agingIt’s probably fair to say that most people aren’t excited about the prospect of aging. Continuing living — yes. Dealing with the health and other problems that accompany getting old — no. Now it’s true that each passing year can present the opportunity for a new challenge, but aging also gets a large amount of bad press. So much in fact that some of it can be exaggerated and overblown. Let’s spend some time and dispel five of the most common myths about aging.

1. Old Age = Senility

The notion that the elderly are unable to think for themselves and constantly forgetting the most mundane things is a bad and unfair caricature. In reality, senility only strikes 5% of Americans, so the odds are in your favor. With a little prudence, a lot of age-related declines in mental function can be avoided.

Scientists from Tufts University conducted a review and discovered that vitamin deficiencies — not brain decay — were responsible for many of the symptoms of senility.
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According to the review, scientists discovered that low folate levels in the elderly can cause forgetfulness and even depression. Vitamin B6, required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, may contribute to peripheral neuropathy, a disorder of the nervous system that causes numbness and tingling in the legs. Vitamin B12 ensures nerves are protected with a myelin sheath and mood disturbances can occur when levels fall well below normal.

The unsettling thing about nutrient deficiencies is that they’re often overlooked. In fact, an older individual can be lacking in certain vitamins for years without dramatic signs of a deficiency. How many people are slowly decaying simply as a result of a very fixable nutrient deficiency? Mental symptoms may not show up immediately, and even usual blood tests are not always reliable. [1]

2. I Don’t Need to Change My Eating Habits

Perhaps one of the biggest myths about maintaining good health through the aging process is that nutritional needs stay the same. Every age range has different nutritional needs, and the elderly are no exception.

Experts are still arguing about if diet truly needs change with age; however, it is true that a good, sound diet with plenty of raw vegetation is ideal. Still, it’s estimated up to 40% of independent elderly are deficient in a wide range of nutrients for multiple reasons. Chronic illness, both mental and physical, can contribute to nutritional issues and deficiencies. Various medications can also impair nutrient availability or discourage eating due to appetite loss. Even ill-fitting dentures can be painful enough to prevent a person from eating. Elderly who live alone may feel isolated and may even forget to eat due to a lack of social cues.

But even if you are healthy during old age, aging itself generally alters metabolism and physiology. Stomach acid usually declines, thus affecting some nutrient absorption — especially B12. Aging also dampens the body’s appetite center and it’s suspected that an older palate doesn’t detect those tastes that drive us to the dinner table, namely salt and sweet. [2]

3. I’ll Lose All My Teeth As I Get Old

If you’re not worried about losing your mental capabilities when you grow older, then perhaps you’re concerned about losing your teeth. Periodontitis, also known as gum disease, is the primary cause of tooth loss in older adults. It typically starts as gingivitis, which affects many people, regardless of age.

A New England Elders Dental Study even cited periodontal disease rates as high as 75%. The problem, however, wasn’t unavoidable decline in oral health, but rather that education and dental care was being overlooked. [3] In other words, simple neglect.

Proper dental hygiene and regular cleanings are usually enough to stave off this problem. Brush your teeth and don’t hang on to your toothbrush like it’s a family heirloom. You should replace toothbrushes every two weeks; those with extra oral concerns, more. [4]

It’s usually an overlooked item, but a healthy immune system is also important. What many don’t realize is that a suppressed immune system goes hand in hand with rapid progression of periodontal disease. A Midwestern research group found cigarette smoking was one habit that decreased immunity and sabotaged periodontitis treatment. [5] Poor eating habits, stress, and other immunosuppressants can be just as damaging.

4. The Consequences of Aging Can’t Be Managed Through Lifestyle Changes

It’s a mistaken notion that at a certain age, you reach a point of no return in your health. If you’ve used the excuse that you can no longer change the way you live your life because of your age, then it’s time to let go of that old belief.

Two of the most challenging health habits to break — smoking and a sedentary lifestyle — can, when fully eliminated from your life, produce amazing results in your health. Antonia Novello, the Surgeon General in 1990, said that older individuals who quit smoking can expect to see an even older age full of health and vitality. [6]

It only takes 20 minutes after quitting for blood pressure, body temperature, and pulse to return to normal. Eight hours after that, blood oxygen levels rise. After a day, heart attack chances dramatically decrease. In just five years after smoking cessation, the risk of lung cancer falls to about half, and in an additional five more years lung cancer risk almost parallels that of a non-smoker. [7] These changes occur no matter what age one is when the stop smoking.

regular exercise routine not only decreases the risk of chronic disease later in life, but it may also prevent early death. Those who begin exercising later in life can slow or even reverse organ deterioration. On top of that, when the elderly exercise, their heart is stronger, muscles are more fit and flexible, mood is enhanced, and falls and fractures are less frequent. Make no mistake, exercise can offer much to improve your quality of life. [8]

5. Old Age Means Constant Sickness

As we age, our physiology changes and these changes can lead to poor health if not addressed. But old age doesn’t have to mean feeling sick and tired; in fact, it doesn’t even have to mean being sick and tired. An important part of staying well into the older years is keeping your immune system running smoothly.

Aging is generally associated with suppressed immunity and, consequently, more infections of the respiratory tract. A John Hopkins’ professor, however, found that when an independent and healthy elderly person was fed nutritional supplements for a year, their immunity noticeably improved. [9] Those individuals who supplemented had far fewer infections and took less frequent doses of antibiotics. It should be noted that these effects were achieved with a moderate amount of nutrients, as megadoses of some vitamins can actually cause adverse effects on immunity.
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You can avoid many age-related diseases with specific, yet simple, health precautions. There is evidence that smoking and low levels of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene cause cataracts. [10] Dr. Dean Ornish showed that a one year program of stress management, moderate exercise, smoking cessation, and a low-fat vegetarian diet may reverse coronary atherosclerosis. [11] In addition, calcium and magnesium supplementation helps some people with cardiovascular health. Keeping blood pressure under control can decrease the risk of a stroke.

Adult-onset diabetes is best addressed through diet, specifically reducing simple sugars, consuming a lot of fiber, and taking chromium supplements. [12] As long as we’re on the subject of diet, know that half of all types of cancer are linked to diet. Less fat, lots of fruits, vegetables, fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, E, zinc, and selenium all play a role in immune system support. [13]

The Truth About Aging

Aging is inevitable, but poor health is not. Regular exercise, nutritious foods, and a lucky roll of the genetic dice can help you age with grace and good health. Incorporating certain herbs and spices into your daily routine, like turmeric, can also help override genetic tendencies and enhance your overall wellbeing throughout life.

What do you do to feel young? Leave a comment below and share your experiences.
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by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

References (13)
  1. Rosenberg IH, Miller JW. Nutritional factors in physical and cognitive functions of elderly people. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1992;55:1237S-43S.
  2. Silver AJ. The malnourished older patient: when and how to intervene. Geriatrics 1993;48(7):70-74.
  3. Douglass CW et al. Oral health status of the elderly. New England Journal of Gerontology 1993;48(2):M39-M46.
  4. Glass RT. The infected toothbrush, the infected denture, and transmission of disease: a review.Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry. 1992;13(8):592-9.
  5. MacFarlane GD, Herzberg MC, Wolff LF, Hardie NA. Refractory periodontitis associated with abnormal polymorphonuclear leukocyte phagocytosis and cigarette smoking. Journal of Periodontology 1992;63(11):908-13.
  6. Novello AC. Surgeon General’s report on the health benefits of smoking cessation. Public Health Reports 1990;105(6):545-48.
  7. Timmreck TC, Randolph F. Smoking cessation: clinical steps to improve compliance. Geriatrics 1993;48(4):63-70.
  8. Shephard RJ. Exercise and aging: extending independence in older adults. Geriatrics 1993;48(5):61-64.
  9. Chandra RK. Effect of vitamin and trace-element supplementation on immune responses and infection in elderly subjects. The Lancet 1992;340:1124-27.
  10. Harding JJ. Cigarette smoking and risk of cataracts (letter). Journal of the American Medical Association 1993;269(6):747.
  11. Ornish D et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lancet 1990;336:129-133.
  12. Johnson K, Kligman E. Preventive nutrition: disease-specific dietary interventions for older adults.Geriatrics 1992;47(11):39-49.
  13. Leis HP. The relationship of diet to cancer, cardiovascular disease and longevity. Internal Surgery 1991;76:1-5.

6 thoughts on “What Are the Five Myths of Aging?

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