Un­der­stand­ing the age­ing process

New Zealand’s favourite well­be­ing ex­pert, Dr Libby an­swers read­ers’ ques­tions about liv­ing a health­ier life. We can’t stop age­ing, but it helps to un­der­stand how it af­fects our bod­ies.

Central Leader - - NEWS -

Ques­tion: We read a lot about age­ing but what is it ex­actly? I feel like it is sup­posed to hap­pen (of course) but am cu­ri­ous what the ac­tual pro­cesses are in­side the body. Thanks, Melissa. Hi Melissa, we are bom­barded in the media about need­ing to de­lay, pre­vent or hide the ef­fects of age­ing, but no-one ac­tu­ally talks about the pro­cesses of age­ing. Two of the main ones are ox­i­da­tion and in­flam­ma­tion.

Ox­ida­tive dam­age is car­ried out by free rad­i­cals, which are sin­gle oxy­gen mol­e­cules that can dam­age the tis­sues of the body.

Free rad­i­cals are pro­duced by nor­mal process like breath­ing and ex­er­cis­ing, but are also pro­duced by in­creased stress, cig­a­rette smoke and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tants such as pes­ti­cides and heavy met­als.

In­flam­ma­tion is the other ma­jor way in which we age. Sim­ply put, in­flam­ma­tion is your im­mune sys­tem’s re­sponse to any prob­lem­atic sub­stance that has en­tered the body. The body re­sponds by pro­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tory com­pounds, which we ex­pe­ri­ence as red­ness, heat and swelling. In­flam­ma­tion is es­sen­tial to keep us alive, but in ex­cess can be highly detri­men­tal to our health.

Ox­ida­tive dam­age can be re­duced by the con­sump­tion of a high plant-based diet. Plants are a rich source of an­tiox­i­dants, which are mol­e­cules that neu­tralise free rad­i­cals that cause ox­ida­tive dam­age. All fruits and veg­eta­bles con­tain amounts of an­tiox­i­dants; try to in­clude a va­ri­ety of brightly coloured fruit and veg­eta­bles in your diet to en­sure you are con­sum­ing a range of dif­fer­ent an­tiox­i­dants.

A sim­ple way to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion in the body is to limit the amount of prob­lem­atic sub­stances that en­ter the body.

This could mean re­duc­ing your al­co­hol in­take, quit­ting smok­ing and de­creas­ing or omit­ting the proin­flam­ma­tory omega 6 fats found pre­dom­i­nantly in pro­cessed foods; as well as in­creas­ing the an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory com­pounds you take in such as the omega 3 fats and turmeric. Ques­tion: Is there a dif­fer­ence be­tween iron de­fi­ciency and iron de­fi­ciency anaemia? I have been told I have anaemia and that my 6-year-old son is iron de­fi­cient. Are these the same con­di­tions? Thanks, Gail. Hi Gail, there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. Iron de­fi­ciency is a de­crease in the to­tal con­tent of iron in the body, and anaemia is when this de­crease in iron is suf­fi­cient enough to cause a de­crease in red blood cells. A per­son will be­come iron de­fi­cient be­fore they be­come anaemic.

Iron de­fi­ciency

can

be caused by a range of things, in­clud­ing poor ab­sorp­tion due to di­ges­tive com­pli­ca­tions, de­fi­cient in­take, or ex­ces­sive men­strual bleed­ing. If left un­treated, it can de­velop into iron de­fi­ciency anaemia.

The first as­pect to look at is iron in­take. You need to make sure that your diet con­tains enough.

The New Zealand Nutri­tion Guide­lines rec­om­mend 18mg of iron for women (8mg for non-men­stru­at­ing women) and 8-10mg of iron for chil­dren un­der 14 years old.

Iron-con­tain­ing foods in­clude beef, lamb, chicken, dates and eggs. When con­sum­ing these iron-con­tain­ing foods try to in­clude sources of vi­ta­min C along­side to help im­prove ab­sorp­tion, such as cit­rus fruit, leafy greens and broc­coli.

There are sev­eral foods that in­hibit iron ab­sorp­tion; these in­clude tea, cof­fee and cal­cium rich foods like milk, cheese and al­monds.

Se­condly it is im­por­tant to take note of any gut symp­toms that may in­di­cate a big­ger prob­lem, which may be re­duc­ing the ab­sorp­tion of iron. Things like bloat­ing, cramps and di­ar­rhoea or con­sti­pa­tion can all be signs of gut is­sues and should be in­ves­ti­gated by a health pro­fes­sional.

Of­ten sup­ple­men­ta­tion is needed to re­store de­pleted iron lev­els, how­ever this is best man­aged by a health pro­fes­sional as blood tests are needed to as­sess the de­gree of de­fi­ciency be­fore­hand.

Age­ing is most ob­vi­ous on the out­side, but like beauty it is more than skin-deep.

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