Aging is Inevitable, Disease is Not

HealthyAgingMenJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

How many of us, given a choice, would choose to grow older, especially when aging is associated with chronic illness and multiple prescription medications? As time marches on regardless, a better question might be—how many of us would choose to enjoy our golden years blessed with good health and vitality? Over the past century numerous infectious diseases have been conquered, only to be replaced by noncommunicable diet-related chronic diseases. As 76 million baby boomers approach or reach retirement age, medical care is focused on the prevalence of chronic health problems. A personal history of inadequate nutrition, poor daily choices and physical inactivity can culminate in preventable lifestyle-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.

Though we can’t turn back the clock, we can support our current and long-term health by understanding the influences of nutrition at the molecular level. Current recommended dietary guidelines for all age groups focus on nutrition for the maintenance of overall health and disease prevention. How important is a varied nutritious diet? The fact that many grocery stores have a section specifically dedicated to “health foods,” might give us a clue. Perhaps, if we begin to think of “natural food” as information that influences our genetic activity and cellular processes, we might choose to linger a bit longer in the healthy food aisles. Research has shown that diet is the key to controlling genetic susceptibility to disease, and our genes can only respond to what we give them.

Scientific research shows that although we may inherit genes from our parents and ancestors that increase our susceptibility to certain diseases, disease is not necessarily our destiny. We can replace foods that trigger our genes to induce inflammation with foods that quell inflammation, and thereby circumvent chronic disease. We can eat low-glycemic foods that minimize insulin secretion, as opposed to high-glycemic foods that stimulate insulin release and result in high blood sugar and diabetes. We can eat a high fiber diet that supports colon health, instead of a low-fiber diet that may encourage colorectal cancer progression. We can take charge of our health by changing the expression of the epigenome at any stage of life simply by making wholesome nutritional choices and incorporating a healthy lifestyle.

Perhaps it’s time to challenge the belief that disability, dysfunction, dementia and disease are normal and inevitable as we grow older. Many chronic illnesses are disorders of metabolic processes that result from our toxic environment and our nutrient depleted lifestyles. Nutritional science has shown us the complex relationship between health, the genome and life-long dietary interactions. We now know that many diseases that were once thought to be gene-related, result from nutritional deficiencies. Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants are considered key players in genetic expression modulation. Researchers have identified active plant derived nutrients that can help to prevent cancer and protect against diseases.

We now know that the root of many diet-related chronic conditions take hold early in life. Dietary changes, such as reducing sugar, salt and unhealthy fat consumption, could have a substantial effect on reducing the burden of disease. Even more so, a meta-analysis recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology looked at 95 studies on fruit and vegetable intake. They concluded that eating 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, or about 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables, would result in a 24% reduction in heart disease risk, a 33% lowered stroke risk, a 28% lowered cardiovascular disease risk, a 13% lowered cancer risk and a 31% lowered risk of premature death.

Changes that occur naturally with aging do affect nutritional needs. Along with reduced energy requirements, lean body mass and basal metabolic rate steadily decline. While the caloric need for protein, carbohydrates and fats may be reduced, the requirements for vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients may rise. Filling our bellies with health sustaining fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and support vascular and immune health. It sure seems like a no-brainer! Aging may be inevitable, but poor health is not. If you want to maintain vitality and enjoy a longer, healthier life span, start by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and be sure you are getting sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

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Top 10 Health Concerns of Baby Boomers.
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Feed your genes: How our genes respond to the foods we eat.
Nutrition and Gene Expression.
Nutrition for Older Persons.
Eating More of This Will Make You Live Longer.

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