Science is just starting to understand the potential of compounds such as antioxidants and their positive impact on aging.

Aging is a multi-faceted process responsible for the gradual decline in our bodies’ systems. However—lucky for us—part of this process is under our control and can be slowed by various lifestyle and nutritional prescriptions. That is the topic of a new book by Ronald Klatz, M.D., president of the American Academy of Anti-aging Medicine. In the book, titled The New Anti-Aging Revolution: Stopping the Clock for a Younger, Sexier, Happier You, Klatz contends there is no magic bullet to stop aging, but there is a broad spectrum of factors that can help prevent age-related disease and decline.

According to Klatz, “Aging is a factor of the amount of birthday candles on your birthday cake; whereas, growing old is a process that leads to degenerative diseases and, finally, death.” Many degenerative diseases, which are a growing problem in the U.S.—are preventable. Klatz says that genetics accounts for 1/3 to 1/2 of the risk of developing degenerative diseases, but that a majority of the remaining factors are under our control, and that we need to learn to “beat our genetics.” Klatz prescribes an anti-aging program that is 80% diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplementation—good news that confirms the role that functional foods may play in the diets of aging Baby Boomers.

Functional foods and supplements with ingredients that play a part in helping us slow the aging process and prevent degenerative diseases can play an important role. Hot new areas that are gaining attention in non-dietary areas identified by Klatz include advances in understanding DNA repair and cortisol balance. Here is a brief look at just a few of the tools at our disposal.

According to research by P. Knekt, et al., published in 2002 in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people with higher quercetin intake, especially from apples, onions and oranges, tended to have a lower mortality rate during the period under study.

Dietary Compounds

Antioxidants make up a cornerstone for prevention of age-related disease. Research has mounted increasing evidence on the role of antioxidants in aging, and this trend is expected to continue. Antioxidants include the mainstream vitamins A, C and E, but also the category of chemicals from plant pigments called the polyphenols, which are known to have a very versatile role in prevention of oxidation.

Another key category of ingredients is the omega-3 essential fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA. These ingredients—whether from botanical origin such as flax, perilla (shiso) or borage seed oils, or from fish or algae—have been confirmed to play a role in protecting our cellular membranes, balancing inflammation, and preventing cardiovascular disease and other degenerative conditions.

The press release for Blueberry Harvest Herb Tea, introduced in mid-200 by R.C. Bigelow Inc. (Fairfield, Conn.), notes that blueberries contain more antioxidants than “any other fruit” and that consumption of blueberries has been linked to many positive health benefits, from anti-aging to improved vision.

Theories on Repair and Balance

Science may one day lead to anti-aging ingredients that can assist in the area of DNA repair. Certain enzyme systems within our cells have the explicit job of maintaining and “cleaning up” DNA. As we age, our DNA begins to degrade as part of a normal process. Enzymes “tidy up” and repair areas of DNA strands that have been damaged. Supplements that may assist in this area include folic acid, CoQ10 and the botanical Cat's Claw.

Other functional ingredients appearing on the anti-aging horizon are those that balance cortisol levels. We are a nation of stressed-out individuals who run around drinking coffee and colas, dieting, and getting too little sleep. This lifestyle may affect the cortisol balance, an imbalance can lead to degenerative diseases such as diabetes, impotence, dementia, heart disease, cancer, and so on.

According to Dr. Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, “the problem with chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels is that the initial effects are so subtle—a few extra pounds of weight, a slight reduction in energy levels, a modest drop in sex drive, a bit of trouble with memory—that we simply brush them off as 'normal' aspects of aging.” However, he argues, they can be better thought of as the early signs of certain degenerative diseases. To help consumers alleviate this state, the supplement industry offers “stress supplements,” also called adaptogens, such as the botanicals ginseng, rhodiola and ashwagandha, as well as the B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium, among others.

Some theorize that caffeine-containing foods such as coffee may have undesirable aging effects, since they impact sleep and/or increase stress. However, beverages such as tea also contain desirable antioxidants.
Obesity (defined as having a Body Mass Index—BMI—over 30) is another risk factor for degenerative diseases. Ideally, one's weight should be maintained within 10% of the recommended weight for one's height. Certainly, nutritional supplementation is a key area in helping to maintain healthy body weight, and numerous supplements, such as green tea, guarana, chitosan, and garcinia still are being confirmed through science for this purpose.

If this anti-aging lifestyle sounds too serious and not very much fun, there are always those ingredients most like to eat and drink and for which we have been searching for justification, such as red wine and chocolate. Research on both foods and their functional ingredients has been hot in the past few years, finding many benefits in the prevention of age-related disease. Research just published in Nature indicates that resveratrol, the main healthy ingredient in red wine, may have the ability to mimic the effects of caloric restriction on extending lifespan.

If alcohol is not your cup of tea, you can take the advice of the oldest known person, Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 years old and consumed two pounds of dark chocolate every week!