The ageing process is inevitable, but there are several steps you can take to slow it down that don't involve the pointy end of a surgeon's needle. We asked Dr Rajendra Sharma whose new book Live Longer, Live Younger is released in January next year for his top tips of how to do so.
Take a long hard look at your family
We need to establish where our individual risks lie. Family history and genetics as well as a clear understanding of the risks we take due to our particular lifestyle is a minimum guide to which part of our body is likely to age and fail us first. Specific tests on the health of our arteries such as the Arteriograph should be done.
Dr Sharma points out that the gold standard exercise stress ECG only identifies disease at a late stage and may not even have that accuracy in women. Neurological investigations assessing brain blood flow and function are available as are assessments of our ability to detoxify, perhaps one of the most important factors in preventing premature aging. Assessing our anti-cancer immunity and establishing if we have chronic viral infection may lead to life–extending therapy.
The importance of exercise
Exercise is, perhaps, the most important preventative, says Dr Sharma. A good regimen influences all the various systems in our body. Establishing that we have good physical structure is essential and his book clarifies and simplifies what we can do based on our own psychology towards exercise and gives practical advice for all of us who he points out fall into one of 3 categories:
We either think 'There is no time to exercise' or we reluctantly consider 'I'll fit exercise in somehow' and then there are those who put other things aside to say 'I'm off to the gym'.
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Sleep and mental approaches
Living longer and looking younger takes work - Dr Sharma emphasises the importance of sleep, rest and relaxation and shows scientific evidence of how these, and particularly meditation, not only enhance health but also prolong life.
"Your bedroom should be dark and quiet. And, have you thought about avoiding the electromagnetic radiation your may be getting by sleeping a few feet above the house electricity supply box? Have sex - it aids sleep and relaxation. Melatonin is a useful supplement and sleep hormone with powerful brain protecting benefits. Try herbal extracts such as Valerian and Passiflora to help with insomnia."
Diet and nutrition
Evidence suggests limiting food intake or at least optimising weight extends life and Dr Sharma approves of the Paleo diet, the Anti-Candida/fermentation diet.
He also advocates taking vitamins and supplements. He says: "Our soil no longer contains essential nutrients such as selenium and magnesium as these have been leeched out by over-farming and their absorption has been blocked by pesticides. As a result the plants and animals we eat do not provide enough essential nutrients."
Eat well to protect your immune system and organs
In his book, Dr Sharma writes about the benefit to arteries of antioxidants along with how the neurological system depends on essential fatty acids and phospholipids as well as amino acids. "Our detoxification processes can be enhanced by nutrients such as folic acid, sulphur-containing foods and certain herbal extracts. "
He adds: "It is well known that antioxidants benefit arteries and that the neurological system depends on essential fatty acids, phospholipids and amino acids - but which type are the best to take? Citrate supplements are better absorbed than the pharmaceutical grade that fill the shops but you can do a lot in your own kitchen. Even herbs such as basil, sage and thyme are rich in Vitamin K which helps protect the heart and bones. Berries contain anthocyanins which benefit the arteries and the nervous system."
Have a good detox
An inability to detoxify creates a toxic environment for all our organs and systems. He adds: "Start detoxifying today through sweating. Up your exercise routine by just 10 minutes. Go to a sauna as regularly as possible. Flush the system with one to two litres of water. Use specific supplements to stimulate intracellular removal of toxins such as Glutathione and Vitamin C. Eat lots of fibre to get those bowels moving or consider a small amount of a natural bulking agent such as psyllium or flax.
"Our detoxification processes can also be enhanced by nutrients such as folic acid and sulphur-containing foods such as broccoli and certain herbal extracts such as milk thistle may be an option to keep the liver at an optimum level by
'upregulating' our Phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification."
Have a healthy gut
"Bowel health is extremely important," he says.
"Eat lots of fibre to get those bowels moving or consider a small amount of a natural bulking agent such as psyllium or flax. Death starts in the colon' is a phrase attributed to many doctors throughout the ages and is true in many senses. Keep the colon in good health using beneficial bowel bacteria/flora but it is important to vary the type used and to use products with multiple strains rather than just one. The elimination of potentially damaging yeasts and parasites by using coconut extracts and herbal oils such as oregano may decrease age related illnesses."
How the immune system plays a part in ageing
Immunosenescence is the term given to age related, gradual deterioration of the immune system's white blood cells. As this happens we are more open to infection and cancer as we age.
This is why influenza (flu) can be devastating to the elderly. Exercise and sleep , good nutrition and judicious use of vaccination (not the best option for all of us) may help some of us. "Immune stimulants such as zinc and beta glucans can be of enormous benefit and have a profound influence on our longevity."
Hormones - don't be afraid of them
Some countries are years ahead of others in the understanding of the benefits of prescribing hormones. This helps in the avoidance of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other age related dementias.
"Supplements such as Vitamin B 6, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids help maintain your hormone balance and hormone receptor sensitivity."
Dr Rajendra Sharma's Live Longer, Live Younger, £10.99, published by Watkins, is out in January.