Better Eating for Better Aging
Upbeat on Fiber for Longer Life and Better Health

This information is designed to help adults make informed decisions about their health and is intended to be used for general nutritional information and educational purposes only.  It is not intended to prescribe, treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any particular medical problem or disease, or to promote any particular product. Women who are pregnant or nursing should always consult with their doctors before taking any supplements. You should always consult your health care professional for individual guidance for specific health concerns. Persons with medical conditions should seek professional medical care. Anyone may link to this page.


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A state of mind and body nearing Shangri-La is now accessible to more people than ever before. Research in geriatrics, the field of aging, indicates that the limits on lifespan extend beyond the century mark. With the incredible advances that have been made in the field of nutrition, those among us willing to study and experience the impact of nutrition on our health actually have a shot at quality of life in our later years. With commitment and discipline, some of us could acquire sufficient wisdom, access to information and spiritual poise, to experience an existence that is productive and playful, sensual and satisfied, until the very last days of our lives.

A consensus has emerged among geriatric researchers that aging features a progressive loss of organ functions. This means we all will die eventually, but it also has another implication: that as organ functions decline, the course of aging can be "successful," i.e., relatively free of chronic disease; or "unsuccessful," i.e., plagued by aches and pains and other aspects of chronic disease. To age successfully, the individual must strive to integrate the many facets of healthy living into a daily lifestyle that aims at optimal health. And optimal nutritional status is a prerequisite for optimal health.

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Energy Nutrients for the Body

The key to optimal health may be to minimize stress to the body. Research on stress, dating back to the pioneering work by Hans Selye, M.D., in Canada, has broadened beyond emotional stress per se into a more global "stressor" analysis in which stressful influences or stressors challenge the biochemical defenses, causing vitamins and metabolites to be lost from the body. Stressors threaten homeostasis, the maintenance of the conditions essential for life, the healthy status quo. According to this stress-homeostasis model, health is an outcome of the ongoing balance between stressors that will tend to deplete vitamins and metabolites from the tissues and those positive influences that replete and conserve these substances, thereby supporting homeostasis and allowing the body better protection against toxins, infections, emotional stress, and so on.

On this broad-based, integrative model of health and disease, aging is a stressor. As the body ages, it becomes less efficient at digesting, absorbing and utilizing nutrients, and perhaps also less efficient at "intermediary metabolism," that is, the pathways of linked reactions necessary to activate vitamins, synthesize needed metabolites, or otherwise transform or modify nutrients. These inefficiencies surely threaten homeostasis on an organ-by-organ basis. Very likely the organ that is genetically weakest will be the first to develop cracks in its facade, and as it progressively loses function diagnostic techniques come to detect the emergence of disease. So, to hold the line" against disease, older people must strive to minimize their exposures to stressors, and along with exercise, take larger quantities of a greater diversity of nutrients.

According to this stressor-homeostasis model of health, lifestyle improvements and exercise for the elderly will not suffice without dietary revision. Against a poor nutritional background even exercise can be a stressor, depleting minerals, B vitamins and antioxidants that are not being replaced. It may not matter greatly whether specific vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients come from foods, liquids, "green drinks," or dietary supplements, so long as adequate amounts are supplied in appropriate balance. Certainly for the aging individual, this proven need for larger quantities of a greater diversity of nutrients translates into a need to consume a broad range of healthful foods with the highest possible nutrient densities.

Also, recent research indicates that (for whatever reasons) some nutrients provide adequate protection against disease at intakes that simply are not to be achieved coming only from foods. Examples are vitamin E and beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals like magnesium, zinc, boron and molybdenum, which are very limited in even the best-structured diets.

Underlying the stressful influences linked to unsuccessful aging is cumulative free radical damage. Free radicals are molecules that are particularly reactive from having an unpaired electron, and such radicals can tear apart important biological molecules. Free radical sources are widespread, coming at the body from the sun's rays, the soil, foods, pollutants, emotional stress, exercise, and traumatic events such as wounds or burns.

Our options are to keep to a minimum the outside sources of free radicals, and to nutritionally optimize our anti-free radical, antioxidant defenses. Our antioxidant defenses rely heavily upon intake of antioxidants with the diet. Certain B vitamins serve as electron pair shuttles or reservoirs. The major antioxidant nutrients include ascorbate (vitamin C), tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene, cystine, taurine, lipoate and coenzyme Q10.

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Energy Nutrients for the Brain

The newest frontier in energetics and aging is represented by the apparent potential of energy nutrients to stabilize and (perhaps) partially rejuvenate the aging brain. Acetylcarnitine crosses the blood-brain barrier more readily than does carnitine, and has been shown to revitalize brain function via energetic pathways. Subjects with cognitive and memory impairments have experienced measurable benefit. Acetylcarnitine's beneficial effects on energetics complement those of Coenzyme Q-10, and are likely also to complement the membrane-active phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine (PC) and another phospholipid called phos-phatidylserine (PS).

Cognitive and memory impairments associated with aging have been linked partially to the lowered production and release of acetylcholine (ACh), the brain's most widespread nerve transmitter. In human studies, dietary supplementation with PC has boosted blood levels of choline, which the brain can use towards making ACh. Clinical benefits from trials with PC have been limited, which may underline the importance of using an array of nutrients in aging rather than relying on single nutrients to be "magic bullets." The phospholipid PS has given better results in clinical trials.

Human trials with PS number at least 23 to date, of which 12 were double-blind and involved almost 1200 subjects. Intakes of PS were usually 300 mg daily. In one U.S. double-blind trial on mildly impaired aged subjects, PS statistically improved the learning and recall of names and faces, telephone numbers, and misplaced objects, as well as paragraph recall and the ability to concentrate. In this area, PS may have "rolled back the clock" by up to 12 years.

Other nutrients may have benefits in aging, but the nutrient categories outlined above, minerals, B vitamins, antioxidants, energy nutrients, and phospholipids, ought to be at the core of a rational, integrative approach to dietary revision aimed at lengthening the "health span" of modern mature adults.


Also see:
Phytochemicals: Nutrients Of The Future
Antioxidants: An Antidote to Aging?
Better Eating for Better Aging
Nutrition Is Key To Successful Aging: Kidd
Latest Concepts in Nutrition
Life Long Weight Management for Health & Happiness
10 Tips to Healthy Eating
New Perspectives on Diet and Cancer
Upbeat on Fiber for Longer Life & Better Health
A Refresher On Water for Long Life & Health 
Reference Guide for Vitamins  
Reference Guide for Minerals  
Reference Guide for Herbs  
Reference Guide for Amino Acids  
Reference Guide for Special Nutrients  
Reference Guide for Anti-Oxidants  
Reference Guide for Nutritional Greens  
Reference Guide for Digestive Nutrients  
Reference Guide for Dietary Fibers  
Suggested Readings and Guide References  

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