Starting at what is commonly called middle age, operations of the human body begin to be more vulnerable to daily wear and tear; there is a general decline in physical, and possibly mental, functioning. The length of life is often into the 70s. The upward limit of the life span, however, can be as high as 120 years. During the latter half of life, an individual is more prone to having problems with the various functions of the body and to develop any number of chronic or fatal diseases. The cardiovascular, digestive, excretory, nervous, reproductive and urinary systems are particularly affected. The most common diseases of aging include Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
Human beings reach a peak of growth and development around the time of their mid 20s. Aging is the normal transition time after that flurry of activity. Although there are quite a few age-related changes that tax the body, disability is not necessarily a part of aging. Health and lifestyle factors together with the genetic makeup of the individual, and determines the response to these changes. Body functions that are most often affected by age include:
There are several theories as to why the aging body loses functioning. It may be that several factors work together or that one particular factor is at work more than others in a given individual.
Many problems can arise due to age-related changes in the body. Although there is no one test to be given, a thorough physical exam and a basic blood screening and blood chemistry panel can point to areas in need of further attention. When older people become ill, the first signs of disease are often nonspecific. Further exams should be conducted if any of the following occur:
For the most part, doctors prescribe medications to control the symptoms and diseases of aging. In the United States, about two-thirds of people 65 and older take medications for various complaints. More women than men use these medications. The most common drugs used by the elderly are painkillers, diuretics or water pills, sedatives, cardiac drugs, antibiotics, and mental health drugs.
Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is commonly prescribed to postmenopausal women for symptoms of aging. It is often used in conjunction with progesterone. ERT functions to help keep bones strong, reduce risk of heart disease, restore vaginal lubrication, and improve skin elasticity. Evidence suggests that it may also help maintain mental functions.
Aging is unavoidable, but major physical impairment is not. People can lead a healthy, disability-free life well through their later years. A well established support system of family, friends, and health care providers, together with focus on good nutrition and lifestyle habits and good stress management, can prevent disease and lessen the impact of chronic conditions.
Consumption of a high quality multivitamin is recommended. Common nutritional deficiencies connected with aging include B vitamins, vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, chromium, and trace minerals. Since stomach acids may be decreased, it is suggested that the use of a powdered multivitamin formula in gelatin capsules be used, as this form is the easiest to digest. Such formulas may also contain enzymes for further help with digestion.
Antioxidants can help to neutralize damage by the free radical actions thought to contribute to problems of aging. They are also helpful in preventing and treating cancer and in treating cataracts and glaucoma. Supplements that serve as antioxidants include:
Other supplements that are helpful in treating agerelated problems including:
The following hormone supplements may be taken to prevent or to treat various age-related problems. However, caution should be taken before beginning treatment, and the patient should consult his or her health care professional. DHEA improves brain functioning and serves as a building block for many other important hormones in the body. It may be helpful in restoring declining hormone levels and in building up muscle mass, strengthening the bones, and maintaining a healthy heart.
Melatonin may be helpful for insomnia. It has also been used to help fight viruses and bacterial infections, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve sexual functioning, and to protect against cancer. Human growth hormone (hGH) has been shown to regulate blood sugar levels and to stimulate bone, cartilage, and muscle growth while reducing fat.
Garlic (Allium sativa) is helpful in preventing heart disease, as well as improving the tone and texture of skin. Garlic stimulates liver and digestive system functions, and also helps in dealing with heart disease and high blood pressure. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) supports the adrenal glands and immune functions. It is believed to be helpful in treating problems related to stress. Siberian ginseng also increases mental and physical performance, and may be useful in treating memory loss, chronic fatigue, and immune dysfunction.
Proanthocyanidins, or PCO, are Pycnogenol, derived from grape seeds and skin, and from pine tree bark, and may help in the prevention of cancer and poor vision. In Ayurvedic medicine, aging is described as a process of increased vata, in which there is a tendency to become thinner, drier, more nervous, more restless, and more fearful, while having a loss of appetite as well as sleep. Bananas, almonds, avocados, and coconuts are some of the foods used in correcting such conditions. One of the main herbs used for such conditions is gotu kola (Centella asiatica), which is used to revitalize the nervous system and brain cells and to fortify the immune system. Gotu kola is also used to treat memory loss, anxiety, and insomnia.
In Chinese medicine, most symptoms of aging are regarded as symptoms of a yin deficiency. Moistening foods such as millet, barley soup, tofu, mung beans, wheat germ, spirulina, potatoes, black sesame seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds are recommended. Jing tonics may also be used. These include deer antler, dodder seeds, processed rehmannia, longevity soup, mussels, and chicken.
Preventive health practices such as healthy diet, daily exercise, stress management, and control of lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking, can lengthen the life span and improve the quality of life as people age. Exercise can improve the appetite, the health of the bones, the emotional and mental outlook, and the digestion and circulation.
Drinking plenty of fluids aids in maintaining healthy skin, good digestion, and proper elimination of wastes. Up to eight glasses of water should be consumed daily, along with plenty of herbal teas, diluted fruit and vegetable juices, and fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content.
Because of a decrease in the sense of taste, older people often increase their intake of salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure and nutrient loss. Use of sugar is also increased. Seaweeds and small amounts of honey can be used as replacements. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine all have potential damaging effects, and should be limited or completely eliminated from consumption.
Adiet high in fiber and low in fat is recommended. Processed foods should be replaced by complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains. If chewing becomes a problem, there should be an increased intake of protein drinks, freshly juiced fruits and vegetables, and creamed cereals.