The human life expectancy is increasing, and barring unforeseen circumstances, we can expect to live to a ripe old age – that is, a ripe old calendar age. Though our life expectancy has increased, the quality of our lives and our health has not. The United States continues to be one of the unhealthiest nations in the developed world. Most of us do not want to live to be 90 if the last 20 years are filled with illness, disability and dependence on family and nursing homes. We want to be able to take long walks, play golf, enjoy our families and friends, and make those extra years quality years. The truth is that the quality of your later years will be largely determined by the choices you make today, choices designed to stave off the aging process. You can control biological aging.
May 18, 2011
Genetics and Aging
These choices begin with understanding the role of genes. Although many of us think genes determine our destiny, Professor Peter Nathaniels MD, PhD from the University of Texas Health Science Center says “pure genetic determination does not adequately explain the varied capabilities of our biology. A more accurate view of the role of the genome is to see the genes as providing the overall plan for the developmental pathways. The environment to which the individual is exposed will modify the actual pathway.”
Genes are unquestionably the fundamental units by which our bodies are constructed. However, behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Edward A. Taub notes that “The major function of genes is to transmit health and the inborn resolve to remember wellness. In the sickness paradigm, we are taught that disease-carrying genes determine our destiny. This is a false view. If we were truly destined to live by our genes, we would suffer from the thousands of diseases experienced by our ancestors for as long as we lived, which would not be very long at all. Disease-carrying genes are not our destiny, because they must answer to our inner compass – our healing force.”
Newsweek spelled it out clearly: “The environment in which you grow up is as important as your DNA in determining the person you become. Certain genes can lead to vulnerability, but not inevitability.”
Assuming that a person’s life is written in their genes has been a major mistake in recent health care philosophy. The more we learn about genetics, our biological inheritance, the more we realize that for the most part our lifestyle decisions and behaviors have far more impact on longevity and health than does heredity. Health decisions and habits control the way genes will affect the body and health in general.
Chronological age is not biological age. How do we know this? There are two main lines of evidence:
First, though average levels of many physical functions show a progressive decline with age, there is a wide variability within aged groups. Some individuals show no decline at all. That these individuals exist indicates that chronological aging is not an inevitable cause of biological aging. Often a person will blame a health condition, such as a bad shoulder, bad knee or weight gain on their age. But if age were to blame, then it would stand to reason that both shoulders and both knees would be degenerated or that everyone of a certain age would be obese. These problems are due to cumulative stress, lifestyle choices and trauma, not to the passage of time.
The second line of evidence that biological aging is in fact degeneration caused by abnormal stress is the continuing discoveries that aging processes previously considered “natural” do not occur at all in some human populations. Blood pressure for example, rises with age in the American population and used to be considered an inevitable part of aging. However science knows now that there are numerous populations, mostly isolated from Western society, in which the elderly have the same blood pressure as the young. Clearly rising blood pressure is caused by complex factors in the environment of Western society. When members of other populations migrate to Western society, their blood pressure begins to rise within a few years. The same is true for osteoporosis, a major concern for western women. However, women in other cultures around the world do not suffer from osteoporosis and similar degenerative diseases.
Time is not the enemy
The human body is an amazing collection of synergistic entities controlled by what can only be described as innate intelligence. The body is designed to be totally self-functioning and self-healing. We tend to think of healing when we suffer a cut on our arm or have a broken bone, but healing is a constant process of replacing old cells with new cells. For example, red blood cells are replaced at a rate of about 100 billion a day.
The body is constantly analyzing what is happening within it and what is happening in the environment outside it, and making adaptive changes as necessary.
Aging can best be defined as the gradual loss of the body’s ability to respond to its inner terrain and the environment. Aging is not jut the passage of time, but also the abnormal stress the body has to deal with that gradually breaks it down. This stress is caused by a number of things, starting with inactivity and chemical pollution.
The couch potato syndrome
The human body is designed to move. The current technological age of labor-saving devices and sedentary living has caused us to forget our biological imperative for movement. Lack of movement has deadly consequences, and many of the degenerative diseases plaguing Americans have their roots in sedentary, inactive lifestyles. As much as 50 percent of the decline in physiological functioning such as weak muscles, stiff joints and low energy levels is actually due to disuse and is not a normal consequence of aging.
C. Everett Koop, former surgeon general of the U.S. stresses that “More people die of a sedentary lifestyle than from smoking.”
The grand design of the human body includes movement. Without movement life cannot be sustained. Blood cells that do not move cannot transport oxygen. Lungs that do not move cannot provide oxygen to cells. Hearts that do not move cannot pump blood, and spines that do not move cannot create the motion required for proper joint nutrition, for the activities of daily living, or for the stimulation of the joint-brain pathways required for proper brain and body function.
Spinal movement stimulates brain function in the same way that a windmill generates electricity for a power plant. Half of all the nerve impulses that are sent between the brain and body in the spinal cord are for the delivery of movement stimulation to the brain. This enables the brain to coordinate activities such as concentration, learning, emotions, motor control, and organ function. Movement charges the brain’s battery and makes it able to think better, feel better and function better, all of which are essential to health and longevity.
According to Nobel laureate Dr. Roger Sperry, “Better than 90 percent of the energy output of the brain is used in relating to the physical body in its gravitational field. The more mechanically distorted a person is, the less energy available for thinking, metabolism and healing.”
The U.S. is the most medicated nation in the world. Its people consume 68 percent of all the drugs in the world.
Drugs are foreign to the body. They work by altering the body’s natural biochemistry in order to suppress symptoms. With depressed symptoms, the true cause of the problem is likely to grow worse and the body’s natural healing mechanism is compromised by the drugs. By interfering with normal cell function, drugs cause cellular malfunction, which is the same as causing disease.
In addition to toxicity, drugs cause severe nutritional deficiencies by depleting the body of essential nutrients. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and steroid drugs all absorb nutrients. The main side effect of steroid drugs is to increase many of the parameters of aging. This includes arthritis and degenerative changes to joints and systems. This is well documented in scientific literature.
Research has shown that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, interfere at the cellular level with the mechanism responsible for rebuilding and repairing cartilage. NSAIDS actually cause degradation of joint cartilage causing further degeneration to the joints. This inhibits normal joint movement, which the inhibits normal stimulation to the brain.
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