What is Accelerated Aging?
It is most probable that everyone who reads this article will suffer from accelerated aging to one degree or another. To understand accelerated aging we must understand healthy aging. So what is healthy aging? Healthy aging has been described as”dying at the slowest rate possible”. Another definition of healthy aging is “dying young as possible as late as possible”. Accelerated aging is anything other than healthy aging. It is premature aging. It is dying before your time.
We don’t extend our lifespan by living healthier. In reality, we die prematurely because we live unhealthy. Does that make sense?
To understand aging we must understand telomeres and the Hayflick Limit Theory.
We are actually programmed to live about 120 years During that 120 years our cells will divide 40-60 times. This is known as the Hayflick Limit.
To delay dying and reach the potential human lifespan, we need to understand telomere science and the Hayflick Limit. Telomeres are repetitive strands of DNA found at the ends of our chromosomes. Each cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes, or 46 chromosomes each with two ends. This means there are 92 telomeres per cell. Telomeres protect the chromosomes from damage. You can think of them as those plastic aglets found at the end of shoelaces. If those aglets are damaged the shoelaces will fray and unwind. A similar process happens to our chromosomes when our telomeres get short.
According to the Hayflick Limit Theory of aging, each cell can only divide a certain number of times, which is felt to be around 50 times before the cell dies or quits functioning. Every time the cell divides the telomeres gets shorter and shorter. At some point the telomeres become too short to protect the chromosomes and our DNA. You can think of the telomere as a wick burning in the candle. Once the wick gets too small the flame goes out and the candle “dies”.
But, due to accelerated aging most of us will only live about 80 years or two thirds of the potential lifespan.
What are Causes of Accelerated Aging?
There are several causes for accelerated aging. Below we list some of the more common factors that prevent us from reaching our full lifespan potential.
- oxidative stress
- toxin overload
- nutrient deficiencies
- mitochondrial dysfunction
- excess blood sugar and excess insulin
- excess cortisol levels
Oxidative stress is a result of free radical production. A free radical is a molecule that has an extra or an unpaired electron. This configuration makes free radicals unstable as they have an extra negative charge. To become balanced free radicals will steal an electron from another molecule converting that previously balanced molecule into a free radical, and the process keeps repeating itself. This ultimately leads to tissue destruction and cellular dysfunction and accelerated aging.
Things like alcohol, tobacco, heavy metals, pesticides, radiation, strenuous exercise, poor diet, and some medications can all produce free radicals and accelerate the aging process. Free radicals attack the cell membrane and can damage DNA causing excess waste production and impairing normal cellular function.
Toxins are everywhere. They are in our food, they are on our food, they are in the water supply. They are in packaging, particularly plastic containers. Toxins are also found in cosmetics and prescription and nonprescription medications. Many toxins function as endocrine disruptors. That is they adversely affect our hormones and that contributes to the aging process. Toxins can produce free radicals and therefore oxidative stress. Toxins are are removed through the kidneys and liver taxing both of these organ systems to their fullest.
The inflammation we are not talking about is not the inflammation we are aware of when we hurt ourselves. The real damaging inflammation is what is called silent inflammation. We did a three part series on silent inflammation and this article discusses the role of silent inflammation and chronic disease.Silent inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.
It should be obvious that a lack of adequate nutrients would lead to medical problems and medical problems lead to accelerated aging. As we learned in this article, nutrient deficiencies can be because by prescription medication. The typical American diet is high in calories but low in nutrients.
The mitochondria are the power houses of the cell. They are the organelles that produce energy and without energy, life ceases to exist. therefore anything that impairs mitochondrial function will lead to accelerated aging. We discussed the mitochondrial decline theory of aging in this article.
Mitochondria are susceptible to damage from free radicals. Mitochondrial damage can be minimized and even repaired with calorie restriction, aerobic exercise, and actually some medications and supplements such as CoQ-10, PQQ, and metformin. Below are other supplements that can improve mitochondrial function.
- B-complex vitamins. B2 and B3 are important for the production of FADH2 and NADH which are essential for function of the Krebs cycle. Take a B-complex vitamin with 25 mg to 100 mg of B2 and 50 mg to 200 mg of B3.
- CoQ10 is an antioxidant and vital for the electron transport system. Take 100 to 200 mg of CoQ10.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine is a precursor of acetyl Co-A which jump starts the TCA system. Take 500 mg to 1,000 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine twice a day.
- Lipoic acid is an antioxidant and along with acetyl-L-carnitine partially reverses the decline in mitochondria. Take 50 mg to 100 mg of lipoic acid 2-3 times a day.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a precursor of glutathione a potent antioxidant. Take 600 to 1,200 mg of NAC a day.
Excess blood sugar and insulin levels
Excess blood sugar and insulin levels are a major cause of accelerated aging. Insulin is released in response to sugar in our diet. Insulin drives sugar into the cells were sugar then is converted into energy. Ideally you want to release the least amount of insulin to accomplish this task.
Many individuals develop insulin resistance over time because of a diet rich in sugars and starchy carbohydrates. This leads to the need to produce more insulin in order to drive sugar into cells. The problem with this is insulin is a fattening. As we discussed in this article, high insulin levels lead to obesity, increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and strokes.
Excess cortisol levels
There is only one hormone that increases with aging and that hormone is cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It helps our body deal with stressful situations and participates in the “fight or flight response”.
Our brain cells or neurons are very sensitive to cortisol. If cortisol levels are too high then the repeated stimulation of the brain cells ultimately leads to damage of those cells. Excess cortisol also blocks proteins that control many of our biological functions.
Cortisol and insulin levels are interrelated. If insulin levels are too high it can drop blood sugar too low. The the body will counteract this by releasing cortisol which releases more sugar. And a vicious loop started.
Excess cortisol ultimately leads to chronic disease including high blood pressure, heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis and other. It also leads to weight gain, difficulty concentrating, it impairs the immune system, and can lead to difficulty sleeping, and causing a lack of energy.
A major key in preventing accelerated aging is to keep cortisol levels in a healthy range. Colorful levels are affected by stress an stress comes in many forms. Stress can be physical, mental, emotional, or environmental. Excess stress increases cortisol. thus, a major factor in controlling cortisol levels is to control stress. This is much easier said than done.
Lowering cortisol levels can be accomplished by:
- improving your sleep
- learning to control and manage stress
- developing healthy relationships
- improving your diet, specifically eliminating white bread, white pasta, white rice, candy and baked goods
- laughter which drops cortisol levels
- consume green tea which has been shown to lower cortisol levels
- consider taking the herbal supplement ashwagandha.
A word on ashwagandha. Ashwagandha has been used to treat anxiety and help people adjust to stress. The studies on ashwagandha have been on a small number of individuals and larger studies are needed. A dose of 200 to 300 mg a day is typically recommended, but speak to your physician first before starting it.