The Accelerated Aging Epidemic
Today, nearly half of all Americans are getting old before their time, suffering all kinds of age-related symptoms at alarmingly younger ages. I call this Accelerated Aging Syndrome, and it is fast becoming an epidemic in this country. Quite simply, accelerated aging is a faster-than-normal deterioration in the functioning of your body and mind. In my practice, I’ve seen it begin with a subtle shift in body shape–an expanding waistline or shrinking muscles–caused by indulgent eating, lack of exercise, and yo-yo dieting. Your energy decreases while your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels climb. You’re tired and achy all the time. Your libido dwindles, your muscles sag, and your skin looks dull. You just don’t feel like you can keep up with your job, your kids, and your routine the way you used to. Perhaps most upsetting are symptoms of memory loss, which only add to your level of discouragement and distress. You realize that you feel
old–even if you’re not!
So why is this happening to so many of us these days? Unfortunately, changes in the American diet and lifestyle have conspired to make us age more rapidly. Before we can begin the process of becoming ten years younger, we need to understand these aging enemies–what I call aging accelerators–and how they impact our daily lives. Aging Accelerator #1: Oxidative Stress
Catherine, a 36-year-old woman living in Olympia, Washington, seemed to be sick all the time. If she wasn’t ﬁghting upper respiratory infections, she was in my ofﬁce complaining of sinus headaches or intestinal cramping. She couldn’t think clearly; she seemed depressed; she ached all over. I saw her once every three weeks for a whole year for one issue or another.
“It’s because of that darned ofﬁce building,” she told me. “It’s one of those sick buildings–you know, the kind that has no windows. We’re all breathing the same air all the time. We’re constantly passing colds on to each other.” It never occurred to Catherine that the fact that she never exercised and ate poorly could be the source of her illnesses. She was always looking for a quick ﬁx for her problems, requesting prescriptions for antibiotics and anti-inﬂammatory medications.
Although I could appreciate her frustration, I believed Catherine’s workplace had nothing to do with her situation. She was suffering from a disorder that often lies hidden and goes undiagnosed–a condition called oxidative stress. At ﬁrst she resisted my suggestions that a healthier lifestyle might be her ticket to a better life. But after a frustrating year of illness, Catherine ﬁnally agreed to try the Ten Years Younger Diet for a month and to work out at the local gym at least four days a week.
A month went by, and to my surprise, Catherine hadn’t called once. After about two months of silence, I became concerned. I called her, to be sure nothing terrible had happened.
“How have you been?” I asked Catherine. “I haven’t seen you for a while, and I was worried.”
Fortunately, my fears proved unfounded. “Oh, Dr. Masley, I feel wonderful,” Catherine responded. “I haven’t felt this well in ten years!”
What is oxidative stress–the mysterious ailment that laid Catherine so low for so long? It’s a natural process in our bodies that underlies much of what ages us. In fact, many of the suggestions I’ve included in the Ten Years Younger Program are meant to ﬁght this thief that robs you of your energy, good health, and longevity.
Oxidative stress is the result of your body’s inability to process free radicals, which are a by-product of your body’s natural energy production. Every process that creates energy also makes waste products. Take your car, for example. It burns gas and oxygen to make energy, and exhaust is created as a by-product. These pollutants must be removed from the engine so that it can run well; that’s what the tailpipe is for. The exhaust that comes out of the tailpipe is packed with pollutants– you certainly wouldn’t want to breathe it in.
Your body is no different, only in this case free radicals are the chemical exhaust. These biochemical compounds damage your living cells. But in addition to the free radicals you produce naturally, you also encounter others from outside sources: pesticides, drugs, pollutants, cigarettes, fumes, smog, tobacco smoke, lead, mercury, and cadmium. Every cell in your body takes between 10,000 and 100,000 aging hits from free radicals every day, and these micro-attacks injure your cells.
If your lifestyle doesn’t protect you against the onslaught of free rad-icals–oxidative stress–you’ll almost certainly suffer premature aging. Oxidative stress is the result of an imbalance: You generate or encounter too many free radicals without taking in enough antioxidants, anti-aging biochemical compounds that are found in foods. They turn off free radicals the way a ﬁre extinguisher puts out little ﬁres, thus slowing aging and enhancing your health. These essential nutrients counteract the harmful free radicals your body encounters, and play a critical role in promoting a long and healthy life.
So how do free radicals make you age? They attack not only your cell membranes–the outer walls of each cell in your body–but also your DNA, causing mutations that impact the function of your cells. This assault may even transform a normal cell into one that is cancerous. In fact, most cancers develop from normal cells whose DNA has been damaged by free radicals and oxidative stress. Free radicals will also age your skin by destroying its structure and speeding the creation of wrinkles. In fact, many of the aging scenarios I’ll cover in Chapter 2 are due directly to the effects of oxidative stress. If you’re healthy, however, you will have enough antioxidants to extinguish free radicals, and the limited DNA damage that does occur can be easily repaired.
The Ten Years Younger Program will help you change and/or reverse the damage caused by oxidative stress and will continue to protect you in the future so that you remain healthy as the years go by. In Chapter 4, I provide a list of Vitality Foods with high antioxidant activity, and The Ten Years Younger Diet and recipes in Part III are rich in antioxidants as well. The Age-Busting Fitness regimen and the Relaxation Routine will also decrease your level of chronic oxidative stress. It is possible to overcome it, and I’ll show you how. Aging Accelerator #2:
Low-Carb, High-Protein, High-Fat Diets
Sharon had been on a popular low-carb diet for three months. The ﬁrst month, she was delighted to ﬁnd that, after giving up her cookies, coffee cake, and other high-carb treats, she had lost about 6 pounds. “Only 24 pounds to go,” she told herself, happily pulling on a size 12 dress for the ﬁrst time in a year.
Her delight turned to disappointment two months later when she’d lost only another 7 pounds. “You’re on a plateau,” a fellow dieter reassured her, but try as she might, she couldn’t shed another pound. What she did notice, though, was that her energy was ﬂagging and she wasn’t thinking as clearly as she used to. Then, to add insult to injury, her boyfriend, Teddy, complained that she had terrible breath. Even worse, once Teddy started his own low-carb diet program, he lost all interest in sex. Sharon didn’t know why. Was it because she was tired all the time? Was it the bad breath? Maybe he didn’t ﬁnd her attractive anymore. Or was it him? Had the low-carb diet diminished his libido?
Soon, given all the unpleasant changes in her life, Sharon’s favorite doughnuts were calling her name. And one day, discouraged, she answered. From that moment on, her low-carb diet was history. Sharon went on to regain all the weight she’d lost, plus an extra 5 pounds.
For the past few years, we’ve been living in the “Age of Atkins,” and low-carb consciousness has become a way of life for dieters and non-dieters alike. Many of you will be aware of two studies conducted by Frederick Samaha, M.D., and Gary Foster, Ph.D., that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine
in 2003 and showed that an Atkins-like diet did in fact yield short-term modest weight loss in obese patients, but only when compared against an average American diet that was rich in reﬁned sugar, low in ﬁber, and lacking in healthy fats. And within the year the results of the conventional diet and the Atkins diet were about the same. Furthermore, the fact that the Atkins diet did not succeed in achieving even a 10 percent weight loss in obese patients in either study suggests that this type of dietary intervention is a failure. To top it all off, the dropout rate in the studies was extremely high, as most people ﬁnd it next to impossible to sustain this type of eating over the long haul.
But the effects of the low-carb diet are even more serious than most people realize, because it’s not just pounds we’re talking about. The truth is that yo-yo dieting (on one day, off the next) strongly contributes to accelerated aging. Not only are these diets difﬁcult to tolerate, but they are actually dangerous and will make you old before your time. Rather than melting away the pounds, these regimens are melting the years from your life
! Here’s why:
• Low-carb diets lack the ﬁber necessary to lower cholesterol and blood sugar.
Low-carb diets are notorious for pushing high-fat meats and cheeses, which have no ﬁber at all! Every day your body needs at least 30 grams of ﬁber (found in fruits, whole grains, vegetables, beans, and nuts). Fiber lowers your cholesterol by binding to it in your gut and preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. It also slows the absorption of sugar from your intestines. This prevents insulin surges after meals and protects you from developing diabetes. Fiber also helps to remove toxins from your digestive tract that can cause low-grade inﬂammation throughout your body–another major age accelerator (see below).
• Low-carb diets lack antioxidants
. As I explained before, antioxidants are health-promoting biochemicals found in edible plants that actually slow the aging process in your cells. For instance, ﬁbrous Vitality Foods such as apples, grapefruit, broccoli, and cauliﬂower prevent damage to your cells that can lead to cancer.
These antioxidant-rich foods extinguish free radicals before they do damage to your body. But low-carb diets shun these nutrient-rich foods, for reasons that defy true scientiﬁc thinking. Diets low in antioxidants also allow cholesterol to be quickly converted into artery-clogging plaque (I’ll explain how in Chapter 2), and actually promote the death of brain cells. The 1 to 2 cups of salad allowed on low-carb diets just doesn’t cut it–and vitamins marketed to low-carb dieters supply only a tiny fraction of the vast array of nutrients found in high-ﬁber foods.
• Low-carb diets are often loaded with saturated fats
. Some low-carb, high-protein diets encourage you to eat lots of red meat, bacon, and high-fat dairy products such as whipped cream, cheeses, and butter. These all contain high levels of saturated fats that clog your arteries. Clogged arteries are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, amputation, and loss in brain function–and you don’t have to be over 50 to experience these very negative side effects. Furthermore, foods that are loaded with saturated fats are also often high in additives and pesticides that elevate your cancer risk.
• Low-carb diets shrink your muscles and weaken exercise performance
. If you shed more than 2 to 3 pounds a week, you can be sure that you’re losing more muscle than fat. Why? Because to burn fat, you need an enzyme called lipase, which only allows you to burn at most 2 to 3 pounds of fat a week. If you lose any more than that, you’re clearly losing lean muscle mass instead. But when you yo-yo, as Sharon did, and go off the diet, you’ll most likely gain back only the fat, not the muscle! A cycle of rapid weight loss (losing more muscle than fat) followed by weight regain (gaining more fat than muscle) leaves you with a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of muscle mass. If you cycle on and off these diets several times, you may get ﬂabbier, fatter, and weaker over time–deﬁnitely not the desired result!
• Low-carb diets can cause ketosis
. Very-low-carb diets can induce ketosis, a dangerous physical state that occurs with prolonged fasting and the eating of a diet restricted to high-fat, low-carb foods. When you’re in a state of ketosis, you’re essentially pouring battery acid-like compounds into your bloodstream. Not surprisingly, this makes you feel ill, and it also suppresses your appetite–part of the gimmick behind the Atkins weight-loss claims. Unfortunately, ketosis is quite dangerous. It can destroy your brain cells as well as your kidneys (see below). And since ketosis increases acid production, it changes the pH level or acidity of your blood, which can further dull your brain function.
• Low-carb diets can cause kidney failure
. Animal protein in moderation won’t hurt your kidneys, but the sheer volume of animal protein in some low-carb diets can put signiﬁcant stress on them. Excess protein is difﬁcult to process, and while most kidneys can manage the added work, some can’t. In particular, if you have diabetes or signs of metabolic syndrome (see Aging Accelerator #3, on page 12), your kidneys are more likely to be injured by excess protein. And ketosis appears to worsen this problem considerably. I’ve seen patients who’ve pushed themselves into ketosis over and over again in their attempts to lose weight and were later diagnosed with kidney failure. Although these patients did eventually drop the low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet, their kidney function never recovered. Now they’re facing kidney transplants.
• Low-carb diets speed bone loss (osteoporosis)
. Low-carb diets are usually deﬁcient in calcium and magnesium, two minerals critical for the health of your bones. But that’s not the whole story. Excess animal protein (more than 6 to 8 ounces of meat, poultry, or ﬁsh daily) can also deplete calcium from your bones. Here’s how: Animal protein is acidic, and the extra acid you take in from a diet high in animal protein can make your blood acidic too. Your body has a wonderful built-in mechanism to prevent this from happening: It sucks calcium from your bones to neutralize any changes in your blood’s acidity. Unfortunately, the calcium that’s now in your blood is passed out of your body in the urine, ultimately weakening your bones. Considering that average Americans don’t come close to consuming enough calcium, people with a lifetime history of excessive animal protein intake risk spending their ﬁnal years disabled in nursing homes with hip or spinal fractures.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Ten Years Younger by Steven Masley, M.D.. Copyright © 2005 by Steven Masley, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.