By Michel Cicero
As far back as ancient Egypt, humans have been in active pursuit of the magic elixir that will either return to them what time has stolen or slow time’s passage. Yet the clock continues to tick for 72 million Baby Boomers, and another American turns 50 every eight seconds, so it’s no surprise that many of us are taking anti-aging supplements. We may not expect to lengthen our lives by a significant amount, but we increasingly rely on science for newer and better ways to improve the time we do have. And it’s not just about looks and skin elasticity; aging affects memory, cognition, motor skills, stamina and metabolism. Chronological age does not necessarily reflect biological age, and as we grow older our health is also significantly reflective of lifestyle choices, stress, environmental factors and genetics.
The good news is that it’s never too late, and if 50 is indeed the new 40, and 40 the new 30, it would appear that humankind’s obsession with reversing time has not been without its triumphs. A number of anti-aging supplements on the market show great promise, and if combined with a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management, there is no reason to believe we can’t look and feel fantastic, no matter what the birth date on our driver’s licenses may suggest.”
The carbohydrate has taken a serious PR beating in the last decade, but somewhat surprisingly, one carbohydrate is yielding amazing results in combating the effects of age. Some time ago it was discovered that the people from a small village outside Tokyo were not only long-lived, they were practically disease-free and exceptionally vital, despite many being tobacco smokers. Researchers believe their starchy, root vegetable-based diet is responsible for their time-defying health because it’s abundant in hyaluronic acid, or HA. “Hyaluronic Acid is a naturally occurring element located throughout our whole body, and [as we age] it starts to decrease, leaving the skin wrinkled and the joints less flexible,” explains Darren Landis, owner of Hyalogic, a manufacturer and distributor of HA supplements and topical products. To address this reduced flexibility, HA is sometimes injected directly into joints as a successful alternative to surgery, and has been shown to provide joint cushioning and tissue repair in skin, gums and scalp. It’s also beneficial for eyesight, and because it is composed of hydrophilic (“water-loving”) molecules, is moisturizing for both skin and moving body parts.
While moderate consumption of red wine is still recommended for the antioxidant action of resveratrol, it is actually resveratrol’s activation of the SIRT1 gene that has the most beneficial effect. The SIRT1 gene prompts the body to produce proteins that protect cells from inflammation and oxidative stress, two of the primary causes of premature aging and many degenerative diseases. A chemical relation of resveratrol, pterostilbene, is the new phytochemical du jour. This powerful plant-based compound found in blueberries and grapes is also an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to balance blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and gobble up free radicals like an organic Pac Man. Proponents of the super stilbenoid say that it’s four times easier to absorb than resveratrol and its benefits last eight times longer. If you feel it’s time for the heavy artillery, resveratrol and pterostilbene are also available together in a handful of supplements, some said to contain as much pterostilbene as 200 pounds of blueberries. Users report increased energy, better sleep and improved cognition.
Another potent antioxidant that’s getting a lot of attention for its superb protection against free radicals is astaxanthin, the fat soluble mega carotenoid that’s responsible for the pink in salmon and the red in shellfish. We’ve heard so much about including lots of bright color in our diets, and eating foods rich in astaxanthin is a simple way to do this. Derived from microalgae, it’s reported to improve skin texture and appearance, eyesight and endurance, as well as aid post-workout tissue repair. An added bonus: astaxanthin helps shields the skin from ultraviolet rays (after a minimum two weeks of supplementation), helping to prevent cellular damage and reduced production of HA by the body, both of which can lead to wrinkles, skin aging and, potentially, skin cancer.
High on wellness guru Dr. Oz’s list of must-have anti-aging supplements is the Asian herb Bacopa, also known as water hyssop, or brahmi. Used in Ayurvedic medicine, Bacopa is a brain food, much like Gingko biloba, but with the added benefit of reducing anxiety and lessening inflammation. It is used to treat stress-related nervous exhaustion, and also helps with concentration, insomnia, memory and symptoms of ADHD, with results experienced in as little as three weeks. It may also help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe the perennial herb is responsible for some of the epic poetry memorized by ancient Eastern shamans. Maggie Ney, ND, who runs the women’s clinic at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica, confirms that at about 150 mg per day, results can be seen pretty quickly, adding, “I like this herb for memory and brain health.” Bacopa is inexpensive and widely available.
One of the earliest signs of aging is a decline in vitality, or what is known as qi in Chinese medicine. Have you ever felt as though everyday activities seemed more strenuous? That you just weren’t up for your normal routine? More often than not, it’s attributable to loss of qi. A promising Chinese herb used in Eastern modalities is the ancient Cordyceps sinensis. Though it’s been used for nearly 1400 years in Tibet, Nepal and China where it originates, this mushroom-derived substance is gaining attention in the West. Cordyceps is purported to increase endurance, stamina and metabolism, all of which translate to vital energy. Pacific Palisades-based acupuncturist and oriental medicine practitioner James Bailey, Dipl. OM, reports, “The calming effect of Cordyceps during exercise has been the subject of much research in Japan, where it was discovered that it contains adenosine, a naturally occurring neuroprotector that buffers cerebral nerves from damage caused by lack of oxygen. It relaxes the airways, soothing tightened tracheal muscles that constrict the flow of air deep into the lungs.” It also raises levels of brain chemicals dopamine, linked with good feelings and improved mood, and glutamate, which improves neural communication, memory formation and learning, and is also linked with protection against neurological diseases. Bailey says it’s safe to use for long periods and for all types of constitutions.
Just as we try to make an end run around time, time is also giving us time to uncover an abundance of better anti-aging products. One caveat: Researchers are still discovering what synergistic elements might make an individual chemical or molecule effective. There are interactions in nature that we are not necessarily able to replicate by extracting one element and putting it in a capsule, and this is the next frontier on the supplement front. If you have questions about any supplements or their interactions, it’s always wise to check with your health practitioner before starting a new regimen.
Michel Cicero is a 40-something writer/editor and lifelong Southern Californian who is always looking for new ways to reverse damage caused by too much fun in the sun.
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