Aging is the process of growing old or maturing. Humans reach their peak in growth and development when they are in their mid 20s. After this point, the body gradually becomes less functional over time.
Aging typically causes weakness, increased susceptibility to disease and infection, loss of mobility and agility, and age-related physiological changes, such as wrinkled skin and gray hair. In the United States, about two-thirds of people age 65 and over take medications for various conditions.
Currently, the average life expectancy in the United States is about 75 years for males and 80 for females. Although genetic makeup has been shown to influence an individual's life expectancy, individuals are more likely to live long and healthy lives without disabilities if they take care of their bodies with proper diets, lifestyles, and medications.
General: There are several theories as to why the body loses functioning as it ages. Researchers believe that several factors may be involved.
Cross-linking theory: The cross-linking theory of aging is based on the observation that as individuals age, the proteins, DNA, and other molecules in the body develop inappropriate attachments, or cross-links, to one another. These unnecessary links decrease the mobility of protein and other important molecules in the body. When proteins become damaged or are no longer needed, an enzyme called protease destroys them. However, cross-linkages prevent protease from doing its job. As a result, dysfunctional and unneeded proteins remain in the body and can cause damage.
For instance, cross-linking of the skin protein called collagen has been show to be partly responsible for wrinkled skin. Cross-linking proteins in the lens of the eye has also been shown to cause age-related cataracts. In addition, it has been suggested, but not proven, that cross-linking of proteins in the walls of arteries or the kidneys may be partly responsible for hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and age-related kidney dysfunction.
Although many scientists agree that cross-linking plays a role in aging, there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm that this process is a primary cause of aging.
Free radical theory: The most common theory of aging is called the free radical theory. Many researchers believe that molecules, called free radicals, damage the body's tissues. Free radicals are produced when the body fights against infections. Although free radicals are needed for the body to produce energy, maintain immunity, transmit nerve signals, produce hormones, and contract muscles, they may also contribute to the process of aging.
Free radical damage begins at birth and continues through adulthood. However, when individuals are young, the effects are minimal because the body has many different ways to repair and replace cells to maintain proper functioning. As individuals age, the damage caused by free radicals increases.
Studies have shown that free radicals attack the structures of the body cells and create substances called lipofuscins. When lipofuscins build up in the body, they show up as darks spots on the skin, which are commonly called age spots. Lipofuscins also interfere with the body's ability to repair damage cells and reproduce new ones. As a result, lipofuscins lead to decreased energy levels and they prevent the body from building muscle mass. They also destroy enzymes that are needed for daily functioning.
Studies have also shown that free radicals attack substances in the body called elastin and collagen. These substances help keep the skin smooth, moist, and flexible. As a result, free radicals may cause changes in the appearance of the skin, such as folds or wrinkles.
Genetic theory: It has been suggested that an individual's genetic makeup regulates the rate at which he/she ages. This is called the telomerase theory of aging. However, it does not necessarily mean that patients will live to be the same age as their parents. This is because many other factors, including diet and lifestyle, may influence a person's internal biological clock.
Telomeres are proteins on the ends chromosomes that carry genetic information. Every time a cell divides in the body the telomeres shorten. The shortening of telomeres is believed to cause cellular damage because the cell is unable to make a correct copy of itself. Over time, this process leads to cellular dysfunction, aging, and death.
Wear and tear theory: According to the wear and tear theory of aging, tissues and organs eventually die after years of damage. An individual's genetic makeup (DNA) sustains repeated damage from toxins, radiation, and ultraviolet light throughout the course of a lifetime. Although the body can repair DNA damage, not all of those repairs are accurate or complete. As a result, damage slowly accumulates over time.
For instance, one study evaluated the effect of a lifetime of exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol. The body produces cortisol in response to physical and emotional stress. Researchers found that the amount of cortisol in the body rises with age. Although cortisol levels decline at night in younger adults, the levels do not fall as far in older adults. The researchers concluded that the increased levels of cortisol might be the result of wear and tear of lifelong exposures to stress.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Absorption of nutrients: As people age, the amount of water in the body decreases. As a result, the body's ability to absorb water-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin C, is reduced. This also means that there is less saliva and lubricating fluids, such as vaginal secretions.
In patients who are older than 65 years old, the intestines cannot absorb calcium from the diet as well. As a result, the body produces parathyroid hormone, which stimulates the body to take some of the calcium from bones and put it in the bloodstream. This can lead to osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become hollow and brittle.
Digestion: As people age, less stomach acid is produced. The body uses stomach acid to break down foods. Therefore, elderly patients may have difficulty digesting foods.
Fertility and hormonal changes: As females age, they are less likely to become pregnant. This gradual decline in fertility usually starts very subtly in the late 20s to age 35. Once a female goes through menopause, she is no longer able to have a baby. Most females go through menopause when they are 40 years old or older. Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, irritability, vaginal dryness, mood swings, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loss of sex drive, weight gain, depression, and tender breasts. After menopause, women have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to become hollow and brittle. This is because the lower levels of estrogen in the body accelerate bone loss.
As males age, they tend to experience a decrease in their sex hormone, which is called testosterone. This process is called andropause. Most males go through andropause when they are between the ages of 40 and 55 years old. Common symptoms of andropause include fatigue, depression, hot flashes, night sweats, infertility, decreased sex drive, and erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction, also called impotence, occurs when a male is unable to achieve or maintain an erection.
Incontinence: As people age, they are more likely to experience a condition called incontinence. This occurs when a patient is unable to control urination or defecation.
Physical characteristics: As humans age, their hair typically turns gray or white. Some individuals (male and female) may experience hair loss or thinning.
The skin may become wrinkled or have beige-colored spots, which are commonly called age spots. Some areas of the skin, such as under the eyes or under the chin, may sag.
As people age, fat is more likely to increase while muscle decreases. In general, fat is most likely to accumulate in the thighs and stomach. Researchers estimate that the proportion of fat to muscle may increase by as much as 30% with age. This is because the body's ability to remove fats from the body is limited in elderly people. Therefore, more fats, including cholesterol, are stored in the body.
Protein formation, which is reduced, leads to shrinkage in muscle mass and decreased bone formation. Therefore, reduced protein formation may contribute to the development of hollow, brittle, bones. Muscle strength of coordination lessens over time. As a result, people tend to lose mobility, agility, and flexibility as they age.
Body weight typically declines after the age of 55 due to the loss of lean tissue, water, and bone density.
Senses: Hearing, especially the ability to hear high-pitched tones, declines with age.
The ability to smell and taste also declines with age.
Vision generally declines with age. An estimated 42% of people ages 52-64 experience presbyopia, which describes a reduced ability to focus on close-up objects. An estimated 73% of people ages 65-74 and, and 92% of people older than 75, experience presbyopia.
Removing wastes from the blood: Over time, the liver and kidneys, which are responsible for filtering wastes and toxins from the blood, become less efficient. As a result, drugs that are broken down by liver are not inactivated as quickly in the elderly as they are in younger patients. This means that elderly patients may require lower dosages of some medications in order to prevent side effects from occurring. The changes in the kidneys may reduce the patient's ability to urinate and increase the amount of water retained in the body.
As individuals age, they have an increased risk of developing many diseases and serious health problems, which may be fatal. Older individuals have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, and eye diseases, such as cataracts or glaucoma.
General: In general, specific tests are not needed to diagnose aging. Individuals, especially elderly patients, should visit their doctors annually. If the patient's health is regularly monitored, preventative steps can be taken to treat or slow the signs and symptoms of aging. Individuals should also visit the eye doctor annually, especially if they drive or operate heavy machinery, including a car.
Erectile dysfunction: After a physical examination, several tests are available to determine the cause of erectile dysfunction.
A complete blood count may be taken to determine if the patient has low levels of iron in the blood. Low levels of iron may lead to erectile dysfunction.
A blood test may also be performed to determine whether or not high levels of fat in the blood are causing the condition.
Low levels of sex hormones, including testosterone, may also indicate erectile dysfunction.
A duplex ultrasound, which takes pictures of the penis, may also be performed. An ultrasound helps the healthcare provider evaluate blood flow to the penis. It can detect leaking arteries, hardened or blocked arties, or tissue scarring, which may be causing erectile dysfunction.
Hearing: If hearing loss is suspected, a healthcare provider may recommend a specialized doctor called an audiologist. The audiologists will ask questions about the patient's medical history and perform a hearing test called an audiogram to determine the severity of hearing loss. During an audiogram, the patient is exposed to various sounds that have different pitches and frequencies.
Menopause: If it is suspected that a patient is going through menopause, a blood sample may be taken to measure the amount of follicle stimulating hormone. Patients who have high levels of the hormone (50 international units of follicle stimulating hormone per liter of blood or more) have undergone menopause.
Osteoporosis: A bone density test is used to diagnose osteoporosis. A dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) takes pictures of the bones in the body and calculates their density. If a DEXA machine is not available, bone density scans can also be done with a dual photon absorptiometry and computerized tomography (CT) scan.
The results are reported as either a T-score or Z-score. A T-score compares the patient's bone density to healthy young women, while a Z-score compares the patient's bone density to other people of the same age, gender, and race. In either score, a negative number means that the patient has less dense bones than normal. Scores from 0 to -1 mean that the patient has borderline bone mass. The patient should repeat the test in two to five years to monitor the condition. If the patient's T-score ranges from -1 to 2.5, he/she has low bone mass and is at risk for developing osteoporosis. If the patient's T-score is lower than -2.5, osteoporosis is diagnosed. These patients should have their bone density tested every year or two.
General: Many treatments, medications, and surgeries are available to help people live longer, healthier lives. They may also help reduce signs and symptoms of aging.
Assisted mobility devices: Some individuals may require assisted mobility devices to help them walk. This may include a cane, walker, wheelchair, or mobilized chair. Individuals should talk to their healthcare providers to determine the best options for them.
Erectile dysfunction drugs: Several drugs, including sildenafil (Viagra©), tadalafil (Cialis©), and vardenafil (Levitra©), have been used treat males who experience erectile dysfunction as a result of aging. These drugs are taken by mouth a few hours before sexual activity. These drugs should not be taken more than once every 24 hours. In general, side effects may include headache, upset stomach, diarrhea, dizziness, flushing, or stuffy nose. Serious side effects may include sudden severe loss of vision, blurred vision, changes in color vision, painful erection, priaprism (prolonged erection lasting longer than four hours), fainting, chest pain, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, itching or burning during urination, and rash. Patients should seek immediate medical treatment if any of these serious side effects develop.
Bisphosphonates: Patients with osteoporosis may receive medications called bisphosphonates. These drugs are similar to estrogen in that they prevent the breakdown of bones, preserve bone mass, and increase bone density in the hip and spine. These drugs are taken for the rest of the patient's life.
Side effects may include nausea and abdominal pain. Some patients may develop an inflamed esophagus or esophageal ulcers, especially if they have histories of such conditions. Patients who take bisphosphonates once a week or once a month may experience fewer side effects.
Hearing aids: Individuals who experience hearing loss due to aging may benefit from hearing aids. These battery-operated devices are available in three basic styles: behind-the-ear aids, in-the-ear aids, and canal hearing aids. Patients should talk to their healthcare providers to determine the type of hearing aid that is best for them.
A behind-the-ear device is used for mild to profound hearing loss. The device has a hard plastic case that is worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic ear mold that fits inside the outer ear.
In-the-ear hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear, and are they used for mild to severe hearing loss.
Canal hearing aids are smaller hearing aids that fit inside the patient's hearing canal. They are used for mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
Hormone replacement therapy: Patients experiencing menopause may benefit from hormone therapy with estrogen to help alleviate symptoms. However, according to research, patients who receive estrogen have an increased risk of stroke. Patients should consult their healthcare providers to determine the potential health benefits and risks associated with hormone therapy.
Plastic surgery: Plastic surgery has been gaining popularity as a way to reduce physical signs of aging. For instance, a facelift is one of the most common anti-aging surgical procedures that is used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. During the surgery, an incision is made near the patient's hairline. The skin is then pulled back and the extra tissue is removed. As a result, the appearance of wrinkles is reduced and the skin appears smoother. However, there are health risks associated with surgical procedures, including infection, bleeding, and reactions to anesthesia. Older individuals have an increased risk of experiencing complications from surgery. Patients should discuss the potential risks and benefits of surgical procedures with their healthcare providers.
Botox© injections have been used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Botox is a drug made from a toxin produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It is the same toxin that causes a life-threatening type of food poisoning called botulism. However, the doses used for medical reasons are too low to cause illness in patients. Botox© injections weaken certain muscles or nerves, which temporarily reduces the appearance of wrinkles for about three to four months. Side effects include pain at the injection site, flu-like symptoms, headache, and upset stomachs. Injections in the face may also cause the eyelids to temporarily appear droopy. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Retinol: Retinol lotions, gels, serums, peels, creams, and make-up removal products may reduce the appearance of wrinkles in the elderly. Vitamin A is the active ingredient in retinol. Vitamin a has been shown to increase collagen and elastin formation in the skin. This helps minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Many products containing retinol are available over-the-counter at local pharmacies, beauty care stores, and department stores. Examples include Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream©, Olay Beauty Fluid©, and Repairwear Lift Firming Night Cream©. Products that contain higher amounts of retinol are available by prescription.
Good scientific evidence:
Art therapy: Art therapy involves many forms of art to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems. Art therapy became a mental health profession in the 1930s. Art therapy may help improve quality of life in aging. Research suggests that using non-directed visual art, such as pictures, to encourage communication among elderly nursing home residents may increase their well-being, happiness, peacefulness, satisfaction, and calmness. Art therapy may also reduce blood pressure and improve medical health status with regard to reported dizziness, fatigue, pain, and use of laxatives.
Art therapy may evoke distressing thoughts or feelings. Use under the guidance of a qualified art therapist or other mental health professional. Some forms of art therapy may use potentially harmful materials. Only materials known to be safe should be used. Related clean-up materials (such as turpentine or mineral spirits) that release potentially toxic fumes should only be used with good ventilation.
Meditation: Meditation may help to improve cognitive function and blood pressure in the elderly, which may in turn promote overall health and longevity. More research is needed to identify the specific effects of meditation on aging. However, based on the available evidence, meditation may be recommended as a health-promoting activity for the elderly.
Use cautiously with underlying mental illnesses. People with psychiatric disorders should consult with their primary mental healthcare professional(s) before starting a program of meditation, and should explore how meditation may or may not fit in with their current treatment plan. Avoid with risk of seizures. The practice of meditation should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole approach to illnesses.
Tai chi: Tai chi is a system of movements and positions believed to have developed in 12th Century China. Tai chi techniques aim to address the body and mind as an interconnected system and are traditionally believed to have mental and physical health benefits to improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. There is good evidence from several studies indicating that tai chi, if practiced regularly, may help improve quality of life in the elderly. Beyond improved balance and the preventive effects against falls, it appears that the practice may be beneficial for aging by improving overall physical functioning and sense of well-being.
Avoid with severe osteoporosis or joint problems, acute back pain, sprains, or fractures. Avoid during active infections, right after a meal, or when very tired. Some believe that visualization of energy flow below the waist during menstruation may increase menstrual bleeding. Straining downwards or holding low postures should be avoided during pregnancy, and by people with inguinal hernias. Some tai chi practitioners believe that practicing for too long or using too much intention may direct the flow of chi (qi) inappropriately, possibly resulting in physical or emotional illness. Tai chi should not be used as a substitute for more proven therapies for potentially serious conditions. Advancing too quickly while studying tai chi may increase the risk of injury.
Unclear or conflicting scientific evidence:
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an evergreen shrub with small flowers and fruits. Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for many centuries to help the body resist physical and emotional stress. The use of ashwagandha as an agent for aging is based on traditional use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to promote physical and mental health, improve resistance to disease, and promote longevity. Human research is lacking in this area and currently there is insufficient evidence to draw a firm conclusion.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to ashwagandha products or any of their ingredients. Dermatitis (allergic skin rash) was reported in three of 42 patients in one ashwagandha trial. There are few reports of adverse effects associated with ashwagandha, but there are few human trials using ashwagandha and most do not report the doses or standardization/preparation used. Avoid with peptic ulcer disease. Ashwagandha may have caused abortions based on anecdotal reports. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Bitter orange: Limited available study indicates that a combination product including immature bitter orange may improve symptoms of aging. However, more, higher-quality studies are needed.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to bitter orange or any members of the Rutaceae family. Avoid with heart disease, narrow-angle glaucoma, intestinal colic, or long QT interval syndrome. Avoid if taking anti-adrenergic agents, beta-blockers, QT-interval prolonging drugs, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), stimulants, or honey. Use cautiously with headache, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), or if fair-skinned. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Cordyceps: A fungi called cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is widely used as a dietary supplement. It has also been used as a tonic food and beverage in China and Tibet. It is also an ingredient in soups and other foods used traditionally in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, helping debilitated patients recover from illness. Cordyceps may improve various symptoms related to aging. However, higher quality studies testing specific symptoms of aging are needed before the effects of cordyceps can be fully understood.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to cordyceps, mold, or fungi. Use cautiously with diabetes, bleeding disorders, or prostate conditions. Use cautiously if taking anticoagulants, immunosuppressants, hormone replacement therapy, or oral contraceptives. Avoid with myelogenous type cancers. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Healing touch: Healing touch (HT) is a combination of hands-on and off-body techniques to influence the flow of energy through a person's biofield. Preliminary data suggests that HT treatments may help improve quality of life in aging, but limitations of the available studies preclude clear findings. More studies are needed before recommendations can be made.
HT should not be regarded as a substitute for established medical treatments. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Prayer, distant healing: Preliminary study suggests that older adults who participate in private religious activity before the onset of impairment in activities of daily living appear to have a survival advantage over those who do not. Further research is needed to confirm the effects of prayer on longevity.
Prayer is not recommended as the sole treatment approach for potentially serious medical conditions and should not delay the time it takes to consult with a healthcare professional or receive established therapies.
Resveratrol: Resveratrol has been included in herbal products that are marketed to increase lifespan and prevent aging. Limited evidence shows a possible benefit for this use, but more studies are needed to better understand the role of resveratrol in longevity.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to resveratrol, grapes, red wine, or polyphenols. Resveratrol is generally considered safe and is commonly found in food and beverages. Use cautiously with bleeding disorders or abnormal blood pressure. Use cautiously with drugs that are broken down by the body's cytochrome P450 system or digoxin (or digoxin-like drugs). Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Selenium: Selenium is a trace mineral found in soil, water, and some foods. It is an essential element in several metabolic pathways. Because antioxidant supplements are thought to slow aging and prevent disease, selenium supplementation may increase longevity. However, results from clinical trials are mixed, and it is still unclear whether selenium supplementation can affect mortality in healthy individuals.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to products containing selenium. Avoid with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer. Selenium is generally regarded as safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, animal research reports that large doses of selenium may lead to birth defects.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is found in many foods, including fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. Intake of vitamin D may be associated with mortality reduction. Additional evidence is needed to confirm this association.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to vitamin D or any of its components. Vitamin D is generally well-tolerated in recommended doses. Doses higher than recommended may cause toxic effects. Individuals with overactive thyroid, kidney disease, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, or histoplasmosis have a higher risk of experiencing toxic effects. Vitamin D is generally considered safe for pregnant women. It may be necessary to give infants vitamin D supplements along with breast milk in order to prevent vitamin deficiencies.
Fair negative scientific evidence:
Beta-carotene: Patients given beta-carotene supplements show no reduction in relative mortality rates from all causes based on available data. Additional research may be needed to better understand the effects of beta-carotene on mortality reduction.
There is some concern that beta-carotene metabolites with pharmacological activity can accumulate and potentially have cancer-causing (carcinogenic) effects. Beta-carotene/vitamin A supplements may have an adverse effect on the incidence of lung cancer and on the risk of death in smokers and asbestos exposed people or in those who ingest significant amounts of alcohol. In addition, high-dose antioxidants theoretically may interfere with the activity of some chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy. Therefore, individuals undergoing cancer treatment should speak with their oncologist if they are taking or considering the use of high dose antioxidants. Beta-carotene in the amounts normally found in food does not appear to have this adverse effect. Avoid if sensitive to beta-carotene, vitamin A or any other ingredients in beta-carotene products.
Traditional or theoretical uses lacking sufficient evidence:
Apricot: Apricot is a natural fruit that grows in the northern Himalayas. It has been suggested that apricots may help delay or slow aging. However, human research is lacking.
Avoid if allergic to apricot, its constituents, or members of the Rosaceae family, especially the Prunoideae subfamily of plants. Avoid eating excessive amounts of apricot kernels (about seven grams daily or more than 10 kernels daily). Avoid using Laetrile™ because multiple cases of cyanide poisonings, some of which were fatal, have been associated with its use. Use cautiously with diabetes. Use cautiously if taking supplements containing beta-carotene, iron, niacin, potassium, thiamine, or vitamin C. Use cautiously if taking products that may lower blood pressure. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
DHEA: DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone that is naturally produced by the adrenal glands, has been suggested, but not proven, as a possible anti-aging remedy. Some research suggests that it may improve memory, the immune system, muscle mass, sexual libido, and it may have beneficial effects on the skin. However, further research is needed in order to determine whether or not this treatment is safe and effective for aging in humans.
Avoid if allergic to DHEA. Avoid with a history of seizures. Use cautiously with adrenal or thyroid disorders. Use cautiously if taking anticoagulants, or drugs, herbs, or supplements for diabetes, heart disease, seizure, or stroke. Stop use two weeks before and immediately after surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Folate (folic acid): Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Although it has been suggested that folate may help in preventing signs of aging, further research is needed to confirm these claims.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to folate or any of the product ingredients. It is recommended that pregnant women consume 400 micrograms daily in order to reduce the risk of the fetus developing a defect. Folate is likely safe if breastfeeding.
Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo biloba has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today, it is one of the top selling herbs in the United States. Traditionally, Ginkgo biloba has been used to reduce signs and symptoms of aging. However, human studies have not tested the safety and effectiveness of this treatment. Further research is warranted.
Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to members of the Ginkgoaceae family. If allergic to mango rind, sumac, poison ivy. poison oak, or cashews, then allergy to ginkgo is possible. Avoid with blood-thinners (like aspirin or warfarin) due to an increased risk of bleeding. Ginkgo biloba should be stopped two weeks before surgical procedures. Ginkgo biloba seeds are dangerous and should be avoided. Skin irritation and itching may also occur due to ginkgo allergies. Do not use Ginkgo biloba in supplemental doses if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Ginseng: The term ginseng refers to several species of the genus Panax. For more than 2,000 years, the roots of this slow-growing plant have been valued in Chinese medicine. Proponents of ginseng claim that it may improve long-term debility in elderly patients. However, human studies are needed to better understand the effects of ginseng on aging.
Avoid ginseng with a known allergy to plants in the Araliaceae family. There has been a report of a serious life-threatening skin reaction, possibly caused by contaminants in the ginseng formulation.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, or beta-carotene, are thought to protect the body's cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. A diet rich in antioxidants has been suggested as a possible anti-aging treatment.
Exercise: Regular exercise may decrease an individual's risk of developing potentially fatal or debilitating medical conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Exercise is any form of physical activity that helps to promote overall health. Most movement of the body is considered beneficial, as long as it is done in moderation and at the skill level of the person. Regular exercise has been found to boost energy, encourage healthy sleep patterns, and help individuals maintain a regular weight. All major medical organizations recommend exercise as one of the most important ways to stay healthy and recover after illness.
There are many ways for people to exercise, including gardening, walking, sports activities, and dancing. Patients who are beginning an exercise program should choose activities that fit their levels of strength and endurance. The type of exercise is not as important as a consistent exercise schedule. Most experts today agree that burning calories should not be the goal of exercise.
Exercise that causes extreme pain or discomfort is considered by many experts as harmful, and it may even cause permanent damage to the body.
Healthy diet: Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet may also help individuals live longer, healthier lives. The U.S. government issued a revised food pyramid in 2005 in an effort to help Americans live healthier. The new pyramid provides12 different models based on daily calorie needs.
Research suggests that a low-calorie diet with the required nutritional content may delay human aging. According to animal studies, a low-calorie diet, ranging from 1,400 to 2,000 calories, may lead to a 50% increase in life expectancy. However, a low-calorie diet is not for everyone, especially those who exercise rigorously. Therefore, individuals should consult their healthcare providers and/or nutritionists before starting a low-calorie diet.
Red wine in moderation (about one glass a day) has been suggested as having anti-aging effects. Red wine contains a substance called resveratrol, which has been shown to mimic the effects of a low-calorie diet in laboratory studies. Researchers believe that resveratrol fools the body into thinking it is being deprived of food. As a result, the genes that repair DNA are activated and the aging process is slowed.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): The human growth hormone (hGH) has been suggested as an anti-aging treatment. This hormone is naturally produced by the body's pituitary gland to stimulate growth. Researchers are currently studying the hormone to determine if it can delay the aging process. It has been suggested that hGH may reduce signs of aging by increasing muscle mass, strengthening the immune system, and increasing libido. However, further research is warranted to determine the safety and effectiveness of this treatment. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of hGH as an anti-aging treatment.
Lifestyle: Individuals can make lifestyle changes to delay aging. Research has shown that individuals who are able to manage their stress levels are able to live longer, healthier lives than those who do not. Individuals should not smoke because the toxins in cigarette smoke promote free radical damage, which may speed up aging. Individuals should consume alcohol in moderation.
Research has shown that individuals who have the support of friends, family members, spouses, and/or significant others are more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who do not.
Retinol: Retinol lotions, gels, serums, peels, creams, and make-up removal products may help prevent wrinkles. Vitamin A is the active ingredient in retinol. Vitamin A has been shown to increase collagen and elastin formation in the skin. This helps minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
Sunblock: Protecting the skin from sun exposure can help prevent wrinkles and age spots associated with aging. Patients should choose a sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. The sunblock should offer protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Patients can wear hats with brims, sunglasses, and protective clothing when outside to minimize sun exposure. An umbrella or parasol may also help block sunrays.
This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
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