Aging and the role of food

Aging.

Whatever your views on it – whether you’re all about prevention, or a “bring on the wrinkles!” type – we can’t deny that the foods we eat affect our skin, our memory, and even our vigor for life. While these topics still require a lot of research, there have been some interesting findings that I want to share.

“The number of candles on your birthday cake merely serves as a marker of time; it says little about your health.” – DiscoveryFit&Health

First of all, what causes aging, deep down on a cellular level? Normal cells go through apoptosis. or programmed cell death. It sounds bad, but it is essential for healthy functioning. In fact, cancer is characterized by rogue cells mutating and proliferating when they should be dying. As we age, though, our cells start dying faster than they are replaced, which reduces the strength of our immune systems. Hormone production drops, and it’s harder to repair the wear and tear on our bodies. But genetics and natural aging are things we can’t change about ourselves. What we can focus on are our environments.

Something almost everyone is aware of are free radicals. To put it simply, free radicals prey on healthy cells by oxidizing them, which can lead to abnormal cell death or cell mutation. Normally, our immune systems can defend against free radicals, but as we age they become weaker. In fact, every single one of us has some sort of cancer growing in our bodies as we speak—the difference is our bodies’ ability to halt that cell proliferation. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E are very important in reducing the harmful effects of free radicals on our cells. They act by sacrificing themselves so that cells are not altered.

What are the common environmental culprits that age us? On the top of the list are prolonged sun exposure, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and a poor diet.

When I think of aging, I think of weaker posture, gaining of fat mass, poor skin integrity, and the onset of chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Let’s tackle these one by one.

Osteoporosis is a true threat, especially for post-menopausal Caucasian and Asian women. An inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D are direct causes of bone loss, leading to fractures, breaks, and a hunched posture. Keeping your bone integrity in check is a MUST. Osteoarthritis, a condition in which cartilage begins to degrade, is also common. It is a very painful condition that affects a huge amount of people. Apart from vitamin D and calcium intake, physical activity is important to prevent this condition. By working out and keeping weight at an optimal level and using strength training to improve muscle tone, arthritis can be avoided.

Typical stature changes as aging continues

Muscle loss, or atrophy, is something to expect as we age, but can also be reduced. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main reasons why muscle is lost. With this muscle loss, fat mass tends to replace it, which is implicated in the development of diabetes and heart disease. Keep exercising as you age, especially with weight-bearing activities such as jogging and strength training.

What about wrinkles? Collagen, a protein that provides elasticity and conveys fullness of the skin, is reduced because the layer of skin called the dermis thins. We have less collagen produced in our face and tend to develop a thin-skinned look. Apart from a decreased production of collagen, prolonged sun exposure is a main culprit in the visible effects of aging.

Now that you’ve got a little background about aging, let’s look at some foods that can help you to age healthfully.

Phytonutrients are a type of antioxidant, and are currently being studied for their anti-aging effects. Another topic to consider are foods that promote inflammation within the body. Inflammation accelerates the effects of aging, and is implicated in congestive heart failure, obesity, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. C-reactive protein is a marker in your blood that shows the degree of inflammation, and a study showed that older people with chronic disease had a higher level of C-reactive protein than the norm. Foods that have been shown to increase inflammation include those with saturated and trans-fats, sugars, and starches. By increasing the level of insulin produced in the blood stream (which happens when eat foods high in simple sugars), the anti-inflammatory response is induced.

What foods are beneficial in terms of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents?

According to WebMD, here is what we should be focusing on.

  •     Fish
  •     Fruits and vegetables (get your colors in!)
  •     Whole grains
  •     Legumes
  •     Yogurt
  •     Nuts
  •     Water

The current “hot” foods that have a high anti-inflammatory effect include

  •     Acai fruit
  •     Garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots (the allium family)
  •     Green foods like wheatgrass
  •     Beans and lentils
  •     Nuts and seeds
  •     Sprouts
  •     Hot peppers
  •     Yogurt and kefir
  •     Buckwheat

Worried about your skin? Focus on your sun exposure. Using sunscreen is extremely important in preventing the effects of aging on your face. So wear it even on cloudy days. Consider using a moisturizer that has an SPF of at least 25 twice a day. Seriously, slather it on. Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, so focus on your citrus foods like strawberries and oranges. Tofu and edamame have a high number of isoflavones, a compound that reduces collages breakdown. Lycopene, a compound found in grapefruit and tomatoes, is associated with smoother skin, as is lutein, which is found in egg yolk.

Aging may not be something that you, as a college student, are too worried about. But know this: our bodies remember the stresses we place upon them. Everything you do now will make a difference in the long run. So eat healthy, sleep well, work out, avoid too much drinking, and don’t smoke. Aging is a natural part of living, and I’m not trying to say that we should aim to look 25 years old for the rest of our lives, or that we need to go under the knife at the first wrinkle. But I do believe that a healthy lifestyle has a great influence on how we will look over time.

Just remember: it is never too late to change your lifestyle, and start treating your body the way it deserves to be treated.

Much love,

gemma (JMU)

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