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Meredith Harvey: How would you define healthy aging?
David J. Getoff: I define healthy aging as getting older with very slow and minimal loss of strength, muscle tone, reflexes, and eyesight, while retaining the vast majority of cognitive function, including short- and long-term memory, until death.
MH: Why do most people age poorly in the US and other industrialized countries?
DG: This is due to many reasons, but it appears that the following are the most significant. Note that the importance of one reason relative to another may vary among individuals.
First is the consumption of nutrient-deficient rather than nutrient-dense foods. When people eat commercially raised foods that have been designed for storage, shipping, and appearance instead of nutrient content, their bodies do not obtain adequate amounts of the materials needed for long-term health, repair, and regeneration. This is because the nutrient density of our modern food crops has decreased due to hybridization, genetic modification, and soil depletion. Thus, even with a good diet, it is very difficult to be nutritionally sufficient without the use of supplements. Research studies have confirmed that most people have multiple undiagnosed nutrient deficiencies, and these result in their bodies’ inability to function optimally.
In addition, there is very good research indicating that the body can require a massive increase in nutrients, such as magnesium, the B vitamins, and vitamin C, when it is under stress. The stress can be related to life situations, such as taking a test or simply having a bad day. However, the stressors that increase our nutrient requirements more than anything else, due in part to their inflammatory effects, are often wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi and cordless phones, pollutants in the air, chemical additives in cosmetics and other personal care products, toxic odors from home cleansers, and chlorine, chloramines, and fluoride in drinking water. As the body attempts to handle the pro-oxidative and cell-damaging effects of all these stressors, it requires huge amounts of numerous nutrients. For people interested in determining their own nutritional needs, one of the better testing tools I recommend is MetaMetrix Clinical Laboratory’s Cardio ION Profile.
A related factor is the massive amount of toxic chemicals that we store in our tissues. This problem has been well documented in several body-burden studies of adults and newborns, conducted by the Environmental Working Group, an exceptional watchdog organization that looks into human health and toxicity issues. One of these studies found close to a hundred toxins in the umbilical cord blood of babies. It’s very difficult to live a long time, regenerate healthy cells, and remain free of illness when all these poisons are present in our bodies. They are overloading the detoxification capacities of our livers and kidneys. A lot of experts believe that toxic body overload causes neurological conditions, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and autoimmune disorders. Therefore, we must periodically enhance our bodies’ ability to eliminate some of these poisons, and support our liver and kidney function.
Next is a lack of adequate restorative and regenerative sleep. Research has shown that adults generally do best with between 7½ and 9 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of our population doesn’t get this on a regular basis, for extremely varied reasons. Untreated thyroid, adrenal, liver, kidney, and prostate issues; a decreased ability of the pineal gland to produce adequate melatonin; and lifestyle factors can contribute to an inability to get enough sleep. Another rarely discussed sleep-destroying variable is our wireless technologies. Most people’s bodies are constantly subjected to the inflammatory effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), including Wi-Fi signals and transmissions from cordless phones, cell phones, and smart meters, all of which transmit and receive even when they are not being used. Most of us never think to turn our phones and wireless networks off at night, and very few realize these EMF transmissions disrupt or prevent deep sleep.
Another contributing factor is that we don’t exercise our bodies and minds properly. If we wish to keep them working well, they need to be used. Physically, we all do best, regardless of our age, with those forms of exercise that do not harm our joints. Two great ones are swimming and bouncing on a rebound trampoline. However, the body should not be exercised to excess. For example, strenuous cardio workouts should be limited to three days a week in order to give the tissues adequate recovery and rebuilding time. For the mind, good exercises include reading and playing Scrabble, backgammon, bridge, or other challenging card or board games.
MH: What are some of the key health problems you see in elderly clients in your practice?
DG: In addition to immune, neurologic, diabetic, and obesity-related problems, some of the main health issues I see in elderly clients are due to a dependence on numerous prescription and nonprescription pharmaceuticals. These drugs are commonly used to suppress or alleviate undesirable symptoms that most people do not realize might be addressable or even reversible with dietary and lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements. A lot of people are on multiple prescription drugs, and many of the interactions between these have never been studied and can contribute greatly to the problems we so often see in the elderly. The first thing that a physician should always do with a new patient is ask for a list of all the drugs they are taking. A truly holistic physician will review the list, the patient’s history, and their lab results to see if any changes can be made to minimize the number of prescription drugs being used. I have had many clients say, “It’s amazing how many of my symptoms went away and how much better I felt when my doctor dropped my seven drugs to three.”
MH: Many older people seem to have increased problems with digestion. What causes this, and what can be done to correct it?
DG: There can be many causes for poor or declining “digestive fire,” as Chinese medicine practitioners would say. The first phase of digestion is mastication, or chewing, and most of us do not chew our food enough. We eat huge amounts of processed foods with added preservatives, which extend shelf life but make the foods more difficult to digest. We also overcook our meat, which removes water from it and destroys its natural enzymes, making digestion more difficult. Red meat should never be cooked to more than medium-rare. In addition, we drink lots of liquids with meals, and this dilutes stomach acid.
Added to all of this is the fact that our modern diets overload the pancreas, which is responsible for the production of digestive enzymes as well as the insulin needed for blood sugar regulation. The pancreas has to produce a lot more enzymes to make up for the fact that the enzymes in cooked foods have been destroyed, and it needs to make massive amounts of insulin because of all the starches, sugars, and alcohols – what I call Sabotage Foods® – that we consume. Because it is so overworked, it doesn’t function as well as we get older.
Another big factor in diminished digestion is the use of proton-pump inhibitors or other acid-blocking or alkalinizing drugs to cope with acid reflux or heartburn. The body requires adequate amounts of stomach acid for the proper breakdown of food. If we lower the level of stomach acid with drugs, we prevent proper digestion. Contrary to popular belief, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is generally caused when too little, not too much, stomach acid is present and the food ferments rather than being broken down. In this case, the proper remedy would actually be to increase the acid level.
Addressing these factors and otherwise improving the diet can improve digestion greatly. In addition, taking a good digestive aid with each meal, after you have swallowed three or four mouthfuls of food, may be very helpful. My favorite digestive product is Bio-Gest from Thorne, a blend of betain and L-glutamic acidhydrochloride, pancreatin, ox bile, and pepsin.
MH: In general, what are the most important supplements for people to take to avoid age-related degenerative diseases?
DG: Since digestion and nutrient absorption diminish for the reasons stated above, I believe it is important to supplement with what I refer to as my “basic six.” In fact, I use these with most of my clients, not just older ones.
First is a comprehensive, high-potency multiple vitamin/mineral formula taken with breakfast and dinner. My favorite formula is Perfect Family by Super Nutrition. I never recommend a one-per-day formula, and I steer clear of low-potency multis with coloring agents and preservatives, such as Centrum.
Next are omega-3 fatty acids. Even the best multi will not contain the 900-1600 mg each of EPA and DHA that the body needs. The product I use most often in my practice is Carlson’s lemon-flavored Norwegian Cod Liver Oil,  although I sometimes recommend Carlson’s Elite Omega-3 Gems fish oil capsules.  I only use nonfermented fish or cod liver oils.
Third would be Unique E Mixed Tocopherols Concentrate, a special formulation of vitamin E tocopherols. The tocopherols protect the omega-3s and other healthy fats in the body.
Fourth is a vitamin D3 supplement. By periodically using the 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25[OH]D) blood test, we can determine how much vitamin D is needed each day to hold the blood level in the healthy range of 60-80 ng/ml (150-200 nmol/L for non-US standards). The amount needed will vary immensely between individuals, but for most of my clients, it ends up being somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 IU per day.
The fifth one is vitamin C, as we are among the few animals on this planet that cannot manufacture it in our bodies. Most of my clients take either 500 mg per meal or 1,000 mg with breakfast and dinner.
Sixth is extra vitamin A, although this is dependent upon a person’s diet. If somebody happens to love liver and eats a portion of beef, chicken, or some other liver two or three times a month, they may not need extra vitamin A. Otherwise, I may suggest 10,000 IU of Carlson’s natural vitamin A from fish liver oil.
Although this is not one of my basic six, for some clients, I might also recommend Trace Mineral Tablets,  from Trace Minerals Research, once or twice a day, unless they get loose stools from the magnesium in the product. Also, if needed, I may supplement vitamin B12 with a sublingual product or liposomal spray, as I find these forms are absorbed very well and are good alternatives to vitamin B12 injections.
MH: Do older people need to be more cautious – or take lower dosages – of various supplements?
DG: This depends on the individual. In the case of a multiple vitamin/mineral formula, I usually start older people on 50 percent of the recommended dosage. After a couple of weeks, I double it. If they say that they felt better with the smaller dose, we go back down. Usually, when this happens – and in most instances when people have difficulty with high-quality nutritional supplements – it is because of poor liver and kidney function. In this case, I put them on liver and kidney support for two to eight months, after which time we can usually boost the multi back up again without a problem.
Two liver and kidney support products I like are Liver Balance Plus and Kidney Rescue, by Pure Body Institute. With these, I do not use the dosages listed on the bottle. I have people start really low and then gradually increase to the target dose of two liver and two kidney tablets with both breakfast and dinner. How long the support is needed varies. If somebody has hepatitis, they may need to use a liver-support product all their life.
MH: Are memory problems and cognitive decline inevitable as we age?
DG: Since I have succeeded in restoring a great deal of memory in quite a number of my clients, and, in some cases, have seemingly reversed their cognitive decline completely, I will answer this question with a resounding no. In fact, age-related cognitive decline should be renamed “diet- and lifestyle-related memory decline,” and addressing the five factors I mentioned at the beginning of this interview will go a long way toward improving it. Two of the most well-researched causes of declining brain function are the accumulation of toxins in the brain, and the decrease of cholesterol in the body due to the use of statin drugs. The effect of these drugs on brain function has been thoroughly researched by Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, who states that cognitive issues are second only to muscle problems among statin users.
One thing that may enhance cognitive function is the use of medium-chain triglycerides, which are found abundantly in high-quality, unrefined coconut oil. These can supply energy to the brain when it has become too damaged to get its energy from blood glucose. Alzheimer’s and some other dementia patients often find that the daily intake of three to six tablespoons of coconut oil in divided doses noticeably improves memory function. When this works, the benefits can almost always be noticed – and proven with cognitive testing – within three months.
There are a lot of other substances that can specifically address memory loss. For example, the to phospholipids required for brain health are phosphatidylcholine (PC), which is found in lecithin, and phosphatidylserine (PS). Any time I’m working with someone who has cognitive issues, I give them lecithin and 300-400 mg a day of a liquid form of PS.
There’s also a new supplement called Prevagen, by Quincy Bioscience. This contains a patented protein originally found in a certain species of jellyfish, and there are some pretty decent clinical studies showing it improves memory. I will often use that with clients, at 40 mg once a day.
In addition, there’s a lot of good research on ginkgo biloba for memory. I rarely use it, but it contains antioxidant flavonoids that get past the blood-brain barrier, so it can provide some protection for the brain.
MH: Why is osteoporosis a growing problem among the aging, and what are some ways we can weavoid or reverse it?
DG: One well-researched reason is a lack of weight-bearing exercise, which has been shown to help build bone. Even walking or jumping on a rebound trampoline can be helpful. However, in my practice, I find that improving diet has a greater effect than increasing exercise, if only one of these changes is implemented. Improved diet gives very noticeable benefits, and exercise makes the results even better. Bone-destroying foods, such as carbonated beverages and coffee, must be eliminated because they are extremely acidic. In order to buffer the increased acid, the body pulls alkalizing calcium out of the bones, weakening them.
Dietary changes alone are not adequate, however, when someone has osteoporosis or osteopenia. The nutrients I have found to be most important in avoiding or reversing osteoporosis are vitamins D3 and K1, magnesium, boron, and silica. Of course, calcium is also essential, but most people get enough from their diet and a good multi. These essential nutrients may be found in multi-vitamin/mineral formulas, but if one of my clients has osteoporosis or osteopenia, I use lab tests to determine the levels of these nutrients in the body. If their scores are too low, I advise supplementing with the necessary nutrients individually to bring them up to the best bone-building levels. My general target is to get these scores into the top 25 percent of the laboratory reference ranges – or even up to 15 percent above the top of the range. This is because these reference ranges are based on “normal” levels found in the public at large and, as I said, we are normally pretty deficient in most nutrients. It can easily take a year of retesting every few months and adjusting dosages to get these nutrients up to sufficient levels so that the body can efficiently begin to rebuild bone.
It is also extremely important to understand the role of the osteoporosis drugs called bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax, Actonel, and Boniva. This class of drugs works by preventing the normal, healthy breakdown and elimination of old bone. This makes the bone appear denser on an x-ray because the old bone that was supposed to be eliminated by the body is still there. However, this is not actually helping the bone; it is hurting it. These drugs are now proven to cause aseptic bone necrosis of the jaw with long-term use, and some of them may increase cancer risk.
MH: How can we prevent or reduce arthritis as we age?
DG: If you want to prevent or reduce osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other arthritic conditions, you must first adequately address all of the aging factors discussed earlier. There are many types of arthritic conditions, and they can have many causes. However, most of these conditions can be caused or made far worse by specific food and environmental triggers. You may greatly reduce arthritic symptoms by completely eliminating the following items from your diet and environment for 60 days: sugars, starches, alcohols, soy, MSG, artificial sweeteners and colorings, other food and cosmetic chemical additives, cleansers and other home products that contain toxins, and any suspected allergens or sensitivity triggers. At the same time, reduce or eliminate exposure to wireless frequencies and electrical fields, minimize use of pharmaceutical drugs (properly reduced or dropped with the help of your doctor), and perhaps use a digestive aid to improve poor digestion.
If after doing this for 60 days, you notice improvement but not as much as you would like, you might need immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody testing to determine any delayed food sensitivities. Unfortunately, the IgG testing done by many labs is very inaccurate. I currently only recommend a specific comprehensive panel from Cyrex Labs, called Array 10C Food Immune Reactivity Test. I’ve seen massive improvement in arthritic conditions when we remove all the allergens and sensitivity triggers. If this does not produce the desired results, I may also run the chemical panels from ELISA/ACT Biotechnologies to see if some chemicals, not just foods, are to blame.
MH: Why do older people often become more susceptible to infections, and how can we address this?
DG: This is predominantly due to their having had many more years of poor eating and exposure to chemical toxins and electric and wireless fields. All these factors can weaken their immune systems. It is also a little known fact that for as long as three or four hours after consuming even just a couple of teaspoons of sugar, the macrophage activity of the immune system is impaired. When a person takes in that amount of sugar in almost every meal, their immune system just won’t work as well as it should. Balancing blood sugar levels by greatly reducing sugars, starches, and alcohols, and ensuring meals contain adequate amounts of animal protein and healthy fats will help tremendously.
Using a gentle but effective long-term immune system booster can sometimes be a huge help as well. I recommend either EpiCor, derived from dry fermentation of a specific type of yeast, or Immune Builder, a combination of immunity-enhancing mushrooms from Mushroom Science . Both of these slowly get your immune system working at a higher level. Keep in mind that you will need to take them for five to six weeks before they reach optimal effectiveness, and then you can continue to take them, as I have, for decades.
MH: Would you briefly discuss any recent developments in the field of anti-aging medicine?
DG: One important development is how much we now understand about blood sugar regulation and aging. If you want to age more slowly and gracefully, you need to regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels a great deal better than most people currently do. Insulin has turned out to be an aging hormone, so we want to generate it in smaller quantities and less often. To accomplish this, you need to stop snacking; reduce or remove starches, sugars, and alcohols from your diet; and eat enough healthy fats and animal protein – along with non-starchy multicolored vegetables – so that two or three meals a day are all you need to feel satiated.
Caloric restriction is also a topic that has received a lot of attention lately. Personally, I don’t think we need to restrict calories. We need to change our junk calories to good ones. Rather than caloric restriction, I promote restriction of junk food and an increase in nutrient-dense food.
When it comes to additional anti-aging supplements, five that deserve mention are resveratrol, colostrum, Vitälzym, TA-65MD, and benaGene. These are products I would look into after you have made all the dietary and lifestyle changes that we have discussed. Don’t make the mistake of looking for a magic bullet while continuing to drink sodas and fruit juices and eat pastas, breads, corn, and potatoes. On the other hand, if you have made many of these changes, have seen great improvements in your health, and want even more, one or more of those supplements might help.
Resveratrol, an antioxidant compound found in red grape skin and Japanese knotweed, has been shown to mimic the benefits of caloric restriction. Longevinex is a brand of resveratrol that I like and trust. Another useful supplement is colostrum, which helps regenerate and repair tissues, including those damaged by leaky gut. It also helps resolve emotional issues, immune problems, and even joint conditions in some people. The brand I use most often is Colostrum LD by Sovereign Labs. For lower doses in capsule form, I also like the quality of Colostrum-5 by ImuTek. World Nutrition’s Vitälzym is also a great anti-aging supplement. It contains a unique blend of enzymes that slowly and gently revitalizes the body’s detoxification systems and helps repair scarred tissue.
The next two supplements are not as well known. TA-65MD by T.A. Sciences is an extremely expensive chemical extracted from astragalus root. It has been shown in research studies to lengthen telomeres, which protect the ends of our DNA strands from deterioration or fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Not everyone who takes it sees noticeable anti-aging benefits, even though various risk factors may be reduced. Only you can determine if it is worth $4,000 to $5,000 for a year’s supply.
Finally, we have Terra Biological’s benaGene, which contains the nutrient oxaloacetic acid, involved in the Krebs cycle. The Krebs, or citric acid, cycle is the sequence of reactions by which most living cells generate energy. Physicist Alan Cash, MS, was recently able to stabilize this molecule and make it affordable enough to be marketed as a supplement. It seems to have many different benefits. In some people, it increases energy. In others, it aids blood sugar regulation. In yet others, it helps improve memory. Research is ongoing to see if its benefits also extend to cancer treatment.
MH: Would you like to add any closing thoughts?
DG: We should reexamine what we consider normal. In the US, it is currently “normal” to die of cancer, heart disease, or complications of diabetes, so I strive to teach people how not to be normal.
Normal and healthy are two words that have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. It’s “normal” for us to have weaker immunity or problems with memory as we get older, but that doesn’t mean it should be that way – or that it needs to be that way. Addressing the factors mentioned at the beginning of this article – and continuing to educate ourselves – can go a long way to changing the normal paths of our lives to healthy ones.
David J. Getoff is a board-certified clinical nutritionist, traditional naturopath, and fellow of the American Association of Integrative Medicine. He maintains a private practice in San Diego, California. David is vice president of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation and has contributed numerous articles in past issues of the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. His website is: www.naturopath4you.com.
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About the Author
Meredith Harvey is associate editor of the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing and is studying to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with the Nutritional Therapy Association. She has a private practice in San Francisco, California, where she helps her clients create healthy emotional foundations to support diet and lifestyle changes. Her website is: www.healthywholeself.com.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
2. Environmental Working Group. Body burden: The pollution in newborns. 2005. http://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns.
12. Golomb BA, Evans MA. Statin adverse effects: A review of the literature and evidence for a mitochondrial mechanism. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs. 2010; 8(6):373-418.
Published in the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing
Summer 2015 | Volume 39, Number 2
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