WHAT CAUSES PREMATURE AGING?
1. Free radicals
In recent years we have come to understand more about highly reactive kinds of atoms or molecules called free radicals. In many cases, free radicals assist the body by destroying invaders, producing energy, and helping to carry oxygen through the bloodstream. However, when they are present in overwhelming numbers, they attack healthy cells, sometimes destroying them or mutating their DNA. When cells die before their time or are damaged, the normal aging process is accelerated, and the body becomes vulnerable to life-threatening diseases such as cancer, arteriosclerosis, and many degenerative diseases.
It is becoming more and more difficult to keep the number of free radicals in the body down to a healthy level. Many of the aspects of modern living, including unwholesome diets and exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke, environmental contaminants, and even the sun, leave us exposed to far more free radicals than any generation before us. Luckily, nature has equipped us with the means to neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Substances called antioxidants accomplish the task, and they’re found in many fruits and vegetables and in some herbs. A combination of healthful eating combined with antioxidant supplements and wise living can prevent excessive damage from free radicals.
2. Diet and nutritional deficiencies
Another major cause of several age-related diseases is diet and nutritional deficiencies. Studies on laboratory mice and primates, as well as emerging human studies, have shown that a reduced-calorie diet significantly extends their lives. Additionally, diets that are high in fat and sugar lack many essential nutrients, fiber, as well as antioxidants. Poor diets also contribute to gastrointestinal disorders, which can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb important vitamins and minerals. Sometimes, however, a good diet is not enough to keep deficiency at bay. As a result of normal or accelerated aging, older people are often simply less efficient at absorbing nutrients, even if they eat well. If you have reached old age, you will need to redouble your efforts to take in nutrients.
3. Lack of exercise
Aging is accelerated by a lack of exercise. If you’re not regularly exercising you’re increasing your risk for almost every kind of disorder, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
4. Hormone imbalance, especially Cortisol and DHEA
Hormone balance is a key to healthy aging. This is particularly true of the stress hormones such as cortisol and DHEA. A deficiency or abnormal elevation of these hormones (particularly cortisol) accelerates aging and immune system breakdown. In reality, all of the hormones are important for healthy aging. Thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, as well as growth hormone levels must be at balanced levels to slow the aging process. Researchers are finding that growth hormone may play a special role in slowing down the “aging clock.”
5. Elevated blood sugar levels
It is also important to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range. Elevated levels of glucose lead to a process known as glycosylation. This contributes to a weak immune system and speeds up aging. An example of this process is diabetes.
6. Too much stress
Finally, the effects of stress appear to play a role in aging. People who perceive prolonged periods of intense stress are more likely to develop chronic disease. One major stressor is loneliness. This is becoming a big problem with the elderly who lack companionship and stimulation. Many cut back on social obligations, intellectual activities, and sports and exercise. Giving these essential activities up has been linked to a shorter life span and an increased risk of disease. It is up to all of us, whatever age, to create families and communities in whom the elderly are welcome, active members.