Access to all articles, new health classes, discounts in our store, and more!
Our body functions best when it is in homeostasis: balance in the body. We have many homeostatic mechanisms that help regulate this balance. Do the homeostatic mechanisms change as we age? Does homeostasis take on a different dimension? Does homeostasis mean something different from what it did when we were young? These questions are concerns of many older people. Each day new research comes out as to the fallacy of many of the preconceived ideas we had about aging. I believe that the same lifestyle factors that are important for maintaining health in a 20 year old are just as important to a 60 year old: 1. Diet; 2. Exercise and body alignment; 3. Not letting stress become distress; 4. Environmental factors.
By Nancy Appleton, PhD
For many years the most common accepted beliefs about aging were as follows:
- An increased fasting blood glucose level.
- Increased diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
- An increase in a cholesterol level and HDL cholesterol ratio adding to our risk of heart disease.
- Bones will become brittle, decrease in size and break more easily (osteoporosis).
- Our strength will decrease.
- Added pounds, excess fat and less lean body mass.
- Decrease in basal metabolic rate (BMR).
- Decrease in body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature.
- Years of distress will cause degenerative diseases.
Let us look more closely at these symptoms:
Our bodies function best when in homeostasis: balance in the body. We have many homeostatic mechanisms that help regulate this balance. The hormones secreted by the endocrine system, such as insulin by the pancreas, thyroxin by the thyroid, and adrenalin by the adrenal glands, help to balance the body’s chemistry and help the blood to regain and maintain homeostasis. There are many other homeostatic mechanisms in the body, such as acid/alkalinity control and temperature control that also are regulators of homeostasis.
Do the homeostatic mechanisms change as we age? Does homeostasis take on a different dimension? Does homeostasis mean something different from what it did when we were young? These questions on homeostasis coupled with the following personal ones are concerns of many older people. Should our fasting blood glucose be higher or lower when we are 65 than it was when we were 25? Should it take us longer to recover from a cold? If we break a bone should it take longer to heal? Will we break more bones as we age? Are we more susceptible to disease? Will it take us longer to get out of a chair? Will our mind get forgetful? Will we have to urinate more? Will our bones become less dense and thinner? Will we lose our strength to pick up our grandchild? Will we be cold all the time? Will the cholesterol increase in our bloodstream? Will we lose our sexual desire or performance? Will many foods make us burp or belch? Will fatigue set in quickly with over-activity? Will sleep become a problem, either too much or too little? Are all these problems normal with aging?
Each day new research comes out as to the fallacy of many of the preconceived ideas we had about aging. There are various reasons for this. Physiological changes in the central nervous system, cardiovascular functions, renal function, gastrointestinal system and musculoskeletal functions appear to dictate corresponding changes in dietary requirements. It seems that the deficiencies and imbalances in nutrients could come before the physiological changes. Then the question has to be asked, what causes the imbalances? One reason is the fact that most of the research has been done on older people in the U.S. or Europe. Little research was done on older people in developing nations where infectious disease is still common but degenerative diseases are rare.
The second reason for this is that research was rarely done on people who did strenuous exercise, stretch and weightlifting to see what the result would be.
The third reason is that if a person changed his or her diet for research reasons, it was usually just taking the saturated fat out, rather than removing all over-cooked fat and all sugar and most processed foods. Also important is finding the foods to which a person reacted (allergies) and removing them and generally eating an early man’s diet.
Of course another parameter is the way that a person deals with the stress in the person’s life. It is not life’s situations but how we deal with these situations, as to whether stress will become distress and cause upset body chemistry.
I believe that the same lifestyle factors that are important for maintaining health in a 20 year old are just as important to a 60 year old.
What are those lifestyle factors?
2. Exercise and body alignment
3. Not letting stress become distress
4. Environmental factors
First, start with the factors that most people believe come with aging:
1. Increased fasting blood glucose level:
Research shows that building muscle through weight-bearing exercise is a key to regulating glucose metabolism. Muscle is where insulin is stored and if exercise is not continued as you age, muscle becomes body fat and muscle tissue becomes less and less sensitive to insulin. Consequently in many older people, it takes more and more insulin to have the desired effect. Therefore we can exhaust the beta cells in the pancreas that secrete the insulin, and as well, the insulin has a harder time getting into the muscle cells. High blood glucose can be the result (Ivans, W. and Rosenberg, I.H. BIOMARKERS. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1991, 67-71).
2. Increased diastolic and systolic blood pressure:
There are populations in the world today that age to the lifespan appropriate to the human species without developing clinical evidence of atherosclerosis. Rather than age being a factor in elevated blood pressure, obesity, too high a consumption of sugar, salt, fried and hydrogenated fat, alcohol, smoking, and too little exercise can lead to high blood pressure. Research compared the blood pressure of black Americans with African bushmen. Both populations had increases in the systolic pressure from age 20 onward, but the levels for African men didn’t even break through the normal range until after the seventh decade of life. As for Africans’ diastolic pressure, there was almost no change. American blacks were showing higher readings in both systolic and diastolic pressure after age 20. By the time black Americans hit 50, they were experiencing signs of hypertension.
3. Elevated cholesterol level and high density lipoprotein level:
According to the latest studies, the factors responsible for raising HDL cholesterol are exercise and lowering body fat, as well as removing sugar from your diet, not letting stress become distress, quitting smoking and going off birth control pills. Just removing the fat from your diet is not going to do it. Lifestyle changes must be made.
4. Bone will become brittle, get smaller in size and break more easily:
The majority of research shows that the body needs between 500 and 800 milligrams of calcium for a minimum of bone loss as we age. Taking much more does not seem to retard bone loss or fractures. The key is utilizing all the calcium that we take in, not eating abusive foods that pull the calcium out and not allowing the calcium to become toxic. Toxic calcium, due to upset body chemistry and/or taking an excess amount of calcium, can be a factor in arteriosclerosis, arthritis, plaque on the teeth, bone spurs, kidney stones, gallbladder stones, and cataracts. Exercise also plays a role in healthy bones. It seems to help the body to absorb calcium. A study was done at the University of Wisconsin with women exercising and taking calcium supplements. The results showed that those women who exercised all increased their bone mineral content. The calcium supplement had virtually no effect. The sedentary women all had bone demineralization although some were taking supplements. At any age a person can start an exercise program and not only will your bones benefit from it but also your heart and the rest of your body.
5. Our strength will decrease:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University put 12 men, age 60 to 72, on a 12 week strength training program and the results were miraculous. One of the volunteers, age 70, could lift 25 pounds at the beginning of the program, and 12 weeks later he could lift 75 pounds. Another volunteer, age 62, was overweight and flabby, and had an abnormally high circulating insulin. After twelve weeks on the program, he lowered his fasting insulin level to normal, by re-activating muscles to become more sensitive to the hormone insulin so as to withdraw more from his blood. Although not cutting back on the food he ate, he was able to lose 25 pounds and reduce his stomach circumference by 7 inches. The results of the study for the 12 men were an increase of muscle strength by two to threefold, and their muscle mass grew by 10 to 15 percent.
The key is utilizing all the calcium that we take in, not eating abusive foods that pull the calcium out and not allowing the calcium to become toxic.
6. Added years means added pounds:
Unfortunately for most of us, the fact of added years does mean added pounds. Added years also means the ratio of the good lean body mass to unwanted fat decreases. None of this is necessary. Removing abusive, addictive foods, such as sugar, alcohol, fried foods, salty foods, wheat and dairy products can help our cravings and addictions. Exercise can increase our metabolic rate so that pounds come off easier, and exercise also helps increase the mean body mass.
7. Decrease in basal metabolic rate (BMR):
BMR is the rate that your body builds and destroys tissue and releases energy when your exertion is minimal, such as when you wake from sleep in the morning. Research seems to show that your BMR does decrease with age but the researcher always came up with widely divergent figures until they realized that a person’s lean body mass is the key to compiling a definitive figure. Researchers Ivan and Rosenberg feel that older people’s reduced muscle mass is almost wholly responsible for the gradual reduction of their basal metabolic rate. Unfortunately, by the time a woman is 65, 43% of her body weight is fat as compared with 25% for a woman of age 25. A man is a little more lucky, probably because he exercises more. For a man, the average body fat is 18% at age 25, and by 65 years of age, he has reached 38% of body fat. Exercise plays a great role in increasing muscle mass and reducing the body weight that is fat.
When there is an overabundance of food, animals and humans both, do not make choices that are beneficial to their health.
8. Decrease in the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature:
Research shows that as you age, your ability to regulate your internal temperature is decreased due to a reduced sensation of thirst and a lessened ability to sweat and shiver. Staying in shape helps to regulate internal temperatures. Regular exercise increases the amount of water in your blood, which means you can afford to lose more water via sweating without becoming dehydrated.
“Rats, permitted to choose freely among three different diets, selected precisely those combinations which maximized their incidence of degenerative disease and minimized their life span. Some even shifted dietary preferences during the course of life to select precisely those diets which were the most noxious at that particular time.” It seems that when there is an overabundance of food, animals and humans both, do not make choices that are beneficial to their health. When the wrong choices are made over a lifetime, optimal cellular nutrition is impossible.
Detoxification plays a large role in the disease process. When the body is able to detoxify food putrification, chemical pollutants, and environmental toxins, and drugs, the body stays healthy. Poor nutrition may contribute significantly to the impairment of detoxification capacity in an aging individual. Absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion all affect xenobiotic deposition in the elderly. Mammalian species that have developed longer lifespans have also developed better defensive mechanisms to protect themselves against noxious agents. Food restriction has shown to decrease toxicity.
Antioxidants can protect cells against indigenous and exogenous free radicals. [Mobsen Meydani, “Impact of Aging On Detoxification Mechanisms,” NUTRITIONAL TOXICOLOGY, (New York: Raven Press, LTD, 1994): 49-66]
Each of us ages differently. There are many factors to consider in the aging process. How many years have you abused your body with improper nutrition? Have you exercised regularly? Have you not let stress become distress? Have you kept your body in good alignment?
Now if you find yourself at age 60 or so, out of breath, out of shape, carrying excess pounds, with stiff joints, taking pharmaceutical drugs for some problem, having no agility, feeling general malaise, with elevated medical markers such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose, there are many things you can do to bring your homeostatic mechanisms back to what they were 20 years ago. Those of you who are younger can start right now so you don’t even have to ask those former questions. At any age you can slow the aging process and remove many symptoms from your body. We all have a genetic blueprint but we do not have to develop the diseases of our family’s history if we keep our body in homeostasis. As to the speed at which you age, the choice is yours.
The best way for the body to regain homeostasis, and not have a compromised immune system, is through whole foods, removing the foods to which you react, stress reduction, exercise, and bodyalignment when necessary.
- Kenneth R. Pelletier, Longevity: Fulfilling Our Biological Potential (New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1978), 217.
- “Aging Summer,” Documentary television film for PBS on healthy aging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1993).
Purchasing these titles via the Amazon link help support Price-Pottenger.
Published in the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing
Summer 2007 Volume 31 Number 2
Copyright © 2007 Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Inc.®
All Rights Reserved Worldwide