Proper Nutrition for Healthy Aging
Edward Gruber, CN
We all want to grow old—we’re just not all that thrilled about aging. And who can blame us? As most baby boomers can attest, the “golden years” tend to bring with them an array of physical, mental and emotional challenges. Although people certainly age differently, scientists have identified certain changes that nearly everyone experiences as time passes. Researchers at the National Institute of Aging – sponsors of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), the world’s most comprehensive and longest running longitudinal study of human aging in the world have found, for example, that over time even healthy older adults lose a significant amount of brain volume. Looking at the aging heart, BLSA scientists found that age-related changes in the arteries increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases. The list of BLSA- documented changes to organs and body systems as we age goes on. What causes these changes? Do they inevitably lead to full-blown disease? Can we do anything to mitigate the degenerative effects of aging?
Oxidative Damage Control
Over the last few decades, great strides have been made in the science of aging (gerontology). A theory that continues to gain acceptance is that degenerative aging is a result of oxidative, or free radical, damage that is accumulated over time.
As it breathes, the human body constantly reacts with oxygen and the cells produce energy. As a consequence of this activity, highly unstable molecules known as free radicals are produced within our cells and oxidative stress occurs. When our antioxidant-response is unable to control the oxidative stress, oxidative damage results and the stage is set for system inflammation.
While the normal inflammatory response helps fight disease and repair injuries, it also temporarily suspends the body’s normal immune response and certain metabolic processes. That’s fine in the short term – but when the inflammatory response mechanism never shuts down and the body is in a prolonged state of low-grade inflammation, the delicate balance among the body’s major systems is thrown off, and serious health problems with one or all of those systems result. Chronic inflammation has been linked to aging as well as to many diseases for which age is a significant risk factor: cancer, heart disease, strokes, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
According to a growing body of research, eating foods loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants (found in abundance in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in legumes, nuts and seeds) we can indeed minimize free radical damage. Both the aging body and the aging brain have been shown to benefit from an eating regimen based on the well-known Mediterranean diet.; with its emphasis on whole grains, a wide variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry and healthy (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats, the diet is rich in anti-oxidants and foods that help reduce inflammation.
Combined with exercise and other lifestyle changes, proper nutrition in our senior years can help ease and even prevent many of the chronic conditions and diseases associated with aging.