Most people associate aging with an inevitable decline in overall vitality and IV well-being. Over time, our bodies' major organs just don't seem to work as well, and our bones and muscles weaken.
But what if it were possible to slow down this process before such age-related damage can occur?
Breakthrough thinking: The best way to fight aging may be to attack it on a cellular level. By focusing on the health of our mitochondria tiny energy-producing structures in each cell of our body), we can minimize age-related decay to our organs and other major bodily systems.
What Are Mitochondria?
There are hundreds of mitochondria within each cell (except for red blood cells) of your body. Each mitochondrion is a miniature energy factory that turns fuel (dietary fat and sugar) into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy source in every cell.
Though your doctor is unlikely to talk to you about the health of your mitochondria, you should be aware of various factors that can weaken these important cellular structures…
- Certain medications. Statins, for example, block the body's natural production of coenzyme Q10, which plays a crucial role in normal mitochondrial functioning.
- Inadequate intake of key nutrients. Low levels of nutrients, such as iron, magnesium or biotin (vitamin B-7), cause damage to mitochondrial DNA.
- Age-related wear and tear. To produce the cells energy source, ATP, mitochondria burn up (oxidize) fuela process that generates free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage mitochondrial structures.
If mitochondria are weakened, a domino effect is created, thereby weakening cells, tissues and, eventually, organs.
This harmful process may affect your brain (with poor memory and concentration)...heart (with irregular heartbeats that increase your risk for a heart attack)...muscles with pain and fatigue) and overall vitality (with energy levels that are only one-fourth to one-half of what you enjoyed in your youth).
Mitochondrial decay also may play a role in the development of cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
How to supercharge your mitochondria…
Your mitochondria require most of the roughly 40 essential nutrients to function at optimal levels. These include…
- The "Heme Seven." Seven nutrients are required for the synthesis of heme (a molecule that contains iron and is made in-and used by -mitochondria).
The heme-synthesizing nutrients are riboflavin (vitamin B-2)...pantothenate (vitamin B-5) ...pyridoxine (vitamin B-6)...biotin...and the minerals zinc, copper and iron.
Inadequate levels of heme can damage mitochondrial DNA...promote mitochondrial decay...and accelerate cellular aging overall.
My advice: Take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement that supplies most essential nutrients (megadoses aren't necessary).
Caution: Most multis don't contain enough calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids-or lack some of those nutrients entirely.
Therefore, it's important to also eat a balanced diet that contains more fish and poultry than red meat, as well as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and some low-fat dairy products.
- Magnesium. About 55% of American adults get inadequate amounts of magnesium in their diets (leafy green vegetables are a good source of this mineral). Low levels of this nutrient can damage mitochondrial DNA.
Magnesium also is a key element in calcium absorption, so the ratio between the two nutrients is important. The body needs more than twice as much calcium as magnesium.
My advice: A good rule of thumb is to take supplements that supply a total daily intake of 500 milligrams (mg) of calcium and 250 mg of magnesium. (These doses can be adjusted depending upon your dietary intake of these minerals.)
Important: Some experts recommend higher daily doses of calcium supplements, but research shows that it's preferable to get these minerals from dietary sources, whenever possible, since foods also contain other important nutrients.
Good calcium sources: Low-fat yogurt (300 mg per eight-ounce serving)...spinach (115 mg per one-half cup, cooked) and pinto beans (45 mg per one-half cup, cooked).
Bottom line: Get 1,200 mg of calcium daily-from all sources-if you are age 51 and older. Do not exceed 350 mg of magnesium daily (some people may experience diarrhea).
- Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR). This nutrient helps move fatty acids into the mitochondria, produce the cells' energy sources, and transport waste products out of the mitochondria.
Important human evidence: In an analysis of 21 studies focusing on the use of ALCAR to help prevent Alzheimer's and mild cognitive impairment (the stage of memory loss before Alzheimer's), researchers found that people who took the supplement had less mental decline compared with those taking a placebo.
- Lipoic acid (LA). This compound performs several functions, including acting as an antioxidant, which protects the mitochondria from free radicals
Compelling animal research: In studies conducted at the University of California at Berkeley in which older rats were given a combination of LA and ALCAR, the two nutrients reduced the amount of mitochondria-damaging free radicals produced by oxidation...increased mitochondrial oxygen consumption a sign of increased energy production)...and reversed age-associated decay of mitochondrial structures.
In a study on aged beagles, the dogs improved their ability to learn and remember when taking the nutrients in supplement form.
My advice: Ask your doctor about taking a dietary supplement that combines ALCAR and LA. One such product is Juvenon Cellular Health Supplement, which contains 1,000 mg of ALCAR and 400 mg of LA. The supplement is available from Juvenon (800-567-2502, www juvenon.com).
As an alternative to juvenon: Consider taking one of two other supplements that contain ALCAR and LA and are specifically formulated for mitochondrial health-Anti-Age/Energy Formula from Body Language Vitamins, available at 877-548-3348, www.bodylanguagevita min.com...or MitoForte: Energy, Memory and Anti-Aging Support from Nutritional Biochemistry, Inc., available at 406-582-0034, www.mon tanaim.com and click on "Shop."
For Optimal Results
Exercise is an important adjunct to the use of the supplements listed above. That's because frequent physical activity improves the number and functioning of mitochondria in muscles.
Standout scientific evidence: When researchers studied the effect of regular exercise on mitochondrial health in adults (average age 67), there was a 53% increase in mitochondrial DNA.. and a 62% increase in energy-making mitochondrial enzyme activity.
My advice: Follow the standard recommendation for regular exercise—a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week.
*Dr. Ames is the volunteer chairman of the scientific advisory board for Juvenon. He accepts no pay from the company.
Early Alzheimer's Harms Driving Skills
Warning signs include loss of memory and cognitive abilities, such as need ing more help than before with directions or a new route...getting lost on once-familiar roads...having trouble making turns, especially left turns...becoming confused when exiting a highway...being honked at frequently by other drivers...drifting in and out of the proper lane.
What to do: If you notice these signs in yourself or a family member, talk to a doctor.
Also: Consider consulting a specialist in driver rehabilitation who can provide a comprehensive evaluation to determine one's ability to drive and/or provide rehabilitation to strengthen driving skills-find one through the American Occupational Therapy Association, 301-652-2682, www.aota.org/olderdriver.
Postretirement Work Helps Guard Against Illness
Researchers who interviewed 12,189 adults found that those who took "bridge jobs" - full-time, part-time or self-employment-after official retirement had fewer major diseases (such as diabetes, cancer and arthritis) and performed better at daily tasks than those who stopped working
Theory: The increased physical and mental activity-as well as social interaction required for working protects against chronic illness and functional decline.