It starts slowly – an extra body ache here, a lapse in memory there. Then, you begin to wonder how you ever managed without that afternoon nap. We all feel the effects of aging, but it tends to affect some people more than others. This process is called accelerated aging, and as it settles in, years of vitality slip away from you. But there is no need to be fatalistic and just resign yourself to accelerated aging. With a little understanding and a few preventative measures, you can age more gracefully than many of those around you.
Causes of Accelerated Aging
Hormonal Decline: As we age, levels of important hormones begin to decline. Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, insulin, and growth hormones control most of our body functions, and as their levels decline, we feel less vital. We gain weight, become forgetful, feel moody and unbalanced, and lose our strength and energy because of changes in our hormone levels.
Free Radicals: Our bodies are constantly exposed to the effects of free radicals. These tiny, unstable molecules rob electrons from other molecules in our bodies and wreck havoc on everything from our cells, proteins, enzymes, and even our DNA. Not only are we exposed to free radicals in the air from sunlight and other ionizing radiation, but they are also found in airborne and chemical pollutants. We also produce free radicals in our bodies in response to extra calories and unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, drinking alcohol, and consuming contaminated food and drinks.
Inflammation: While inflammation is an essential response to infections, toxins, and foreign bodies, sometimes the body shifts to a constant state of infection that spreads at a cellular level throughout the body. Inflammation increases free radical production, which, in turn, leads to more inflammation. The significance of inflammation cannot be understated. Almost all major degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative disorders, autoimmune disorders and Alzheimer’s can be linked to an inflammatory process.
Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Within cells, mitochondria are the power stations responsible for providing the energy that cells need to perform their work. As part of the process of creating energy, they can also create free radicals that damage the DNA of mitochondria and result in the death of the cell. It is possible to protect mitochondria from free radical production with molecules called antioxidants.
Stress: If you are living, you are stressed. Stress is a natural response to changes and perceived threats in our environment. Stress increases the production of free radicals and inflammation in our bodies through the chemical reactions that take place to help us deal with stressful situations. An important and often ignored feature of stress is that many stressors are our own thoughts and perceptions. Even if a threat only exists in your head, the chemical release and subsequent cellular damage is the same as if it were real. So it doesn’t matter if you are dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, job pressure, or a physical threat like cold, toxins, or improper diet, the results of stress on the body are the same.