Together, Dr. Mark Houston and his wife, Laurie Hays of Facial Rejuvenation Center at St. Thomas, share a passion for helping their patients look and live well. With years of experience, they integrate aesthetics and clinical science with personalized care to create a platform for healthy aging strategies that encompass both external and internal treatments.
Photo of Mark Houston, M.D. & Laurie Hays, R.N.
“Youth has no age” — Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
We all desire to live long and healthy lives. None of us wants to deal with the declining health or chronic diseases that are commonly associated with aging. If given a choice, wouldn’t we all like to live full, active, healthy lives and then when the time comes, make the quick exit? I call this model of life the “The Square Life Curve” as opposed to the “Declining Graph.”
With this article, I’m promoting the concept that we can age successfully. I’m introducing the idea that there are ways to control the diseases that cause declining health as we age. We can’t stop aging, but with lifestyle changes that are mentioned below, we can certainly experience a more successful aging process. To age successfully, you must have a healthy mind, body and spirit! Interested? Keep reading.
First let me provide a basic understanding of what happens when we age.
What is Aging?
Aging is when the body shifts from a constructive (anabolism) to a destructive (catabolism) state. Anabolism is the replenishing of the body’s systems with new and stronger tissue, a rejuvenating or building mode, in other words. Catabolism is the breaking down of the body’s physiological systems. Physiological functions peak in the twenties, plateaus in the thirties and then begins a sharp descent in the forties. In the US the “decade of vulnerability” occurs at the age of 40 to 50 years. During this time the male ages 15.2 years and the female ages 18.6 years.
What can you expect to happen as you age?
Individuals age at variable rates due to genetic and environmental factors such as nutrition, exercise, stress, smoking and alcohol and various diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes mellitus.
Regardless of the rate, however, these are the facts: a) the brain shrinks and there is loss of cognitive function, focus and memory; b) vision worsens with cataracts and loss of visual acuity, darkness and color perception; c) hearing is impaired especially for higher tones; d) the skin loses elasticity and collagen, begins to wrinkle, thin, and it heals slower and bruises easier; e) smell and taste decrease, hair thins and fat increases as lean muscle mass and bone mass decrease resulting in decrease strength, osteoporosis and fatigue; f) the kidneys decrease in size and function and the bladder losses its elasticity and capacity resulting in incontinence; g) the heart has contracted about 2 billion times by the age of 50 and the incidence of heart attack and heart failure increase; h) the lungs lose elasticity and breathing capacity is reduced by over 20 percent; and i) the pancreas produces less insulin and diabetes mellitus is more common. In addition, men lose testosterone starting at age 30 and women have reductions in progesterone and estrogen after menopause in their 40’s and 50’s.
Reading this might dishearten even the most optimistic individual, but there are many ways to slow the aging process enough so that we can still have many years of living a vital, active, and rewarding life. Remember, we’re working toward living a life that resembles the “Square Life Curve” as opposed to the “Sliding Graph.”
How old are you really? Biological versus chronological age:
Before you can figure out how to slow down your own aging clock, you need to find out where it’s currently set. You need to determine your biological age versus your chronological age. The chronological age is today’s year minus your birth year. The biological age is every individual’s unique biological rate of aging. Various physiological factors determine your biological age. A four year difference is significant between your biological and chronological age. Obviously, one would prefer to have their biological age younger that their chronological age. The best method to determine your biological age is the Telomere Test from Spectracell Labs in Texas.
Taking this test is a first step, but I also recommend that you go to a physician who will give you a thorough intensive examination. When there, review with the physician your complete medical history, then get a physical exam and a series of functional, metabolic and anatomic diagnostic tests. You need to find out all the biomarkers of aging which include circulating levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, anti-oxidant defense, blood hormone levels, cardiovascular status, vascular health cardiovascular risk factors, pulmonary status, bone health, speed of nerve conduction, body composition, musculoskeletal health, sensory responses, balance, coordination, reaction time, neuropsychological status and cognitive function.
What you do not want to hear when you visit you physician is “ You have the body of someone twice your age!”
Remember that information is power. The sooner that you find out your current condition, then the sooner that you can start initiating the needed changes to help slow down your aging process. Now you are ready to begin an individual treatment plan.
Tips to slow aging:
The suggestions that I have listed below are based on excellent science and appear to be very safe in preventing disease and possibly slowing aging in humans. They are worthy of our consideration. I should point out, however, that although there are many clinical research studies that have evaluated specific treatments to slow aging in animals and in primates, there are a limited number of proven recommended treatments in humans that will prolong life. Testing humans has proven to be difficult due to a human’s life span.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. One should consume 10 servings of relatively uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables per day (6 vegetables and 4 fruits of multiple colors, especially a variety of dark berries and grapes). Reduce the refined carbohydrates and foods that contain a high glycemic load or index (the amount of glucose that is in a particular food) and increase complex carbohydrates and fiber. Reduce saturated fats, reduce inflammatory omega 6 fats, and eliminate trans fats, but increase omega 3 fatty acids, as found in cold water fish and nuts, and omega 9 fatty acids, found in olive products, olive oil and nuts. Use more high-quality vegetable protein and high-quality animal protein, such as cold water fish, wild game and grass- or range-fed meat. Avoid caffeine and all sodas, diet or otherwise. Eat less refined, processed and fast foods. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and all forms of wheat.
Special Consideration: Caloric restriction has been shown to increase the life span in primates and rodents by 40 percent or more. One would need to reduce total caloric intake by 30-40 percent. Caloric restriction with a diminished energy intake forces an optimization of the metabolism and may alter the entire genetic programs through the SIRT and AMPK genes. It reduces cellular damage and disrupts certain hormonal levels. Another practical method is to fast for twelve hours after 6 p.m. each day for 3 to 4 days per week. This achieves caloric restriction and increases growth hormone and male and female sex hormones, but reduces insulin and cortisol levels and may alter calorie-induced modification of aging genes.
Consume at least 1/2 ounce per pound of body weight of filtered or bottled water (from glass, not plastic) each day. Add some fresh lemon or lime to each glass.
Avoid all tobacco products…active or passive.
Exercise for at least one hour, 4 days per week and include a combination of aerobics, resistance training, flexibility and agility exercises. The resistance (weight training) should be 40 minutes and the interval aerobics 20 minutes, to total the one hour. The aerobic exercises should be interval training and achieve about 80 percent of the estimated maximum heart rate for the person’s age and can be a variety of mixed exercises individualized for the person’s needs. Resistance training should be rotated among different muscle groups. The hour per day does not have to be continuous, but can be divided into 15 or 30 minute segments to achieve the full hour. Remember also that any exercise that you do will help. Start slow with fewer minutes and less strenuous exercises and increase the duration and level of exercise over the next several months. Exercise your mind, as well, with reading, crossword puzzles, math, memory tests and other mental exercises.
Weight and Body Composition
Ideal body weight, waist circumference, waist/hip ratio and body composition are important. The ideal body weight is based on body weight and body mass index. The percent of body fat in men should be less than 18 percent and in women less than 22 percent, with increases in the percentage of lean muscle mass to improve insulin sensitivity and other hormonal and physiological functions. The waist circumference should be less than 36 inches in men and less than 31 inches in women. The waist-hip ratio should be less than 1.0 in both genders.
Relaxation, Spirituality and Religious Commitment
All of the modalities that reduce stress and provide inner peace will improve overall health and slow aging. Reductions in stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin help to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and improve immune function and brain function. Maintain an optimistic attitude and be a positive thinker. Be adaptable and forgiving. Have a lot of love in your life and maintain friendships, social, family and intellectual connections. Consider having a pet in the home. Practice safe and frequent sex with your mate.
You should sleep about 8 hours per night of deep restful sleep. The best time to go to sleep based on the circadian rhythm is between 8 and 10 PM each night. Any less time than this will accelerate aging, increase obesity, heart disease and diabetes mellitus.
Consumption of small amounts of alcohol per day may increase life span and reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Although any alcohol may be effective, red wine, especially those with high resveratrol content, such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Shiraz, may be the most effective. About 20 grams per week is optimal, which is equivalent to about a six ounce glass of red wine per day. More is not better and has detrimental health consequences.
Nutraceuticals, Vitamins, Antioxidants and Minerals
Although there is no definitive proof in humans that specific nutraceuticals, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals extend life expectancy, there is data in animal models that specific supplements are effective in extending life span. Coenzyme Q-10, R-Lipoic acid, acetyl-L carnitine, phosphatidyl serine, glycerophosphocholine, N-acetyl cysteine, EGCG, resveratrol, grape seed extract, polyphenols, vitamin C, B vitamins, selenium, zinc, lycopene, garlic, ginkgo, a good multivitamin, gamma/delta tocopherols and tocotrienols (forms of Vitamin E), royal jelly, omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) increase life span and cognitive function in rats. Other supplements are being evaluated as well.
Do not take a multivitamin with preformed Vitamin A or one with Beta Carotene or d- or dl-alpha tocopherol (vitamin E). Males should avoid supplemental iron. Women and men need 4000 IU or more of Vitamin D per day. Women need 1500 mg calcium with other bone minerals. Use ginger, turmeric, curcumin and other natural anti-inflammatories. Most of these can be obtained in three high quality neutraceuticals that include Vasculosirt, EFA-Sirt Supreme and ResveraSirt HP. These maybe obtained from Biotics Research.
Recent studies have shown that increasing blood levels of the powerful intracellular anti-oxidant glutathione and maintaining enzymes that produce glutathione or reduce its destruction will reduce heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, cardiovascular and vascular diseases and cancer. Many foods and nutritional supplements will increase intracellular levels of glutathione such as R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, selenium, whey protein, broccoli, vitamin C and E, as well as a few others.
According to Greek Mythology, the hapless mortal Tithonus mistakenly asked the goddess Eos to confer eternal life rather than eternal youth. He thus found himself condemned to immortal decrepitude. A new report suggests that if Tithonus had cut a deal with Dionysus, the god of wine, he might have fared much better.
Resveratrol shows the most promise as an anti-aging nutrient. Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in red wine, the skin of young unripe red grapes, grape seeds and purple grape juice. It’s found in smaller amounts in peanuts and in the roots of a Chinese medicinal herb, Polygonum cuspidatum, and a South American shrub, Senna quinquangulata, that activates a group of genes called sitruins (silent information regulator proteins), specifically SIRT I and SIRT 2 genes in human cells. Activation of SIRT I will extend life span and can be particularly effective in conjunction with caloric restriction. SIRT I blocks the activity of tumor growth, cell death and protects human cells from gamma radiation. SIRT 2 increases DNA stability, speeds cellular repair and increases total life span.
The power of resveratrol in various studies is impressive. In yeast, resveratrol extends life by 80 percent. In mice, rats and primates, resveratrol demonstrates anti-aging and athletic endurance activities, promotes weight loss and simulates the anti-aging effects of caloric restriction without actually restricting calories. Resveratrol has also demonstrated anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-platelet, and cholesterol lowering activities. Resveratrol increases insulin sensitivity, reduces insulin like growth factor I (IGF –I), activates the PPAR gamma system, increases mitochondrial number, increases energy expenditure and improves motor function.
Recent studies also suggest resveratrol reduces the risk of colorectal cancer and slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, Supplements range from 1 to 100 mg per day. One liter (bottle) of red wine contains only about 1-2 mg of resveratrol (range of 0.2 to 5.8 mg per liter). The dose needed in humans to achieve an anti-aging effect are not known, but based on the doses that have been shown to be effective in animals, a human would need 250 mg per day of trans resveratrol.
Hormonal therapies such as DHEA, melatonin and sex hormones show promise, but there are no good studies to date in humans to recommend them for long term use as an anti-aging program. Selected use of bio-identical sex hormones such as testosterone in men and estrogen and progesterone in women will improve quality of life, bone and lean muscle mass, reduce hormone-related symptoms and reduce fatigue.
Slowing the aging process of your skin:
Can a cream really act like a laser procedure or Botox® injections? Are peptide creams capable of penetrating your skin causing meaningful changes that add up to fewer wrinkles? Does every product with antioxidants actually work against free radicals to help fight skin aging? The claims are mind numbing, and unfortunately most of them aren’t backed up by hard scientific evidence that convinces me. When it comes to anti-aging skin care and your skin, time is of the essence. Prevention and ‘slowing the clock’ work better than trying to turn it back by decades, so you need to start an effective regimen now.
I recommend sticking with proven anti-aging products and starting them immediately. Narrow your choices to only the products and ingredients with strong scientific evidence; stimulating biochemical reactions in cells in a petri dish isn’t enough. Look for evidence that the ingredient works on human beings who used them under realistic conditions.
Here are the anti-aging skin care ingredients that have convincing proof that they work:
- Number one is always prescription tretinoin cream (Retin-A, Renova and generic tretinoin cream). Only the prescription products work (tretinoin and Tazorac, but I prefer tretinoin). They have great scientific proof that in human users they stimulate sun damaged skin to form a new, thicker layer of collagen in the dermis and increase the thickness of the top layer of living cells called the epidermis. This means they really reverse wrinkles! They also compact the dead skin cell layer (called the statum corneum) into a nice and bright youthful surface for your skin. They even out uneven pigment and help reduce pre-cancerous skin growth from forming. They are the ‘gold standard’ of anti-aging skin care. My aim is to get my clients on the highest concentration of tretinoin cream that they can tolerate, and have them use it forever (except when pregnant or nursing!).
- Glycolic acid products with concentrations over 10% and with an acid pH (around pH 4). Like tretinoin, these too have been shown to stimulate collagen formation (reverse wrinkles), compact the dead skin cell layer (brighten skin) and lighten uneven pigment. They are irritating to sensitive skin and may be hard to use if you’re also using tretinoin. They do work beautifully for both immediate and long term anti-aging goals and I recommend them for anyone who can tolerate them.
- Red Volcanic Seaweed antioxidant skin care products. When highly concentrated, topically applied red volcanic seaweed has proven to be 100 times stronger than Beta–Carotene and Vitamin E combined, and these get into skin, and scientific evidence proves that they help counter sun induced damage. In my opinion, these are the most effective plant-based antioxidants in skin care today. They also have an anti-inflammatory benefit, helping to quiet redness and even the complexion. Red Volcanic Seaweed provides cellular energy, expedities tissue regeneration and growth processes, combats oxidation and free radial damage.
- Vitamin C skin care products with 10% or higher concentration and with an acid pH (around pH 3). These have been shown to stimulate collagen formation in human test subjects (meaning they reduce wrinkles). Vitamin C skin care products also provide proven antioxidant benefit, neutralizing the damaging free radicals that play a role in skin aging. They work best in the presence of vitamin E, so having a vitamin E containing product on the skin at the same time is a good idea.
- Broad spectrum, micronized zinc oxide sunscreen. This needs to be applied every day, all year, unless you absolutely will not be outside or sitting in front of a window. All the anti-aging skin care products in the world can’t counter the degenerative effects of continued sun exposure.
Tricks you can also use to immediately improve the appearance of dull, aging skin:
- Exfoliate your skin with an exfoliating scrub or a facial Buff Puff sponge.
- Clean out clogged pores with a Clarisonic brush.
- Plump up your wrinkles with super water-absorbing hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate) skin care products (such as Esente Matrix Cell 3000 Concentrate or FRC Rx Eye Pepetide Complex).
- Get a combination facial dermaplane, microdermabrasion and mild chemical peel treatment to ’brighten’ your complexion.
Morning skin care routine:
- Gently exfoliate your skin when you wash. This brightens your complexion for the day. Options include:
- A Facial Buf Puff Sponge and your favorite cleanser,
- An exfoliating scrub like Esente Oligo Peel Micro Crème or Neutrogena Deep Clean Relaxing Nightly Scrub.
- Clarisonic Brush and your favorite cleanser.
- Apply green tea antioxidants in the form of FRC Rx Alpha/Beta Pads and Esente DNA Eye Repair Gel. These 2 products are, in my opinion, are the best antioxidant protection products available today! Esente DNA Eye Repair Gel has additional ingredients for problems unique to the eye area, which includes building collagen layers and diminishing dark circles.
- Apply a vitamin C product (FRC Rx TCA Skin Polish is the best in my opinion) or a glycolic acid product (FRC Rx Alpha/Beta Pads for oily, normal or dry skin).
- Apply an additional moisturizer if you need it. I personally use Neocutis Journee Bio-Restorative Day Crème. This is the most complete anti-aging day cream with PSP®, anti-oxidants, hyaluronic acid and UVA/UVB protection SPF 30+.
- Apply a sunscreen (I like FRC Rx Suncare SPF 30+, which contains vitamin E) on top of your products. Makeup goes on last if you wear it.
Bedtime skin care routine:
- Wash with FRC Rx Glycolic 10 Cleanser or your favorite cleanser.
- Apply Esente’s Red Volcanic Seaweed Complex contains vitamin E to work with the vitamin C.
- Apply your glycolic acid product or a Retin A product. (If you’re using a Retin A product, you may want to apply an intensive moisturizer, wait at least 15 minutes then apply Retin A or FRC Rx Retisal Gel).
Additional anti-aging skin care ingredients are being intensely studied every day. As soon as I see convincing scientific evidence that one of them creates meaningful changes in the sun damaged skin of real, living people, I’ll spread the word fast. Until then, I believe that this is the best anti aging skin care that science has to offer. Visit the Facial Rejuvenation Center (FRC) located at the Saint Thomas Medical Plaza for skin care consults and treatment. More information about many of the products listed above can be found at this website address: www.FRC skincare.com.
The potential life span of the human could be as high as 129 years! Achieving an optimal combination of both quantity and quality of life are important goals for future studies. Many animal studies have demonstrated a wide variety of modalities to increase life span. Although definitive studies in humans are lacking, is would seem prudent to consider many of the treatments that are safe as outlined in this article if you are seeking that youthful and healthy life. To age successfully you must have a healthy mind, body and spirit. And remember, it is never too late to start. Now that you have the knowledge, information and capacity to slow the aging process in yourself, what are you waiting for?
To your life, good health and slower aging.
About Mark Houston, MD
Dr. Houston is associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Director of the Hypertension Institute and Vascular Biology, Director of the Life Extension Institute and Human Nutrition, at the Saint Thomas Medical Group and Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, TN.
He is the author of several best selling books including: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hypertension and What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease.
For more information, visit this website: www.hypertensioninstitute.com
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