A New Model Of Aging
Author: Gael Wheeler, DO
OK, time for a pop quiz! What is the one thing that every single human being is doing at this very moment? That’s easy; we’re all aging! Contrary to what popular media might portray, aging is not a disease process. However, it cannot be denied that there are special considerations associated with the aging process.
The goal of healthy aging involves moving from reactively responding to disease when it is expensive and difficult to treat, to proactively using strategies that prolong the healthspan of a person’s life. When implemented and maintained, these strategies help decrease illness and suffering at the end of life.
In general, there are a few key strategies that apply to everyone. A healthy, antioxidant-rich diet with plenty of plant-based fiber, and proper hydration are critical. Physical activity that includes both aerobic and strength training, and adequate protein intake are vital for healthy bones and muscles. Micronutrient optimization is crucial as we age, particularly if we are on pharmaceutical medications, many of which can contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
With an understanding of the processes that support healthy aging at the cellular and molecular level, we can design age-appropriate lifestyle and micronutrient protocols that limit the risk of developing age-related disease while promoting lifelong healthy functioning. By improving one’s healthspan, we may also increase their lifespan.
Below are things to consider regarding key nutrients as we age:
Because of genetic variability, we each have unique needs for the amount of each micronutrient we require. As we age, we generally have special requirements for these essential nutrients. For example, studies have shown older adults have lower plasma levels of Vitamin C than younger adults given the same dose. This research suggests that the efficacy of the mechanisms for cellular uptake of Vitamin C decline with age. Maximizing the blood level of Vitamin C can provide important protection against oxidative damage to cells. Increased Vitamin C intake is particularly important for older adults who are at higher risk for chronic disease caused in part by oxidative damage, including heart disease and certain cancers.
Vitamin B 12
Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in many physiological processes including folate metabolism and the citric acid cycle and generation of ATP (cellular energy). The preservation of DNA integrity is dependent in part on sufficient Vitamin B12 levels and deficiencies may be linked to some breast cancers and other pathologies. Vitamin B12 is also a co-factor in homocysteine metabolism. Elevated homocysteine levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The long term use of medications, such as inhibitors of stomach acid secretion, can impair Vitamin B12 absorption. Decreased levels of Vitamin B12 can lead to neurological disorders such as peripheral neuropathy and memory loss.
Vitamin D3 + K2
Bone strength is dependent on several factors, including hormone levels, degree of weight-bearing exercise, and Vitamins D3 and K2 levels, among others. As we age, hormone levels and activity tend to decrease, putting us at risk for fractures. Vitamin D is critical for our ability to absorb calcium from our diet, and Vitamin K2 deposits that calcium in the bones and teeth where we need it. Vitamin D is also an essential player in the proper functioning of the immune system and can regulate hundreds of genes involved in many biological functions. Observational studies have reported associations between poor Vitamin D status and increased risk of developing colorectal and breast cancers, types 1 and 2 diabetes, and development of autoimmune disorders such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
One of the first changes we may notice as we age is a decrease in visual acuity. Vitamin A is essential for the proper function of the retina of the eye. Inadequate Vitamin A can lead to impaired vision, particularly in low light. Vitamin A is also essential for the proper functioning of the immune system and may help prevent autoimmune conditions. Additionally, it is an important co-factor in the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Thyroid dysfunction is common in older adults. Because Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, impaired pancreatic or biliary secretion, common in older adults, can result in a deficiency. Cholesterol-lowering medications like Cholestyramine, colestipol, and Orlistat interfere with the absorption of fats, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including Vitamin A.
Dosing Vitamin A must be done carefully, as toxicity can occur at lower doses in older adults. A maximum of 2500 IU Vitamin A palmitate plus no more than 2500 additional IU beta-Carotene is recommended for older individuals. Levels of Vitamin A palmitate of 5000 IU are linked to an increased risk of hip fracture. Large doses of Vitamin A may impair the absorption of Vitamin K2, a vitamin critical for transporting calcium to bone tissue. In this case, if a little is good, more is not necessarily better.
A Vitamin B6 level of at least 3mg/dl is linked to lower homocysteine levels. Adequate B6 levels might help reduce the risk of late-life depression, as it plays a vital role in the synthesis of two major neurotransmitters, serotonin, and dopamine. Growing evidence shows that prolonged systemic inflammation underlying most chronic diseases may impair Vitamin B6 absorption, and chronic disease is more common in older adults. Levels of Vitamin B6 must be monitored when supplementing, as too much can cause peripheral neuropathy, which may irreversible even with decreased dosage.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) deficiency has been linked to an increased risk for ischemic stroke and increased bone fracture risk. Doses of 1.6 to 2.2 mg a day may decrease the risk of developing cataracts. Emerging evidence demonstrates a protective role for Vitamin B2 against hypertension in individuals with the MTHFR 677TT genotype. Iron deficiency anemia is often found in older individuals. Vitamin B2 deficiency alters iron metabolism, and improving Vitamin B2 status has been found to increase hemoglobin levels.
As you can see, assuring optimal nutrient levels as we age is essential for lifelong peak functioning.
Micronutrient testing every few years over the age of fifty is a tool we can use to ensure each individual has what they uniquely need to navigate a healthy path through the aging process.