Preventative Guide: Premature Aging
Aging is an inevitable process that happens gradually over time, day by day. Though this often begins as an external process, as we mature we begin to notice mental and physical changes as well. How fast we age, however, is a variable that is strongly influenced by belief, lifestyle, diet, and nutritional supplements.
Accelerated aging is often the result of nutritional deficiencies, excessive stress, and poor lifestyle choices. We’re exposed to free radicals (or oxidative stress) from both internal and external toxins on a daily basis, and this takes a toll on the body over the years, eventually beginning to wear away at external and internal cellular processes. Circulation is also a contributing factor to premature aging, as circulation has a rejuvenating effect on the entire body. Daily movement is imperative for clearing stagnation from the body and for moving qi (the life force or vital energy that moves through us, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine). As we age, our bodies also produce less hydrochloric acid (aka stomach acid) and digestive enzymes, resulting in a decrease in the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. This contributes to the body declining even further, resulting in premature aging.
Our concept of aging and beliefs about the process also affect whether we age prematurely or not. Women who believe that they are forever young tend to always look vibrant and radiant. Attitude is incredibly important, and being young at heart often translates into youthfulness in all areas of our lives, from the amount of joy and fun we experience daily to how fulfilling our sex lives are to the number of wrinkles on our faces. Worry, anxiety, and tension about the aging process will only make it worse. Instead of stressing about the inevitable process of getting older, focus on the benefits of age, such as increased resilience, security, good relationships, and a strong sense of self.
Above all else, try to maintain self-compassion and a sense of humor about the process. Aging cannot be avoided and so we might as well embrace the changes that are an inherent part of life. Wrinkles, lowered energy levels, decreased libido, loss of muscle mass, and forgetfulness will eventually happen to all of us. However, there are things we can do to prevent these symptoms from appearing earlier than usual. The following guide outlines steps to take in order to prevent or reverse premature aging.
The endocrine system regulates all body systems and helps to balance hormones. Our organs and cells use hormones as messengers to communicate with the rest of the body. A balanced endocrine system supports synergy and internal harmony.
The following glands produce hormones which work to regulate everything from our metabolism to our digestion. These systems are directed by our circadian rhythm, which is maintained by the nightly production of melatonin, making sleep an essential element for anti-aging.
The pineal gland (supports circadian rhythm)
The thyroid (regulates metabolism)
The pancreas (aids in digestion & blood sugar regulation)
The ovaries and testes (produce sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone)
The adrenal glands (produce cortisol to maintain homeostasis through emotional and physiological stress)
The following lifestyle recommendations support endocrine balance and restoration.
Sleep is vital for recuperating and rebuilding/repairing the body. Every bit of our being benefits from regular, restorative sleep. Setting a routine that includes 7-9 hours of sleep nightly and getting to bed before midnight are critical steps for restoring harmony.
Downtime/meditation is incredibly revitalizing and restorative. Sit or take a walk in nature, listen to soft music, and unplug for at least a short time every day. Disconnecting is absolutely essential for our happiness & well-being. Take time away from technology as often as possible. Capture every moment with your heart & mind and allow yourself to sink into the moments. This unplugged time may be one of the best ways to reset our nervous systems and to support endocrine harmony.
Drink water! Every cell, tissue, and organ in the body needs water to work efficiently. Without enough water, poor health is quickly on the horizon. There are a number of functions that water performs for the body: regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients and electrical signals to cells, lubricating the joints, and flushing out toxins and wastes. A mere 5% drop in the body’s water levels can cause a 30% loss of energy. Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water daily (so a 140-pound woman should consume 70 ounces of water every day), and drink filtered or spring water that is free of chlorine, fluoride, and aluminum, as these are neurotoxins that have detrimental effects on the brain and overall health.
Regular exercise is an integral part of preventing premature aging, as it stimulates lymphatic drainage, tones the muscles, eases stress, stimulates internal organs, relieves depression, promotes sleep, reduces cholesterol, and facilitates clear thinking. It also releases endorphins, which will naturally lift your mood. Moderate exercise 3-4 times a week to start is ideal. Find an activity that you enjoy, as this will make exercising much more pleasurable and your exercise routine easier to stick to.
Exercise the brain, too, to keep the neurons firing and to strengthen brain functioning. Do activities that are mentally challenging, such as puzzles, crosswords, and learning new things. You can also keep your mind active through reading, writing, and engaging in interesting discussions and debates. Other ways to support brain health and to strengthen neural pathways are to adopt brain plasticity exercises, such as switching from the dominant hand that you use for everyday activities (so for example, using your left - or non-dominant - hand to brush your teeth, dial the phone, or write a grocery list), performing multiple sensory activities (essentially doing two things at once that engage the senses, such as watching a sunset while doing a craft with your hands, or listening to music and smelling flowers simultaneously), and changing up regular routines (for example, taking a new route on a daily commute or jog, or using new machines at the gym). New experiences and difficult mental activities challenge your brain to adapt, which keeps it strong - it’s essentially exercise for your brain!
Lymphatic drainage massage is a great way to support the lymphatic system, on top of regular exercise. The lymphatic system is spread throughout the whole body and is responsible for filtering and removing toxins using a network of fluid-filled nodes, glands, and organs. When this system is not functioning at its optimal potential, toxins can get trapped and deposited throughout the body. Lymphatic drainage massage is a gentle massage along the lymphatic system pathways that helps to release any blockages and get the system flowing. Because of the sensitivity of this system, it’s recommended to go to a professional for this sort of treatment.
Support elimination by making sure that you’re having a proper bowel movement at least once a day. This is imperative when it comes to feeling & looking your very best. One of the most powerful ways our bodies clear toxins is through our feces. Healthy people defecate 1-3x per day. Anything less is considered constipation.
To ensure that you’re properly eliminating each day, make sure you stay hydrated, incorporate plenty of fiber and healthy fats into your daily diet, and try to include bitter greens with most meals. Supplementing with digestive enzymes and bitters before meals can also be beneficial. If you’re still backed up, try one of the following or a combination within the course of a week to support elimination: consume raw vegetable juice, lemon water, magnesium, triphala, or digestive bitters at the start of each meal. A coffee enema or colon hydrotherapy can also help to get things moving.
Managing stress levels is crucial for slowing the aging process. Stress causes a consistent rise in cortisol from the adrenals, and when cortisol levels are chronically high they can rob the body of nutrients that are essential for healthy glowing skin. Chronic stress alters neurotransmitter production (affecting your emotions) and depletes the nutrients needed to balance hormones. These include vitamins C, B5, B6, and zinc. To keep stress levels low, allow yourself to have alone time every day to meditate, exercise, or relax doing something you enjoy.
Reduce blue light exposure. High-energy visible (HEG) light, also known as blue light, is emitted by our computers, cell phones, and other technological devices. This type of light generates free radicals, causing collagen and elastin in our bodies to weaken and die which increases the signs of aging. Using screens at night before bed also disrupts our circadian rhythms, which has a negative impact on sleep. Cellular repair is most significant at night, and we need quality sleep to support the skin’s regeneration processes. Avoid excessive screen time and make sure to switch off all screens at least an hour before going to bed.
Social connection is key to healthy aging. Strong relationships offer the experience of feeling supported, which assists with an overall sense of being loved, esteemed, and cared for. Plan daily and weekly activities with friends and family members, take classes, and make efforts to talk to new people.
Embrace joy & fun to stay young at heart. Incorporate an activity that lights up your life and makes you smile at least once a day. This could be dancing in your kitchen, talking on the phone with a friend who makes you laugh, or going on a spontaneous adventure such as exploring a new neighborhood in your city. Pay attention to the little things in your life that bring you happiness, and make a point to notice them daily. It could be as simple as watching the sun go down, appreciating the sound of birds outside your window, or enjoying a good song on the radio. Writing a daily gratitude list is also a highly beneficial practice to adopt.
Balance blood sugar levels. Excess sugar, mainly glucose and fructose, like to partner with collagen and elastin, two skin-protective proteins, and dehydrate them. Due to this process, the skin loses elasticity and starts to look dull, less vibrant, and aged. Avoid sugar as much as possible, eat plenty of fiber every day, and avoid eating processed or packaged foods.
Balanced meals + regular mealtimes are both keys for regulating all body systems.
Eat a balanced diet that includes raw vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts, and quality proteins such as fish, pastured eggs, and lean organic meats. Consume lower quantities of red meat (sticking to leaner sources + fish) and include plenty of nutrient powerhouses such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, and kale.
Focus on bioflavonoids. Eat dark-skinned fruits such as red apples and nectarines, which are excellent sources of bioflavonoids. Red Delicious and McIntosh apples have the most bioflavonoids in the skin, while Fuji apples have the highest levels of all.
Increase antioxidant-rich foods. Eat blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries regularly. These fruits also contain bioflavonoids, which help keep free radicals from harming the brain and will prevent premature aging. Berries are also high in antioxidants, which both prevent and reverse free radical damage.
Consume adequate protein every day. Protein and exercise are essential in preventing muscle weakness and wasting. Consume smaller but regular meals, and include a protein source with each. Add a couple of snacks between meals if you’re prone to blood sugar imbalances.
Best protein sources: Nuts & seeds, dark leafy greens, lentils, beans, bone broth, lean meats, wild-caught fish, and collagen.
Add probiotic-rich foods to your diet to promote healthy digestion and a good balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which will support your immune system. Probiotics also produce B vitamins, which help with food metabolism and nutrient absorption. As we age, we tend to be more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiencies, and probiotics can help to counteract this.
Best probiotic food sources: Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi, fermented dairy products such as raw yogurt and kefir, and fermented soy products such as miso, natto, and tempeh.
Support digestion with bitters + apple cider vinegar. These are helpful taken prior to meals to stimulate stomach acid production, which aids in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. To prevent low stomach acid levels, reduce or avoid coffee intake, limit acidic food consumption, drink lemon water first thing in the morning, and make sure to chew your food properly.
Support the liver and its detoxification pathways by eating less, drinking plenty of water, drinking lemon water, sipping herbal infusions daily, getting regular exercise, and removing any excesses from your diet or lifestyle (such as foods, stress, etc.). Foods such as dark leafy greens, beets, spirulina, chlorella, kelp, citrus, broccoli, cabbage, sprouted lentils/mung bean, dandelion greens, apple cider vinegar, celery, and oats will all help to support & nourish the liver. Potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, beet greens, spinach, and blackstrap molasses all help to cleanse & clear the liver. The liver can also be supported using various herbs and supplements (see below).
Limit dairy as we tend to lose the digestive enzymes necessary to break down lactose as we get older.
Best forms of dairy to include: Plain yogurt, goat yogurt, kefir, and sheep/goat milk (which are easier to digest than cow’s milk).
The following herbs are helpful in supporting the aging process. You can buy quality herbs at your local health food store or through a reputable online retailer such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
Ginseng is an excellent herbal remedy to use for giving extra energy as well as improving brain function, increasing circulation, and promoting better blood flow to supply oxygen to the cells. Do not use ginseng if you have high blood pressure or are pregnant.
How to use: Ginseng can be consumed as a tincture or herbal tea. Take in tincture form 2-3x/day in a splash of water or drink 2-3 cups of ginseng tea per day.
Wild yam contains natural steroids that have a rejuvenating effect on the body. Steroids are what help exercise to melt off more weight and build muscle. The specific hormone is found in the human body as DHEA.
How to use: Wild yam can be consumed as a tincture or applied as a daily cream.
Noni is a plant that grows in Hawaii that has many health benefits and has been used for thousands of years to treat inflammation, ease pain, relieve joint pain, promote cellular regeneration, boost the immune system, and improve digestion.
How to use: Noni can be consumed in liquid form, 2-3x/day for maximum benefits.
Licorice root is an effective anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic agent that supports all organ systems, having the capability to regenerate the entire body.
Do not use licorice root during pregnancy or nursing, or if you have diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, high blood pressure, or a history of stroke.
How to use: Licorice root can be consumed as a tincture (2-3x/day) or tea (1-2x/day).
Nettle is full of vital vitamins and minerals, and is good or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), allergies, arthritis, depression, prostate and urinary disorders, and a host of other issues.
How to use: Nettle is best consumed as an infusion. To make an infusion, use 3-4 tbsp in a quart mason jar, then cover with cold distilled water and a lid. Shake to mix and let sit overnight. Try drinking 3 or 4 cups throughout your day for a week. A batch can be stored for 24-48 hours max.
Milk thistle is a beneficial herb to support liver detoxification as it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are protective to the liver.
How to use: Best in tincture form, 1-2x/day in a splash of water before bed.
Turmeric, ginger, dandelion root & burdock root are all great for clearing and healing the liver + restoring liver function as well as decreasing inflammation.
Give yourself some extra support with these targeted supplements. You can purchase high-quality versions of all of the following at your local health food store.
Collagen protein is a great source of readily-absorbed protein that also has gut-healing properties and is beneficial for joints, bones, and skin health.
General dosage: Take 1 scoop daily, mixed into smoothies, yogurt, elixirs/hot drinks, or meals.
Resveratrol is a compound found naturally in grapes that acts as an antioxidant. It’s especially beneficial in protecting and supporting skin health because of its role in reducing oxidative stress. It’s also supportive of cardiovascular health and in reducing the risk of cancer. Resveratrol potentiates the vitamin D receptor, meaning that it helps to get vitamin D into the cells in our bodies.
General dosage: 200 mg first thing in the morning.
CoQ10 improves tissue oxygenation, increases circulation, and enhances immunity, all necessary mechanisms for strengthening and supporting a healthy aging process.
General dosage: 100mg/day.
Vitamin D3 is an essential vitamin for healthy aging. As we age, vitamin D production in the skin decreases so supplementation helps to restore adequate levels. Vitamin D is important for skin health and for the prevention of osteoporosis and bone fractures, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
General dosage: 1,000 to 5,000 IU per day, depending on deficiency levels. It’s wise to get your vitamin D levels tested before supplementing, as vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that over-supplementing can be harmful. However, if you’re very deficient (as many people in the northern hemisphere are), then 1,000 IU per day may not be enough.
Vitamin B complex with active B vitamins will help to fight depression and aid in transforming proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into energy. B vitamins are also necessary for the formation of specific proteins and the functioning of the nervous system. They are essential for healthy blood cells and the absorption of nutrients.
General dosage: 50-100 mg 3x/day of each of the B vitamins with meals.
Flaxseed oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which play a key role in cell formation and are essential for optimal brain functioning. Essential fatty acids also protect the heart and help keep plaque from adhering to the arteries.
General dosage: 500 mg 3x/day with meals.
Digestive enzymes will help to support healthy digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. If you suffer from indigestion, nausea, heartburn, constipation, and/or bloating, adding this supplement can make a world of difference. The release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas are triggered by adequate levels of stomach acid, so following the tips above to support stomach acid levels will also decrease the need for supplementing with enzymes.
General dosage: Refer to the label on the side of the bottle. There is no standard dosage for digestive enzymes, and you may need to experiment to find the amount that works for you. Digestive enzymes are typically taken before or with meals.
Zinc supplementation can be beneficial as it boosts the immune system and is protective of the respiratory system. It’s also a vital mineral for skin, hair, and nail health, so supplementing with it can decrease the signs of aging.
General dosage: 20 mg/day with meals.
Pine bark/pycnogenol is the most potent free radical scavenger, as it passes through the blood-brain barrier to protect brain cells from free radical damage. It also protects against hearing loss and promotes radiant skin due to its high antioxidant content.
General dosage: 100 mg/day. Powder form is best.
Always consult with a nutrition practitioner prior to taking or combining any herbs or supplements.
By enhancing your lifestyle and diet with supportive practices and nutrients, and giving yourself a general boost with the added benefits of herbs and supplements, premature aging can be prevented and healthy, graceful aging can be fully embraced.