Based on new understandings about the molecular mechanisms of aging, it appears that the lust for longer life has become a scientific reality.
More than 60% of Americans regularly ingest some sort of dietary supplement. Even conventional medicine is recognizing the logic of taking steps today to prevent degenerative disease in the future. The media has publicized the results of large human clinical trials showing that consuming the right supplements in the proper potencies will reduce one's risk of contracting cancer, cataract, cardiovascular, Alzheimer's, and numerous other diseases associated with aging.
The question is, are the 60% of Americans now taking supplements going to live longer than those who don't? An analysis of the scientific literature indicates probably not. The reason is that few Americans are taking enough of the proper nutrients to duplicate the clinical studies showing that the diseases of aging may be preventable.
Twenty-two years ago, the Life Extension Foundation began a systematic review of published scientific findings relating to the prevention of degenerative disease and aging. The results of this painstaking investigation provided convincing evidence that the killer diseases of aging could be largely prevented by the proper intake of nutrients, hormones, certain drugs, and lifestyle changes.
The phenomenon known as aging is a result of a number of pathological changes that are somewhat controllable using existing technologies. By prolonging our healthy lifespan, we put ourselves in a position to take advantage of future medical breakthroughs that could result in dramatic extensions of human lifespan. Here are some of the underlying controllable causes of the diseases of aging we know of today:
1. Chronic inflammation. Aging people suffer an epidemic of outward inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, but chronic inflammation also damages brain cells, arterial walls, heart valves and other structures in the body. Heart attack, stroke, heart valve failure, and Alzheimer's senility have been linked to the chronic inflammatory cascade so often seen in aging humans.
2. Glycosylation. It is well known that diabetics age prematurely, but even non-diabetics suffer from a devastating chemical reaction called glycosylation, where protein molecules bind to glucose molecules in the body to form nonfunctioning structures. Glycosylation is most evident in senile dementia, stiffening of the arterial system, and degenerative diseases of the eye.
3. Methylation Deficit. Cellular DNA requires constant enzymatic actions (re-methylation) for maintenance and repair. Aging cripples youthful methylation metabolism causing DNA damage that can manifest as cancer, liver damage, and brain cell degeneration.
4. Mitochondrial Energy Depletion. The cell's energy powerhouse (the mitochondria) requires a complex series of chemicals to be present in order to maintain critical functions such as transporting nutrients through the cell membrane and purging the cell of toxic debris. Mitochondrial energy depletion can result in congestive heart failure, muscle weakness, fatigue, and neurological disease.
5. Hormone Imbalance. The trillions of cells in the human body are delicately synchronized to function by chemical signals called hormones. Aging creates a severe hormone imbalance that is often a contributing cause to many diseases associated with aging including depression, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease, and loss of libido.
6. Excess Calcification. Calcium ions are transported into and out of cells through calcium channels in the cell membrane. Aging disrupts calcium transport, and the result is excess calcium infiltration into cells of the brain, heart valves, and middle arterial wall (causing arteriosclerosis).
7. Fatty acid Imbalance. The body requires essential fatty acids to maintain cell energy output. Aging causes alterations in enzymes required to convert dietary fats into the specific essential fatty acids the body requires to sustain life. The effects of a fatty acid imbalance may manifest as an irregular heart beat, joint degeneration, low energy, hypercoagulation, dry skin, or a host of other common ailments associated with normal aging.
8. DNA Mutation. Numerous synthetic and natural compounds mutate cellular DNA and cause cancer cells to form. Aging cells lose their DNA gene repair mechanisms and the result is that DNA genetic damage can cause cells to proliferate out of control, i.e., turn into cancer cells.
9. Immune Dysfunction. For a variety of reasons, the aging immune system loses its ability to attack bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. In aging humans, excessive levels of dangerous cytokines are produced that cause the immune system to turn on its host and create autoimmune diseases associated with aging such as rheumatoid syndrome.
10. Non-Digestive Enzyme Imbalance. Internal cellular functions depend on multiple enzymatic reactions occurring with precise timing. Aging causes enzyme imbalances primarily in the brain and liver, which results in severe neurological diseases such as Parkinson's or the persistent memory loss aging people so often complain about. Impaired liver function results in toxic damage to every cell in the body.
11. Digestive Enzyme Deficit. The aging pancreas often fails to secrete enough digestive enzymes, while the aging liver does not secrete enough bile acids. The result is chronic indigestion people complain about as they age.
12. Excitotoxicity. The aging brain loses control of its release of neuro-transmitters such as glutamate and dopamine, and this results in devastating brain cell damage and destruction
13. Circulatory Deficit. Microcapillary perfusion of blood to the brain, eye, and skin is impaired as a part of normal aging. The result is that disorders of the eye (such as cataract, macular degeneration, glaucoma) are the number one aging-related degenerative disease. Major and mini-strokes are common problems associated with circulatory deficit to the brain and the skin of all aged people show the effects of lack of nutrient-rich blood to the upper layers.
14. Oxidative stress. Free radicals are unstable molecules that have been implicated in most diseases associated with aging. Antioxidants have become popular supplements to protect against free radical-induced cell damage, but few people take the proper combination of antioxidant supplements to adequately compensate for age-induced loss of endogenous antioxidants such as SOD and catalase.
Notice that oxidative stress is listed as number 14 on the above list of controllable factors that cause aging-related diseases. While suppressing the free radicals that cause oxidative stress protects against many disorders, there is clearly much more that can be done to stave off aging than merely taking antioxidant supplements.
Children can benefit by taking vitamin supplements, but it is aging humans whose body's are depleted of the endogenous antioxidants, hormones, enzymatic repair systems, and other biological chemicals needed to sustain life. What is optional in childhood becomes mandatory as humans enter middle-age and become vulnerable to the plethora of degenerative diseases that await them if they do not adequately protect themselves.