We all have two ages: chronological and biological. Your chronological age is defined by the number of days you’ve been alive. On the other hand, your biological age refers to the level at which we function.
These two ages may be very different but are important in understanding how we can slow down the ageing process. Through functional medicine, we can examine the common factors that affect our biological age — and make choices to improve them for our well-being.
The four factors of ageing
There are certain well-known factors that can increase the speed of ageing. These include Inflammation, Oxidation, Glycation and Stagnation.
(Chronic) Inflammation can catalyse ageing and cause age-related diseases such as high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers. Long-term, these can negatively impact your internal organs and tissues.
Once inflammation is identified through thorough blood examinations, we can carry out treatments to reverse the damage. Several nutritional supplements (such as Omega 3) and some medicines (Aspirin) are helpful to treat inflammation.
Antioxidants (such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E) are used by our body to prevent oxidation — a process that damages and ages our cells. During our older years, we start to develop brown patches visible on our skin. These are called age spots and are a result of exposed skin. This process is also happening throughout our body.
Identification and prevention of oxidation is a vital part of anti-ageing medicine. Our brains are sensitive to both inflammation and oxidation so these factors must be kept in check if we are to maintain cognitive function as we age.
Glycation is a well-known key factor in ageing. It’s a process where increased blood sugar causes damage to proteins and advances ageing in our cells. As we age, our ability to metabolise sugar declines, we become less able to maintain a healthy level of blood sugar. Therefore, decreasing our intake of sugar is a must. Such sugars can be found in:
- Table sugar
- Sweetened drinks
Fortunately, it’s very straightforward to identify high levels of sugar through simple blood tests. If blood sugar is high, nutritional supplementation is generally recommended in restoring optimal bloodwork. We can also use medicines such as Metformin to lower blood sugar if indicated.
Stagnation, a lack of activity, is the most straightforward cause of ageing and one of the most simple to reverse.
It’s no surprise that many middle-aged individuals exercise less today than when they were younger. This is a mistake. Exercise becomes more important as we age as it helps to maintain agility, flexibility and muscle mass. It’s even more beneficial if exercise targets hormones, muscle mass, flexibility and lowering blood sugar (including use of weights, stretching and cardio).
It’s also important to mentally exercise your brain. The term that comes into mind is “use it or lose it”. People who actively use their brains see improvements in memory & cognition and don’t stagnate on an intellectual level.
Medical solutions to stop ageing
Some patients may need medical intervention along with their anti-ageing program. For example:
- There are aesthetic procedures to improve your skin quality for patients who would like to appear more youthful. Non-invasive aesthetic procedures include Ultherapy and Thermage are options that can stimulate natural production of collagen, thereby decreasing skin sagging and wrinkles.
- As our joints age, they lose cartilage. This can decrease joint function and can eventually lead to pain and may be a significant barrier to maintaining physical activity and enjoying sports. Patients can consider getting Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) or Stem Cell injections, simple and effective treatments to restore joint function, preserve mobility and decrease pain.
- Hair loss is a common consequence of ageing in men (and some women). There are effective medical treatments that we can offer for hair loss to restore hair quality and coverage. In more advanced cases hair transplant can be recommended.
It goes without saying that medical treatments such as Ultherapy, Thermage, treatment for hair loss and PRP will be far more effective in a patient who has excellent nutrition and is already on an anti-ageing program.
How does functional medicine examine ageing?
Your regular medical examination is the starting point. Before we look at anything else, we should rule out significant diseases like heart disease and cancer. Modern technology, such as CT Angiography (for the heart) and MRI (for cancer) can find and treat issues before it impacts life expectancy. The risk factors for ill-health (high blood sugar, inflammation and high blood pressure) can be identified and corrected too. After a routine medical examination, we will start to look into your lifestyle.
Nutrition is a crucial area of anti-ageing. The elderly often have weaker immune systems and are more likely to be sick. Maintaining immune and antioxidant function rely on optimal levels of nutrients such as Zinc, Selenium and Vitamin D. Your FM practitioner will ensure that all your nutritional markers are in the optimal range rather than just being normal.
A well-constructed exercise program is probably the single most important part of anti-ageing. Your hormones, blood sugar, muscle mass and agility, amongst many others, rely on exercise. Often we will recommend a range of fitness specialists to plan and supervise your exercise program.
For example, weight-bearing exercises are often recommended for the purpose to increase muscle mass, bone density as well as maintaining a healthy body composition. Weight training not only increases insulin sensitivity but also stimulates the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). This results in increased metabolism as HGH stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration, particularly important to reversing the ageing process.
Energy and Vitality
Enduring vitality and energy are necessary for the quality of life as we age. Your energy levels are directly associated with your cellular functioning, in particular the Mitochondria.
The Mitochondria are our cellular power packs and are necessary for energy production and aerobic capacity. Mitochondria require optimal levels of nutrients such as Iron, Magnesium and Zinc, as well as normal thyroid function. Certain medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs can decrease Mitochondrial function.
Complaints of fatigue and tiredness may be a result of poor cell functioning, so an FM practitioner may look into your nutrition to ensure adequate intake for cell functioning. They may advise on nutritional supplements like Carnitine, CoQ10 and PQQ to support Mitochondrial function.