This book is the culmination of a lifetime of work and research into why and how we age. In my previous books, I laid the blame on chronic, subclinical inflammation for everything from wrinkles and obesity to chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, arthritis, and more. Although the concept is not universally accepted by physicians and scientists—in fact, it was often ridiculed—inflammation has now made it into the accepted list of causative factors in aging and disease. A quick look at the National Library of Medicine Web site reveals hundreds of studies verifying this, including a recent study reported by the University of Texas Department of Physiology stating that “the activation of inflammatory genes acts as a bridge linking normal aging to pathological processes.” Another recent study, this one out of Columbia University, found that “with most age-associated diseases, individuals manifest an underlying chronic inflammatory state. . . .”
In each of my books I have set forth strategies to combat this inflammation. As inflammation and its destructive effects have become widely recognized and accepted, many leading scientists are making it the focus of their research.
Now my goal, in addition to learning how to prevent and reverse inflammation in our daily lives, is to build on my previous work and go even deeper than I have before. Exciting new scientific developments are showing us that there is even more we can do—we can actually rebuild our bodies on a cellular level. Brain, bone, muscle, and skin can all benefit in a process known as cellular rejuvenation.
Once the realm of salesmen of questionable supplements and potions, the field of anti-aging has now taken its place at the forefront of legitimate scientific research. Each day new reports on studies are published, studies showing that science is on the brink of learning how to trigger the cellular self-repair mechanisms that appear to be a driving force in life extension.
In this book we will explore multiple disciplines, all of which are accessible to everyone. We will learn how cellular rejuvenation works; it is a new and exciting science that will restore mental and physical health to all areas of the body, both inside and outside. For the first time we have the means and the methods to stop age- related decline of all organ systems. Some of our tools are thousands of years old, long forgotten and ready to be reintroduced in this book, while others are current discoveries. Together they provide us with up-to-the-minute strategies to both delay and reverse the negative effects of aging.
In researching and writing this book, I have found numerous approaches that greatly enhance our ability to delay (and prevent) the onset of the undesirable effects of aging. There are proven foods, botanicals, and nutritional supplements that offer genuine physical and mental restorative benefits. And while we cannot turn back the clock, we can learn to slow it down—to the inestimable benefit of ourselves, our loved ones, our community, and our planet. A sick and aging populace is the greatest threat we have in terms of destabilizing our future. The seven anti-aging secrets you will find here are your tools to circumvent such a disaster and ensure healthy, happy, active years for decades to come.
Which brings us to secret 1: Jump-start your cellular metabolism.
The Mighty Mitochondria
There’s a reason I’m starting this book with the mitochondria. They’re the part of the cell that creates energy, the very foundation of cellular rejuvenation. A young cell is characterized by optimal energy production. Slow down that production, and you begin the aging process. The goal, therefore, is to rev up your cellular metabolism— the chemical and physiological processes by which the body builds and maintains itself and by which it breaks down food and nutrients to produce energy.
To understand the concepts of cellular metabolism and rejuvenation, we need to understand the inner workings of the cell—in particular, the mitochondria, sometimes called the “cellular power plants” because they metabolize food-derived chemicals to produce energy. Mitochondria are responsible for converting nutrients and oxygen into the energy-yielding molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to fuel the cell’s activities. Without energy, the cell can no longer repair itself, resulting in cellular breakdown.
One of the things that makes the mitochondria unique is that they have their own set of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules. We are all familiar with DNA, which is the material inside the nucleus of cells that carries genetic information. But what many people are not aware of is that the mitochondria also contain DNA, above and beyond the DNA found in the nucleus of the cell. Unfortunately, the primary site of damage to the cell is in the DNA found in the mitochondria. The DNA in the mitochondria is at exceptional risk because of the free radicals produced in this tiny furnace during energy production. The cell automatically fixes much of the damage done to nuclear DNA; however, the DNA in the mitochondria cannot be as readily fixed. Therefore, extensive DNA damage accumulates over time and shuts down the mitochondria, causing the cells to die and the organism to age.
There have been many theories of aging; one of the most significant is the free-radical theory proposed by Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D. A free radical is a molecule that is missing an electron in its outer orbit. Dr. Harman first suggested that free radicals alter the molecular structure of the cell, causing damage to the cell. They do this by stealing their missing electron from other molecules to complete their outer orbit. In other words, free radicals are molecules that want to join with other molecules, and by doing so they cause cellular damage.
As is often the case with pioneering work in the scientific worlds, Dr. Harman’s theories were essentially ignored for decades. However, scientists now recognize and acknowledge the importance of free radicals in the aging process. It is also well established that free radicals play an active role in very diverse, age-related diseases. In my first book, The Wrinkle Cure, I introduced Dr. Harman’s free- radical theory of aging and proposed that free radicals initiate the inflammatory process that is ultimately responsible for aging and age- related disease.
The Inflammation Theory of Aging
The majority of the free radicals are derived from oxygen. Thus, the damage being done by these free radicals is known as oxidative damage. When a cell has a high level of free radicals present, we call this oxidative stress, and oxidative stress leads to the production of chemicals that create inflammation within the cell. This process is a vicious cycle, as free radicals can initiate inflammation and inflammation can initiate the production of free radicals.
The scientists who argue in favor of the free-radical theory of aging must now go beyond this premise if we are to stop and help reverse cellular degeneration. Free radicals exist only for a nanosecond and therefore do very little direct damage to cellular molecules. However, what they do accomplish, in their very brief life, is the initiation of an inflammatory cascade, which can continue for hours or even days. The long life of the inflammatory cascade results in most of the cellular damage that leads to aging and age-related diseases.
Fortunately for us, our bodies already contain certain defenses against free radicals and inflammation. Our bodies can actually make a variety of enzyme antioxidants that suppress or alter free radicals. (An enzyme is a protein that accelerates the rate of chemical reactions.) They are referred to as endogenous antioxidants because they are made internally by the body. Another way of obtaining antioxidants is through our diet or by taking nutritional supplements. We call these exogenous antioxidants because they come from outside of the body. We are all familiar with many of these antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, as well as the multitude of phytonutrients that are available in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants are critical in anti-aging medicine because they act as natural anti-inflammatories, giving us protection against the inflammation initiated by free radicals that causes cellular damage. When this damage occurs internally to our vital organs, such as the brain, it results in problems such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. It can also damage the lungs, resulting in decreased respiratory function, as well as the heart and the kidneys.
And it is not just our internal organs that suffer. Free-radical damage and inflammation is apparent in our appearance with each passing year. It manifests in very visible damage to skin, resulting in the thinning of the skin, deep lines, wrinkles, sagging, and loss of tone, texture, and radiance. Negative changes in our muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, along with the loss of critical bone mass (osteopenia and osteoporosis), also occur. Each of these changes, whether external or internal, is the initial result of damage on a molecular and cellular level.
Recharging the Mitochondrial Batteries
Now that we know what causes cells to age, we can concentrate on what we need to (1) protect them from inflammatory damage and (2) recharge the mitochondrial “batteries” to keep them up and running with energy to spare. There are two ways to do this: through diet and through nutritional supplements. We’ll begin with diet.
The foods we eat are of critical importance because they either create or prevent the free radicals and inflammation implicated in aging and disease, meaning our diet can be either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. It is very exciting that scientific breakthroughs and discoveries now allow us to actually rejuvenate and revitalize our bodies on a cellular level—but if our diet is pro-inflammatory, we will undermine the effects of even the most powerful remedies. So the first step in cellular rejuvenation is to establish a firm base, beginning with the foods we eat, thus ensuring the success of mitochondrial and other cellular rejuvenators.
As it turns out, the dietary advice I have given in my previous books has been right on the money—not only for preventing inflammation but also in terms of enabling our bodies’ cells to repair themselves. The following six categories of foods, familiar to my loyal readers, each have important and particular properties for maintaining and improving cellular metabolism.
Category 1: Protein (for Cellular Rejuvenation)
Protein plays a very important role in a successful health, beauty, and anti-aging program. It is the basic material of life. In fact, the word protein comes from an ancient Greek root meaning “of first importance.” The body could not grow or function without it.
As protein is digested, it breaks down into amino acids, which are then used by the cells to repair themselves. Since the human body can manufacture only 11 of the 20 amino acids that are essential for life, the remaining 9 must be provided through the intake of dietary protein.
Without adequate protein, our bodies enter into an accelerated aging mode. Our muscles, organs, bones, cartilage, skin, and the antibodies that protect us from disease are all made of protein. Even the enzymes that facilitate essential chemical reactions in the body—from digestion to building cells—are made of protein. If your cells do not have complete access to all the essential amino acids, cellular repair will be not only incomplete but also much slower than it should.
It’s important to note that protein cannot be stored in our bodies; therefore, we need to have a good source of quality protein at each meal for optimum health and cellular repair.
As to where protein rates on the “inflammatory scale,” we will find that protein, on the whole, is neutral. However, some sources of protein, such as wild salmon, provide powerful anti-inflammatory benefits because they are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) and astaxanthin, a superpowerful carotenoid antioxidant with potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Conversely, forms of protein that are high in saturated fats can have a pro-inflammatory effect in the body. Limit your intake of red meats, choose the leaner cuts, and substitute leaner choices such as chicken breast without the skin, light turkey meat, and even bison and ostrich. Increase your intake of all forms of seafood except those known to have high mercury or pesticide levels (www.vitalchoice.com offers lists of recommended fish with excellent safety profiles).
Category 2: Carbohydrates (for Cellular Energy)
Carbohydrates are sugars and starches, which are the most efficient source of food energy. They are stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen and in the blood as glucose. However, to make the most efficient use of this stored energy, sugar needs to be consumed in the form of complex carbohydrates like those found in whole fruits (preferably organic so we can eat the skin, which contains high levels of nutrients and fiber); starches need to be eaten in the form of beans, legumes, and some whole grains, which break down slowly and won’t cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin. If the carbohydrate choices we make are fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes, along with whole grains such as old-fashioned oatmeal, we will reap great anti-aging benefits—from wrinkle protection to weight reduction.
In addition to choosing anti-inflammatory carbs, we must also learn how to avoid pro-inflammatory carbs, which degrade cellular function. Pro-inflammatory carbohydrates are the “simple” sugars and starches, as opposed to the “complex” carbohydrates described above.
Just about everyone knows by now that sugar and all forms of sweeteners, flour, processed foods, sodas, juices, energy drinks, baked goods, pasta, and snack foods (chips, pretzels, etc.) are categorized as “high-glycemic” carbohydrates and come under the “Not a Good Choice” heading. This simply means that they rapidly convert to sugar when eaten, creating inflammation on a cellular level throughout the body. These foods cause the pancreas to release insulin in an effort to control the level of blood sugar in the body. Eventually, this leads to obesity, even though caloric intake may not necessarily be excessive. These foods also cause wrinkles and sagging in the face. There is no upside, other than the momentary rise in the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin. Unfortunately, serotonin levels quickly drop, setting our bodies up for a roller-coaster ride of food cravings, mood swings, wrinkled skin, fatigue, and weight gain. Additionally, it is now almost universally accepted by anti- aging researchers worldwide that controlling blood sugar levels may be the greatest anti-aging tool we have—bar none.
Category 3: Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
(for Cellular Stabilization)
Our diets also need to include anti-inflammatory fat sources. This is a topic that I have covered extensively over the years. In fact, because they cause increased inflammation in the brain, I hold extreme low fat and fat-free diets culpable in the epidemic of depression that has swept the United States since the 1980s. Ideally our diets will be free from excess saturated fats and all trans-fatty acids—another reason to avoid all processed and prepared foods.
The EFAs found in fish (such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, sablefish, trout, etc.), nuts and seeds, and avocados are anti- inflammatory. They also have the unique ability to stabilize the cell plasma membrane, the outer portion of the cell. When we stabilize the cell plasma membrane, we decrease our risk of oxidative stress and its resultant production of the cascade of inflammatory chemicals that causes damage throughout the cell, especially the mitochondria.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Dr. Perricone's 7 Secrets to Beauty, Health, and Longevity by Nicholas Perricone, M.D.. Copyright © 2006 by Nicholas Perricone, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, 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.