Healthy Aging

by Ruth Sladek – Naturopath, Nutritionist – Kenmore Centre for Health

In Australia life expectancy has increased over the last 20 years – but the goal of living longer should be with the aim to live with wellness. Maintaining health through diet and lifestyle is a key focus in Naturopathy so here are a few suggestions for living well into your future.

Digestion: With age some of the good bacteria in our bowels decline and the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is often impaired. This can lead to symptoms such as constipation, reflux and bloating, and result in the malabsorption of nutrients. Ironically this can result in nutritional deficiencies even though the diet is adequate. Nutrient deficiencies can play a part in many age related diseases such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, poor immunity, degenerative diseases and fatigue.  Naturopathically it is not only important to identify and treat for nutrient deficiencies but also to support healthy digestion. Some simple measures you can do at home include a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a little water before meals. This helps to regulate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach resulting in improved digestion and absorption of nutrients. A quality probiotic supplement as well as a suitable source of dietary fibre can improve bowel health and improve immune function at the same time.

Oxidative stress: Many age related diseases such as cardiovascular conditions, stroke, degenerative diseases and dementia are linked to oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress is causes by an excess of highly reactive chemicals called free radicals. An excess of these free radicals can cause damage to the cells as well as the DNA in our body. With age the inbuilt oxidative defence mechanism declines leaving the body more vulnerable to free radical damage. Antioxidant nutrients pay an important role in preventing cell damage by neutralising free radicals.  As a Naturopath I would first of all encourage a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables which are naturally packed full of polyphenols (plant based antioxidants), some of the highest would the turmeric and cacao. Some times supplements are necessary as well; such as vitamin C, carotenoids and CoQ10 which has been shown as a useful antioxidant in protecting our DNA.

Exercise: This is always talked about with ageing, but why is it important? For a start the pressure on the skeleton from weight bearing exercise helps to retain calcium within the bones and maintains their strength. Secondly, if you don’t use it you lose it. Muscle tissue that is not used becomes fibrotic with age and cannot be replaced – so strength, balance and endurance can decline simply by not exercising. Exercise promotes circulation to the brain as well and this keeps the mind active and alert.

Overall the key factors for healthy aging from a naturopathic viewpoint are:  good digestion, a high nutrient diet and an active lifestyle.