I’ve had 20-something-year-old patients confessing to regular botox injections and others coming to me to lose another 10 pounds when they are already stick-thin. Women (and men!) nowadays strive to be beautiful every minute of every day, and while many patients are willing to try virtually anything that promises anti-aging or rejuvenating effects, I often remind them not to neglect their health. Afterall, it’s what’s happening inside that’s being reflected out.
So, what is happening inside? What causes us to age? Well, let’s look at aging at the most basic, cellular level.
The key to this is called a telomere. Telomeres are the tips at the ends of our chromosomes that protect our DNA. They are like the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces, or like the erasers at the end of pencils. Over time, as our cells divide over and over again, the telomeres become shorter and shorter. When the telomeres get too short to work properly, cells in your body start to malfunction or die, and the diseases of old age set in (click here to watch telomeres discussed on ABC news- “Aging Reversed in Mice”). Theoretically, scientists say we can slow or even reverse aging by keeping the length of our telomeres.
Researchers have found that telomeres shorten with stress, poor dietary choices and inflammation.
Consider the following:
1) A University of California in San Francisco study looked at women who faced intense stress in caring for chronically ill children. Dr. Elissa Epel and her team found that the longer a woman cared for a child with a serious illness, the shorter her telomeres- which points to rapid aging caused by high stress. “It’s very sad,” Dr. Epel says in the study. “These women are paying an intense personal price.” This premature aging response was not confined to caregivers as the study also studied mothers of healthy kids. Most of the women in this group did not report a burn-out stress level. But those that did also turned out to have shorter telomeres. Interestingly, “women with the highest levels of perceived stress have telomeres shorter on average by the equivalent of at least one decade of additional aging compared to low stress women”.
2) So, what does this mean for us? A positive outlook on life, a regular stress-management regime, and the support of friends can help buffer the potential damage of ongoing stress, Dr. Epel recommends. The connection between laughter and longevity has been known for a long time. Laughter is a great antidote to stress, pain and conflict. It strengthens social bonds and relationships. Laughing also positively affects hormones by increasing endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killers and facilitate a state of peace in the body.
3) Inflammation is another controllable factor that can shorten telomere length and increase cell aging. Researchers have identified many nutraceuticals (e.g. resveratrol, omega-3 fatty acids, grape seed extract, curcumin, etc.) that can lower systemic inflammation, which in turn helps to maintain telomere length. Click here to read more about ways to reduce inflammation, and the cancer/ inflammation connection.
Stay tuned for Part II in ‘(Anti) Aging Naturally’, where building blocks necessary to support DNA health, natural medicines to help your body adapt to stress (especially for those chronically stressed or working long hours) and other ways to tackle the aging process- naturally- will be discussed. Click here to learn how Dr. Yik can help you.