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.
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 pro- ducing 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 ensue 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 pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats found predominantly in processed foods; as well as increasing the anti-inflammatory 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 nonmenstruating 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 ironcontaining 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.
Ageing is most obvious on the outside, but like beauty it is more than skin-deep.