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So often we hear that it is totally normal for people to succumb to ailments and issues as they age. Despite the fact that even our recent ancestors didn't seem to suffer a complete degradation of their bodies as they aged, today we're told that chronic diseases are just a consequence of living longer (even though, on average, we're only living 5 or so years beyond what our previous generations lived).

How much of what we consider 'normal aging' is actually the consequence of a lifetime of poor or misguided dietary habits, toxic exposure from the environment or a lack of healthy physical exercise? What about our backward education and never being taught the proper way to deal with our emotions? It seems unlikely that human beings were designed to degrade into a non-functional diseased mess as we age, succumbing to chronic disease and physical debility.

Join us on this episode of Objective:Health as we look into the science of aging. How can we separate the real effects of aging from the consequences of unhealthy living?

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Running Time: 00:30:12

Download: MP3 — 27.2 MB

Here's the transcript of the show:

Doug: Hello everybody, welcome to Objective Health. My name is Doug, and with me today are my co-hosts Elliot and Erica.


Doug: Oh, Damian is with us on the wheels of steel! Sorry Damian.

Damian: Thanks for remembering. [Laughter]

Doug: My mind is a little scrambled today. Today we are going to be asking: are the signs of aging really caused by aging? Let me tell you a little story about why we were talking about this. When I was in nutrition school way-back-when, they would always attribute certain things to ageing. The one in particular that I remember is that as you age your ability to produce stomach acid decreases so older people have less stomach acid because they don't have the ability to make as much.

It always struck me as odd; why is that? The only answer that was ever given was that it was aging. What doesn't seem to make a lot of sense are all these different things that they attribute to aging, whether it be the body not being able to produce what it needs, or developing certain diseases, particularly diseases actually, especially autoimmune conditions or chronic conditions. They always get attributed to aging.

Then you hear these stories of people from the turn of the century or older who would be working until they died and they never succumbed to any of these chronic disease conditions. Their bodies didn't start falling apart. They weren't in bed for 2 years dying very slowly as we see nowadays. It made us think about what is actually attributable to aging as opposed to other causes. That was the jumping off point for our show today.

Elliot: Aging is a funny word. I don't think that there is any unified definition of exactly what that is. What is aging? What is just a poor lifestyle? And what is illness? It's almost like what they have tried to do is pathologize aging. Pathologize is a word, right?

Erica: Yeah.

Elliot: If it's not then I hope you understand what i am saying. [laughter]

They tried to pathologize the menopause. If a female gets to her mid fifties and she ceases to produce eggs or has run out of eggs so she naturally goes through the phases of the menopause, doctors will class that as a disease and they will medicate that. There are actually a lot of menopausal women who experience horrible symptoms. Okay, fair enough, but that is prolonged, for a very long time and it really benefits the pharmaceutical companies. There are hundreds of thousands of women on HRT.

With the menopause what they did was they said this was in the same class as a disease so they can medicate it and it seems that to some extent that is what they have done with aging as well. I actually study with the American Academy for anti-aging medicine and they take this approach as well in that aging is something that is a disease. It's a bad thing and you should try to do what you can not to age. Whereas, the way that I see it, we should try to age gracefully. You are always going to age but what does aging actually mean? Does it mean that you should become a decrepit, broken body of bones? A bag of bones? Or is it a natural process that doesn't have to involve all of these horrible symptoms?

Doug: I agree. It is really crazy. You were mentioning stuff about menopause and I know that Erica, you had brought up an article before about osteoporosis as well.

Erica: And osteopenia.

Doug: This is another situation where they are medicalising something that is actually quite normal. They are comparing everybody's bone density to the bone density of a 30-year old and saying "That's not normal. We have to put you on medication to put your bone density up." That doesn't make any sense. Why would you compare the bone density of a 60-year old woman to that of a 30-year old woman? A certain amount of loss of bone density is a normal part of aging. Using that comparison really just makes it so that they can sell more of their osteoporosis drugs.

Erica: It was created by the WHO actually. The World Health Organisation, in the early 90's, started to project upon millions of women's bodies convincing them that they had a drug-treatable, though symptomless, disease and this is osteopenia and osteoporosis. They told them to start getting tested. The reason that I was actually interested in looking into this more is because I work in a fitness centre and I have a lot of women who are over 65 and in the last six months six of them have come to me and are all of a sudden very concerned about osteopenia.

They would say "my doctor just diagnosed me" and they are all in really good health and they walk on the treadmill, they exercise, they eat well. All of a sudden they have this new added stress in addition to what I call normal maturation these days. People don't want to say "I'm aging" but if you are "maturing gracefully" that's ok. That's why I found this article really interesting. It's called The Manufacturing of Bone Diseases: The Story of Osteoporosis and Osteopenia. GreenMedInfo carried it.

So yeah,just like you were saying, they talk about menopause and how it is just another illness that women have to worry about. They worry that they are going to get it and they don't know that it is a bone density test so they just send out some random number and say "Your bone density is low" and all of a sudden women are stressing out about it.

Elliot: There is a lot more involved in bone health than simply bone density. There is research showing that you can quite easily increase bone density by giving certain medications. If I remember correctly, you can increase bone density quite nicely with something called strontium which is a type of mineral. But that doesn't necessarily protect you from a fracture. Just increasing the density does not significantly prevent an individual from breaking a bone.

There is a lot more to maintaining the integrity of the musculoskeletal system as you are getting old, it's not just by this one individual parameter of bone density. Yet, that is what they market it as so they can get people on these drugs to improve bone density. It seems like a marketing ploy from big pharma, again, pathologizing something which is a natural consequence of aging.

Doug: Flexibility is really important in bones too, possibly even more important than density. The other thing that people tend to do is start loading up on calcium supplements. They are absolutely chucking back these calcium supplements like there's no tomorrow. "Got to get more calcium in there, got to get it in my bones."

Sayer Ji from GreenMedInfo makes this analogy quite a bit. If you think about a piece of chalk,.that is all calcium and it's super brittle. Even though it is very dense it's very brittle so having a dense bone is not necessarily what you want. Despite the fact that we don't really think of bones as being particularly flexible, they do have some flexibility and that's also important to maintain rather than just density.

Elliot: There is also muscle mass as well, so not just your bones but your systemic muscle mass. Are your ligaments, tendons and muscles surrounding the bone strong? If you lose the cushioning in your connective tissue as whole this can have an effect. This comes back to maintaining systemic health rather than focusing on one parameter.

Essentially, if there is good cushioning for the bones in your connective tissue then they are going to act as shock absorbers in case you have some kind of trauma, the bone is going to take a lot less from a trauma or the force, if your other tissues are in place to protect that as well. So again, you can't just focus on one small parameter and expect that this is going to miraculously fix the problem.

On the subject of aging, we can come up with a broad definition. In the scientific literature there are nine hallmarks of aging, nine areas of biological or how the body changes and cell change. These are not necessarily symptoms. Symptoms would come from these changes at a much more fundamental level. There are changes to the genes which are referred to as "genomic instability". Genes are housed within the cells and when the cells are working as they should to, for long periods of time or when they come across stress or whatever, then you can have damaging substances which can pick holes in the genes and the DNA. It can affect how the DNA is transcribed, so you can actually have damage to the DNA. That can then affect lots of things downstream from that.

There are these things called telomeres, and I think we spoke about this on past shows. They're the caps on the end of DNA. There's a lot of research showing that there are certain things that shorten them and certain things that lengthen them. So when your cells are exposed to certain influences the idea is that as the telomere shortens it shortens lifespan. There's lots of research looking into how you can lengthen the telomeres or how you can delay the shortening of them, and actually improving the lifespan.

In this case, things like calorie restriction and fasting and different types of supplements and nutrients and exercise affect the telomeres which would then affect the lifespan which is essentially involved in aging. Then there's other stuff, how the cells are processing nutrients and how well you are able to tap into your stem cells. Stem cells are like non-differentiated cells which you can use as a raw material and convert into another cell needed to replace damaged cells. There's this idea that you exhaust your supply of stem cells and then you are going to be in a much worse position to be able to repair damage in DNA. There are loads of different kinds of cellular mechanisms and how this manifests, in the context of natural aging, is a gradual decline in how things are functioning.

We see this in respect to our hormone production. Generally as someone grows older they produce less hormones and that is a natural consequence, as we were talking about, in menopause, is a very normal thing. It's also important to note that many of the female hormones, for instance progesterone, slows down that aging process. It's a natural consequence that when someone does go through menopause, that is when they are going to be experiencing the symptoms associated with aging.

This is one of the reasons why the skin becomes wrinkled, because you are no longer able to repair the collagen fibres as well as you could do before.The gradual wear and tear is going to affect every single part of the body. I don't think it means that at the age of 60 the human body is meant to develop some crippling autoimmune condition, is no longer going to be able to digest their food and is going to have to live in chronic pain for the next 25 years in a nursing home with dementia.

Doug: Exactly.

Elliot: That seems to be the route that a lot of the scientists are taking. They are saying dementia and pathologies are natural consequences of aging and that's just not true because there are many individuals. Listeners probably know about the blue zones. You can look at any elderly population in one of these areas where you have people who live long and healthy lives. You see that they develop the wrinkles, they may develop some of the muscle wasting, they may develop some of the other things like menopause, but they do not get dementia, They don't have autoimmune conditions and they are not crippled. They are two different things.

Doug: Yes, very much so. When you look at all those biological mechanisms that you were talking about, there are so many places where things can interfere and go wrong, particularly things from the environment. Diet is obviously a huge one, but also environmental exposure as well. There are so many different things within our biology that are vulnerable to interference from outside things. As our environment has become more and more toxic, our food has become more and more toxic. Exposure to all of these things have crept in and have been normalised, as you're saying Elliot, as a normal part of aging. But those things are clearly not normal. If you look back at previous generations, and a lot of people will say that people didn't have the same long lifespans back then, they didn't live as long so we're seeing what an extended lifespan looks like. These are the kinds of things that happen when you extend the lifespan. I don't buy that argument.

For one thing, most of the time they are not taking out the infant mortality statistics from that. On average, yes lifespans were shorter but that's because infant mortality was much higher. You have to remove that part of the statistic to get a clear picture and when you do it's only a 2% longer lifespan or something like that.

Erica: Where is the quality of life in the length of time that we are living longer as well?

Doug: That argument falls apart when you look at the fact that people are getting these chronic diseases younger and younger. I was just reading an article the other day - I think we even talked about it on the show - about millenials getting Alzheimer's disease. Millennials? That's the younger generation from me! So the idea that this is just a consequence of longer lifespans doesn't wash with me because a lot of these conditions are showing up younger and younger and younger. That clearly indicates that this is not a result of aging.

Elliot: Yeah, or what it is, is the natural process which would occur over the span of say 80-years or 90-years, because of those various environmental influences and dietary influences, is speeding up many of those processes. For instance, the DNA damage, the mitochondrial dysfunction, are some of the hallmarks. The gradual decline that may happen at a very, very, very slow rate. If someone is 80/85-years old, their mitochondrial function is naturally not going to be what it was when they were 20-years old right?

But because of the xenobiotic exposure, the chemicals, the WiFi radiation, the poor dietary choices, the sedentary lifestyles, the poor sleep, the chronic stress, what that does at the cellular level is increase the rate of which those natural aging processes would occur. To some extent these diseases are because of aging but it's not a good definition, right?

There are things which mess up how cells work and aging over 90-years may gradually mess up how cells work, if you want to look at it like that. But there are things which are fundamentally toxic to cells. The aging process seems to be increasing exponentially so that someone who is their mid-40s has the mitochondria of a 90-year old.

Doug: It's difficult to separate out. "What is the natural process of aging?" versus "what is just due to poor lifestyle factors, environment exposures, poor diet?" It's difficult to really try and tease those things apart. We don't really have any population that we can be compared to. To be able to say "this is what happens to these people when they age and they aren't exposed to all the crap that we are exposed to" doesn't really exist on the planet any more. Everybody is exposed to all the same crap at this point so it makes it really difficult.

All we can really do is look back to some of the writings from way back, Weston A. Price for instance. He was writing in the early-to-mid 1900's and was looking at traditional peoples who were still eating their traditional diets. You can see the health and vitality and I just think about how, even in my lifetime, people used to talk about people dying of old age. That was the cause of death, old age. They weren't dying of cancer, they weren't dying of diabetes etc., any of these diseases that get tacked onto aging now.

Some people might argue that we are better at identifying those things and that those people were probably dying of those diseases and we just didn't know because we didn't know what those diseases were. Again, I don't buy it because those diseases have very strong symptoms. You can see those things. People these days are falling apart. It is a roller coaster drop to death. I don't buy it. Like I said at the top of the show, people would go out into the fields and they would keep on working until the day they died. One day they just wouldn't get up and that was it.

Erica: Talking about Weston A. Price, people had to continue to go out in the fields and work and continue to sustain their everyday living. They didn't have a lot of the modern conveniences that people have now so they were young in mind and heart and they knew that they needed to do what they needed to do to make it through the day, so their life had meaning.

What I observe in the US is that when people get to "retirement age" which keeps getting older and older - 65 - they retire and then they don't keep active. In a sense they become depressed too because the meaning that they had for the last 30-years of their life has now changed. They become more sedentary. They stop moving around as much. And again, in the medical system in the West we treat them that way. "Grandma shouldn't go walking because she might have a fall and break her hip". It becomes a mental thing as well, rapidly degenerating over time.

I was speaking with a palliative care emergency-room doctor and he was saying that once people are wheelchair bound, for whatever reason, usually within 6-9 months they will pass away because they are no longer moving around, they don't have mobility and then the muscle wasting happens and it's almost like they have given up. He said it's amazing to see how once people are wheelchair bound they just give up. They feel that they are no longer useful and in the West we have this tendency to relegate people to old people's homes instead of how in other cultures they keep the grandparents in the house, helping with the children, helping with the cooking. They still have a reason to live.

Elliot: It's very sad.

Doug: I think that it always comes back to the same thing on our show...

Erica: What can you do? [laughter]

Doug: ...as far as what you can actually do. What can you do about aging? How do we stop aging? One thing that I can say is that there is a huge industry that has grown up around this whole idea of anti-aging. I think a lot of the stuff that's out there is snake oil. I'm not going to dismiss everything out there. Maybe there are some good things, but I think that generally the stuff that's based on antioxidants is based on a very primitive understanding of oxidation and antioxidation. I don't think that people really know enough. The idea that if you just take this supplement that is super high in antioxidants. it's going to have anti-aging effects and you are not going to age. The popular conception of anti-aging is not getting wrinkles or grey hair.

I think that kind of perspective is naive. Things are much more complicated than that. I'm sure Elliot has more of an understanding of this than I do, but the idea of oxidation and antioxidation is not as simple as just eating a bunch of antioxidants and you don't age as quickly. Things are a lot more complicated. So you'd probably be best to not blow your fortune on these kinds of products.

Erica: Drink red wine for the resveratrol; that was a big one. It's ok to drink lots of red wine because resveratrol combats aging. I think that's just an open invitation for people to get hammered, but that's me. [laughter]

Doug: It's funny because as soon as the whole antioxidant thing started getting popular suddenly everything was a superfood. Chocolate, red wine, everything basically. Nuts! Nuts are superfoods! Everything in your cupboard suddenly became a superfood. It doesn't make any sense. My parents have been drinking wine, eating chocolate and nuts for decades and I haven't seen any slowdown in their aging. [Laughter] I think it was a very simplistic way of looking at things and it became a marketing scheme. You can sell anything as anti-aging or really high in antioxidants. I'm not going to say it's snake oil but...

Erica: Everyone is getting a little bit older each day so you have an endless population to sell these ideas to. People at 26 are worried "Oh my gosh, what's going to happen when I turn 40? I had better start eating my chocolate and drinking my wine!" [laughter] I think you're right, I think it's marketing. It's a paranoia for the vain, in a lot of ways.

Elliot: They capitalise on human beings' inherent fear of death. They will do anything they can to try to prevent the inevitable reality that we are all going to die at some point. People don't like to think about it, right?

Doug: It's true.

Erica: So are you saying we are going to die Elliot? [laughter]

Doug: You heard it here first folks, everybody is going to die. I think more or less cleaning up your diet, cleaning up your environment, trying not to be exposed to too much pollution and other stuff in the environment is basically the best anti-aging protocol.

Damian: Exercise.

Doug: And exercise.

Erica: I have a good one too! Dancing! Slow down your aging processes with dancing. As Damian just said, scientists and doctors say that dancing and endurance training increases the area of the brian that declines with age. Dancing has the ability to counteract the age-related decline in mental and physical capacity leading to noticable behaviour changes. Start ballroom dancing, find a partner.

Doug: Unless there is anything else, I think that our show has aged to full maturity and it's time to end it now. Thanks everybody for joining us today on Objective Health. Be sure to "like" and subscribe if you feel so inclined. Share the video with all your friends and we will see you next time for another exciting episode.