Ageing is inevitable. But, medical research confirms that good nutrition can prevent such conditions as osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease. In North America, seniors as a demographic group are the most poorly nourished of all. As you get older, a decrease in muscle mass and a slower metabolism are some of the many changes.
It is important to understand some of the changes and the unique characteristics related to the process of human ageing.
The process of human ageing is something all of us will experience in our lifetime. Understanding the changes taking place as we age can help us keep our health.
Today the average life span for a North American woman is 81 and for a man is 76. This wasn't always the case. As little as 50 years ago life expectancy was much less. The quality of life is what we are talking about in this section as compared to quantity of life.
There is a concept that is called "Specific Age" which is defined as the theoretical age at which humans can exist, that is 120 years.
The best way to achieve the "Specific Age" target of 120 is to be able to choose your parents! Ha.
A few of the things discussed in this section will appear to some as depressing news. But, hopefully you will see that the news is not all bad, and there are a whole bunch of good news scenarios where we can improve upon what nature has given us and help make our quality of life better as we age.
Think of the following as a Coles Notes version of the things to understand as your ageing. Gerontology is the science of ageing and geriatric refers to the branch of medicine that deals with diseases related to ageing.
Changes to our Skin
When discussing ageing, we need first to talk about what is happening to the systems in our body. The skin is the largest human organ. It serves as an excellent illustration of what happens to our body as we age. When we talk about ageing of the skin we are talking about a thinning of our skin and a gradual loss of hair. While we continue to lose the same number of skin cells on a daily basis, a gradual reduction in the blood supply to the manufacturing cells of the skin causes a net loss in the reproduction of skin cells. So, as you age you lose just as many skin cells, but you make less cells overall and your skin gets thinner. For the very elderly, skin thinness can be compared to Saran Wrap! Blood vessels and muscles of the skin can easily be seen through the skin in people of very advanced age.
Another element of the skin is the hair that grows on our skin. The mechanism by which hair grows is similar to that of the skin. As you age, the body produces less new hair cells per day than is lost. Most of us confuse this process with "I'm losing my hair" but what actually is happening is that the body is producing less and less hair as we grow older, the net result being loss of hair as we age.
Skin damage to some degree occurs in all of us as we age. The most common serious disease of the skin is skin cancer. One specific type of skin cancer is melanoma. We've all heard stories about how pollution has caused a reduction in the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects the human skin against dangerous exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. The good news is that there are certain things we can do to help prevent the damage caused by exposure to sunlight. For example, we can use sunscreen lotion. When shopping for sunscreen, look for those that have an S.P.F (sun protection factor) of at least 15. SPF 15 lotions block the harmful rays of the sun at an amount that is sufficient in prevention of skin cancer. Those with a SPF of less than 15 are not as effective and an SPF of over 15 may not be overly effective.
Many of the sunscreens on the market today contain a product commonly known as PABA (para amino benzoic acid). Some people develop an allergic reaction to it. If you find you're allergic to PABA ask your pharmacist for a sunscreen product that is PABA-free with the same SPF 15 factor to provide the same protection.
One of the warning signs to look for on your skin which may indicate skin cancer is the development of a new lesion (brown spot). Examine and observe the size of the lesion. Does the spot/lesion seem to be growing in size? Is the circumference becoming irregular? Is the spot changing colour (dark brown or black) or have you noticed the development of small leaky spots within the lesion itself? If you answered yes to any of these, see your doctor!
Changes to our Muscles
The next system we can look at is the human muscular system and what happens to it as we age. Muscles are made up of myoglobin, which are essentially building blocks of muscle. As we get older, the same thing happens to our muscles as happens to our skin. We keep losing the same amount of muscle cells everyday and our body produces less new cells to replace those lost cells. That's the bad news. The GOOD news is there are things we can do about the decrease in our strength and muscle mass as we age — we can exercise! Now what kind of exercise and how much exercise should be done?
There are essentially two kinds or types of exercises. Isometric exercises, which build up muscle mass (see Exercises) and aerobic exercises. These exercises build up our heart and lungs.
Aerobic exercise increases our heart rate. This strengthens our heart muscle which makes the heart more productive and more efficient.
There are a variety of formulas to help determine your heart rate target zone. A general and simple formula is to subtract your age from 180.
E.g. 68 (age) - 180 = 112 beats per minute (heart rate target)
How much and how long should you do this aerobic exercise? 30 minutes 3 times a week. But, before you begin to exercise, start with 10 minutes of stretching exercises from head to toe to help prevent injury and warm up your muscles for the task at hand. After you exercise you should also do another 10 minutes of cool down stretching as you did in the warm up. This too will help prevent injury and help reduce stiffness.
Everybody when talking about health likes to talk about cholesterol. Cholesterol is essentially fat in the bloodstream. There are two types of cholesterol: good and bad. The good type of cholesterol is known as HDL (high density lipo protein) and bad cholesterol that is known as LDL (low density lipo protein). The secret in the balancing of our cholesterol is to increase our good cholesterol and decrease our bad cholesterol.
How do we do that? We increase our good cholesterol by exercising which was discussed previously. The second thing we can do to increase our good cholesterol happens to be a fantastic bonus for people who are looking for a good excuse to drink alcohol. Research has shown that by consuming two portions of alcohol per day (two bottles of beer, two glasses of wine, or two one-ounce shots of hard liquor) will effectively increase our good cholesterol level. It is important to note that if two is good, ten beers a day is NOT five times better for you! If you consume too much alcohol you will not have a problem with cholesterol to worry about, you'll be too concerned about dealing with the ravages of cirrhosis of the liver.
Now, how do we decrease our bad cholesterol? Not by following a particular diet, but by changing our eating habits and by adjusting our nutritional habits.
Foods for Thought
Eggs - Saturated fatty acids are also concentrated in the yellow part of eggs. Eating two eggs per week should be sufficient for most people.
Milk, yogurt, cheese - As you know, these products come in different varieties. There is skim milk, 2%, homogenized, etc. Skim milk contains no fat. It is essentially water, calcium and protein. So it is best to consume skim milk. Yogurt comes with different fat contents from 0.5% to 7% generally speaking. Look to the label — it's written up as "F.A." Try to use the 0.5% to 1% types of yogurt.
Cheese is a milk by-product, so it too comes in a range from skim milk cheese and other cheeses that can go up to 85% fat content. Stick to the skim cheese!
Beef, Pork, Veal, Chicken and Fish - All of these contain fatty acids. The trick here is in the cooking. These should be barbequed or broiled. Do not cook them in oil, especially those oils containing fatty acids — this will only lead to an increase in your bad cholesterol level. It is also a good idea to trim off all visible fat from a piece of meat before cooking it.
Try to consume at least one dish of chicken and fish per week.
Fish - Fish come from either the sea or fresh water. The fish from the sea, also contains Omega3 or Omega 6, which is essentially fish oil. This fish oil has a beneficial effect on the human body by lowering our bad cholesterol level. Omega3 or Omega6 can also be obtained at your local pharmacy or natural food store.
When eating fresh water fish, consult your State/Provincial fishing guide for the quantity of fish consumption information.
One of the most important elements of our diet is fruits and vegetables. Why? Because fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals. As well, they contain fiber. Once fiber is consumed by our body, it goes into our digestive system where it captures and absorbs the fatty acids and holds on to them, then helps the body excrete these fatty acids through our intestine. So, besides having the bonus of containing vitamins and minerals, it also helps reduce our saturated fatty acids and in turn help us to reduce our bad cholesterol level!
Liquids - You should strive to consume sixty-four ounces per day which is the equivalent of 8 glasses of water. For people who are not accustomed to drinking water in this quantity on a daily basis, this can be a formidable task! One trick is drinking a 1 ounce serving of water 8 times per day for one week. Then drinking a 2 ounce serving of water 8 times per day in the second week and so on. Increase the serving by 1 ounce per week until the eighth week, at which time you will be consuming your optional quantity of liquids per day.
Any type of liquid, whether it be tea, coffee, juice, soft drinks or others can be consumed to reached the 64oz mark. But remember that water is a pure liquid that doesn't contain any of the chemicals that are associated with the other drinks listed. For example, coffee, tea and soft drinks contain caffeine, and juices contain sugar. Easy on the caffeine which can act as a diuretic.
Vitamins - One multiple vitamin per day is good, however, there are 4 vitamins of which we have to be careful - A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are lipid soluble which means that your body stores them in your fat cells. In contrast, all other vitamins are water soluble, so if you take too many of them you body will excrete the excess. Vitamins A, D, E, and K store excess in fat cells in your body. One of the places where you have a lot of fat is between your ears! So if you get too much of an overdose of these, you may develop problems with your brain such as those related to vitamin intoxication.
Antioxidants - Beta Carotene and vitamins C and E are known as antioxidants which may help to counter the processes of ageing.
You may also want to consider a daily dose of magnesium and calcium supplements. A preparation called Dolomite, sold at your local pharmacy provides both of these compounds.
Copper and zinc are good antibacterials and are trace elements found in many foods. These can also be taken in tablet form.
These days there is much talk about herbal medicine. It is important to know that the safety and efficacy of herbal medicine depends on the following seven factors:
- use of the appropriate plant part;
- conditions of growth and preparation;
- degree of plant maturity at harvest;
- method of drying and extraction of the compound from the plant;
- storage conditions of herbal compound;
- quality control to prevent adulteration of the substance or contamination by microbes, bacteria or virus';
- if there has been substitution of the original compound by others in the fabrication or post fabrication stage of production.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued model guidelines for the regulation and quality control of herbals. Carefully scrutinize the herbal products you buy to ensure that WHO model guidelines have been followed.
Our Heart and Circulation
Basically, cholesterol deposits like a bunch of fat in the circulation, especially in the arteries of the heart. The problems associated with cholesterol have to do with our eating habits and our exercise habits that have been discussed above. Also, heredity plays a large part in determining the health of our arteries. If everybody in your family has a history of heart disease that began at age 40, there is a good chance that you too will develop a heart condition. That's the bad news, the good news is that by following the advice provided you can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease.
If your cholesterol level becomes too high you can develop blockages of different arteries in your body. If the blockage occurs in one of the arteries of your brain, you are likely to have a stroke. If the blockage occurs in one of the arteries of your heart, you are likely to have a heart attack. And, if it's in the arteries of your leg, you are likely to get gangrene.
Problems of Prostate in the Male
The prostate is located at the base of the urinary bladder. Urine comes down from our kidneys via little tubes into the bladder. The bladder stores our urine. When you have enough urine in the bladder, the brain sends a signal that it's time for the bladder to contract and excrete the urine. Urine travels from the bladder through the prostate and finally out through the penis. As men reach their fifties and their hormones begin to change, the prostate has a tendency to swell. This swelling puts pressure on this passage way through the prostate and inhibits the excretion of all the urine stored in the bladder. If we don't exercise our muscles, they get weak. So in this context, a weak muscle (the passage way) causes a build up of urine in the bladder which makes men feel they must urinate more often. One of the ways to relieve this swelling is to take a new medication called Proscar. Proscar, shrinks down the prostate thereby taking the pressure off the passage and making emptying the bladder a much easier task. After taking Proscar for 6-8 weeks, the prostate swelling goes down and men no longer have a need to excessively go to the bathroom several times during the night and day.
There is another problem associated with the ageing of the prostate and that is cancer of the prostate. Early detection of prostate cancer is the key. It is important that men get a yearly prostate examination when they visit their family physician. While some find it an uncomfortable examination, the alternative is much less appealing. Along with this examination, men over 50 should ask their doctor to do a PSA (prostate specific antogen) blood test. If your PSA level is elevated and upon repeated exam seems to be decreasing, then you should see a specialist for more elaborate testing on your prostate to determine if you have cancer of the prostate.
In the female, the problem associated with the ageing bladder has to do with weakness of the bladder and weakness of the surrounding muscles of the bladder. The solution is to perform a special type of exercise called Kegel exercises, named for the doctor who first described them. Another beneficial treatment for this situation in women is the use of Premarin cream. Ask your doctor about this. Within 3-4 weeks of starting the Kegal exercises and use of the Premarin cream, the symptoms associated with weakness of the bladder in women are resolved.
A word about "Change of Life" in Male and Females
In women they call the change of life menopause. In men, it is known as andropause. During menopause, women produce less of the main female hormone known as estrogen in the ovaries. During andropause, men produce less of the main male hormone known as testosterone in the testes.
Menopause and andropause affect people in varying degrees. The full blown symptoms in men and women, which are felt to varying degrees, include: tiredness; hot flashes; depression; anxiety; insomnia; impatience; and restlessness.
Fortunately for most of us, we are somewhere in between. While some people report never feeling any of the symptoms of menopause or andropause, most of us have a variety of those symptoms.
That's the bad news. The good news is that something can be done about this. In females, doctors have devised a trick to fool the ovaries into thinking they are still producing the same hormones as when the woman was 35 years old. How is it done? In the human female, we know that during the start of the menstrual period the ovaries start making a hormone called estrogen. This hormone keeps increasing until the end of the menstrual period and then production falls off. Also, in the last ten days before the start of the next menstrual cycle, the production of another hormone called provera also falls off at the next period. By prescribing estrogen and progesterone doctors have helped women's bodies replicate this phenomenon. The solution is to have the woman take one estrogen tablet each day from day 1 to day 25, and one tablet of progesterone in the last 10 days from day 15 to day 25. This fools the body into thinking the ovaries are fully functional as they would be in a normal 35 year-old female and all of the symptoms of menopause in the female disappear.
In the male, the symptoms are the same but not as marked. The trick is to give the male testosterone to fool his body into thinking the testes are fully functional as they were in a normal 35 year-old male. By doing so, all of the symptoms of andropause in the male disappear.
The difference is that for females, estrogen is available in pills, pellets, patches, shots, cream and pills. For males, testosterone is only available in North America in shots. In Europe, it is now available in pill form. One shot of testosterone per month is the usual dosage.
For those people who want to use Herbal alternates to the above listed chemical remedies, just a word of note to remember the 7 things to keep in mind listed above when buying herbal medicine.