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Fifty Plus–Dietary Essentials Part 1 of 3

Sixty is the new fifty! Aging is not the sad thing some people make it out to be. You can be healthy, active, and strong in your senior years. All it takes is eating right and exercise!

Aging and Nutrition Challenges in Older Adults

The Basics

As we age, numerous factors impact dietary needs and make diligent attention to nutrient intake an integral component to one's well-being and ability to grow older with vibrant, quality lifestyles. Wear and tear and the accumulation of years partaking of the common Western World dietary approach compromise the state of health for most. Varying degenerative health challenges are common. According to WHO (World Health Organization), malnutrition is of particular concern for older adults.

Bio-individuality plays a big role in dietary requirements: each person has unique needs related to various aspects such as gender, ancestry, lifestyle, health, and environment. In addition, our dietary needs change as we age. Common factors, such as those listed below, impact an individual’s needs, most particularity in older adults:

  • Declining metabolic rate and lean muscle mass composition
  • Compromised digestive health and nutrient absorption challenges
  • Decreasing appetite, obesity issues, and long-established behavioral patterns
  • Use of medications and associated side effects
  • Increasing dietary-related chronic degenerative diseases: such as cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, and osteoporosis.

These aspects must all be factored in when mapping out a personalized, healthy, and balanced eating approach designed to sustain health and minimize exposure and risk of the occurrence or progression of diseases. These aspects must be factored more particularly for those who are older than fifty.

Understanding the importance of a nutrient-dense whole foods diet in aging with retained mobility, agility, and intact faculties is crucial.

Common Problems of Aging:

  • Cardiovascular and nervous system challenges – atherosclerosis and dementia.
  • Arthritis; cancer; diabetes; immunological diseases; gastro-intestinal problems; thyroid, hormone, and mood disorders; eyesight and skin diseases.

Most of these synergistically impact overall health and well-being and are diet and lifestyle related diseases. Medical anthropologists identifying eras of human disease refer to the stage of people over the age of fifty as the “age of degenerative and man-made diseases.”

Much can be done to minimize the risks to one's state of health, well-being, and the way they age. The benefits of exercise have been widely known and long accepted. But scientific research also confirms the importance of whole foods nutrition and use of vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients intake.

The pandemic of chronic disease has been ascribed in part to the near-universal shift toward a diet dominated by animal-sourced and processed foods: meat, dairy, eggs, oils, soda, sugar, and refined grains.[i]

Chromosomes and Telomeres – Can our diet help us extend life?

You may have heard of the latest science on telomeres which are at the end/tip of our chromosomes. Telomeres are considered our life “fuse.” Dr. Greger explains in his book – How Not to Die - of how they shorten as we age causing cells to die off.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn – noble prize winner for her discovery of telomerase teamed up with Dr. Dean Ornish in a US Dept. of Defense funded study and discovered that:

“Three months of plant-based nutrition and other healthy changes could significantly boost telomerase activity, the only intervention ever shown to do so.”[ii]

A conclusion in this landmark study… “Should encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid or combat cancer and age-related diseases.”[iii]

Research confirms that following four simple behavior patterns can help prevent chronic disease development and progression by more than 90%.

The EPIC study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine show that adherence to four simple lifestyle pillars can dramatically lower the risk from virtually every major chronic illness. This study followed 23,000 people for nearly eight years and examined smoking behavior, food consumption, exercise and maintenance of a healthy weight.

The researchers discovered that those participants who:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a normal weight (BMI less than 30)
  • Consume a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low in meat
  • Exercise at least 3.5 hours per week

All experience the benefits of:

  • 78% lower risk of developing chronic disease
  • Diabetes reduced by 93%
  • Heart attack risk reduced by 81%;
  • Stroke risk cut in half
  • 36% less risk of cancer[1]

The Link with Lifestyles and Diseases:

There are four key elements in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases.

  • Proper nutrition,
  • Stress management,
  • Regular physical activity and
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight

No matter what stage of your life you’re in, it’s always a great time to improve diet and lifestyle and enhance your health. Dr. Dean Ornish, Nathan Pritikan and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn have proven heart disease can be reversed with a plant-based diet, and Dr. Colin Campbell demonstrated how cancer cells are turned on and off pending on dietary intake.

Stay tuned for in part two of this three part series we explore the role of inflammation in chronic degenerative diseases. Part three covers more specific dietary guidance.

Part 1–Aging and Nutrition Challenges in Older Adults

Part 2–Inflammation and Degenerative Diseases and Diet Basics

Part 3–Dietary Guidance and Meal Essentials

[1] Arch Intern Med.2009;169(15):1355-1362

[i] Popkin BM. Global nutrition dynamics: the world is shifting rapidly toward a diet linked with non-communicable diseases. Am J of Clin Nutr. 2006:84(2):289-98.

[ii] Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, et al. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9(11):1048-57.

[iii] Skordalakes E. Telomerase and the benefits of healthy living, Lancet Oncol. 2008;9(11):1023-4.

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