Three Myths About Anti-Aging Practices

By Blair Klayko

You may already know that healthy eating and physical activity promote healthy aging. Agencies like the National Institute on Aging (NIA) are also researching other ways to support a longer and healthier life expectancy. 

According to the NIA, in 1970 the average life expectancy in the United States was 70.8 years, but the U.S. Census Bureau predicts this will reach 79.5 years by 2020. This increase shows we are making progress in how to stretch life expectancy. So what are some of the newest techniques scientists are studying, and do any truly work to slow aging? 

Three of the newer techniques you’ve probably heard about are eating an antioxidant-rich diet, hormone therapy and dietary fasting. Here’s a look at each one. 

Antioxidants 

Claim: The discovery of antioxidants, found in many fruits and vegetables, raised hopes that people could slow aging simply by adding more of them to the diet. Many believed an antioxidant-rich diet would slow aging because antioxidants protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals, which appear in the body when molecules change oxygen and food into energy. 

Reality: So far, studies of antioxidant-rich foods and vitamin supplements have yielded little support for this conclusion. However, while there is no support to the slowing of aging, there is positive evidence for the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. 

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Hormones

Claim: Taking hormone supplements can add years to your life and prevent age-related frailty. Hormones are chemical messengers produced by our glands that regulate our metabolism, immune function, sexual reproduction and growth. 

We cannot survive without many different kinds of hormones, and at times doctors may prescribe hormone therapy to help when the balance of hormones in our bodies isn’t at the right level. The NIA is currently researching how hormone therapy affects aging adults. Studies focus on hormones that naturally decline with age, such as: 

  • human growth hormone 
  • testosterone
  •  estrogen 
  • DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone-a hormone produced by the body's adrenal glands) 

Reality: The truth is, to date, no research has shown that hormone therapies add years to life or prevent age-related frailty. Some drugs have real health benefits for people with clinical hormone deficiencies due to a disease or disorder, but they also can cause harmful side effects. Hormone supplements are quite dangerous in large amounts because they encourage the body to stop natural production of the hormone, and natural production is always best. If you have a diagnosed hormone deficiency, only take hormones prescribed by a doctor, under his or her supervision. 

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Fasting

Claim: Calorie restriction, or lowering a specific percentage of daily calories while keeping the needed nutrients, has a positive effect on disease, markers of aging and even life span. 

Reality: The research is too early to show positive results. Scientists credit lower calorie intake with lowered risk of the major causes of death like heart disease and diabetes, but it is too soon to estimate if lowering intake over long periods of time is beneficial in the reversal of aging. 

While research takes time, and the above anti-aging methods may at some point gain traction, The National Institute on Aging suggests using caution if you choose to use antioxidants, resveratrol or hormone supplements. If you wish to begin any anti-aging routine beyond regular healthy dieting and physical activity, you should first consult with your doctor.

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