In the late 1950s, the most prominent scientists dealing in astrophysics and related fields were asked in a survey the age of the universe. Two-thirds of them indicated that the universe was infinite in age.
However, only five years later, two scientists from Bell Labs in New Jersey discovered the so called background echo of the Big Bang. Literally overnight, the scientists had to eat their words since the universe did have a sudden beginning about 15 billion years ago. Also remember it was not many centuries ago that most mainstream scientists believed the world was flat!
I bring this up as introduction regarding a position paper that appeared in the June issue of Scientific American and later featured in AARP’s magazine where 51 so called “top scientists” have refuted the concept of anti-aging medicine, specifically leveling charges that there is no magic pill, vitamin, antioxidant, hormone or any other medical or surgical technique that can influence the process of aging. Dr. Olshansky from this group of scientists indicated that “even if every major age-related disease were magically cured by tomorrow morning, we would still age and suffer frailty from the body’s inability to repair damage to the building blocks of life.”
There are several theories as to why we age. These theories include excessive free radical damage, shortening of the telomeres within the cells or some internal biological clock that is preset to a certain number cell divisions before the cell dies. In my readings over the last few years, I believe that there is significant evidence to implicate free radical damage as a cause of cell breakdown and eventual cell death. The classic disease of aging is that of Alzheimer’s Disease. Increasing evidence points to free radical damage as the main culprit for the destruction of the brain neurons.
There have been multiple studies in the medical literature indicating that various nutrients and antioxidants can slow down this dementia illness. A double-blind study published in The New England Journal a few years ago noted that 2000 units a day of vitamin E slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s. Additional studies have proven the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba for memory.
More recently there have been studies indicating that high levels of homocysteine in the blood can have a detrimental effect and lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Homocysteine can be lowered with the proper combination of B vitamins and other nutrients. Even more exciting is recent research indicating alpha lipoic acid and N-acetyl-Carnitine when combined actually restored the cognitive function of aged animals to that of the younger control group. These nutrients also appear to restore the cellular energy of the neurons that becomes depleted as we age.
Macular Degeneration is another classic form of disease that occurs with aging. Over 13 million people in the U.S. have macular degeneration and it is the leading cause of blindness as we age. In a 90 patient, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study completed by the U.S. Veterans Administration (data yet to be published), it was found that high doses of lutein combined with an antioxidant formulation actually improved vision in patients with macular degeneration. Even more striking was the fact there was a dramatic reduction in deaths and heart problems in the group.
The micronutrient selenium has been shown in multiple studies (both of an epidemiologic and placebo controlled nature) to reduce the incidence and mortality rates of certain forms of cancer, especially prostate cancer. One of these studies was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and was the equivalent of a large phase III drug study in size. This study showed an overall 37% reduction in cancer incidence and a 50% reduction in cancer mortality using 200 mcg per day of selenomethionine.
It is well known that diabetics age much faster and die much younger than people with normal blood glucose levels. Elevations of blood glucose as we age cause severe damage to healthy proteins in the body. This process, which causes cross linking of blood glucose with proteins in the body, results in Advanced Glycosylated End products (AGE). There are numerous nutrients proven to promote and maintain healthy blood sugars levels and/or prevent this cross linking damage. These include chromium, alpha lipoic acid, Glucosol, fiber, gymnema slyvestre, mormodica charantia and others.
There are other nutrients that have been shown to be beneficial in improving elasticity of the skin and giving skin a more youthful appearance. Further, it is clearly proven that growth hormone levels decline dramatically as we age and studies indicate that when these hormones are replenished, increased muscle mass, strength and energy are restored. There are many studies proving the benefits of DHEA, a precursor to many hormones.
Another part of aging is the deterioration of joint function and the need for joint repair or replacements. Many nutrients have been proven to improve joint function. These include glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin sulphate, MSM, fish oil, Ester-C, SAMe and others. Medical doctors including the orthopedic surgeon and rheumatologist that are members of our Scientific Advisory Board have noted amazing results with these nutrients. Some patients were severely debilitated by the aging process and experienced dramatic improvement in their health and ability to function, literally restoring their health to levels they had last experienced years or decades earlier.
I would agree with the 51 scientists to the extent that there may be many individuals and companies making false claims and profiting from the anti-aging revolution, but to dismiss everything out of hand as being worthless I feel is quite irresponsible and just plain wrong. It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just because so called “top scientists” (a handful compared to thousands) make a statement certainly does not mean that it is a statement of fact. The medical/science journals are replete with tens of thousands of studies proving the benefits of nutrients and nutrition at reducing the risk of disease and promoting the principle of aging gracefully.