By Sayer Ji
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Getting older is not a disease. Nor is it a guarantee that you will develop one. While our bodies are subject to an unprecedented level of toxic exposures, nutritional incompatibilities, and stress factors, all of which contribute to an accelerated rate of biological aging well beyond what is natural, the good news is that we have the power to decelerate and even reverse our biological age and most chronic diseases by living, eating, and thinking differently.
The New Biology tells us that our habits determine our health future more than our genes do. Simple changes in diet and behavior can completely redefine your health, unleash your inner physician, and set up the conditions needed for deep self-regeneration. Don’t think of this as an effort solely to extend your life-span; think of it as a way to extend your health span. Focus on the quality of those years–not just the number–so that you experience as many joyous moments of being alive as possible.
One of the first steps in taking back control of your biological destiny is understanding just how resilient and powerful your body is. It is a sacred vessel and miraculous technology, capable of performing trillions of intricate and precisely orchestrated biological operations each moment, somehow regenerating itself through the course of a lifetime. The New Biology’s assertion that our bodies have the capacity to regenerate thanks to the seed of immortality planted deep within us eons ago is a fundamental shift in perspective.
You heard me correctly: immortality. Our bodies contain a population of cells that are deathless. While the human body is often considered the epitome of mortality, a biological thread of immortality lives in your testes if you are a man and your ovaries if you are a woman, in the form of the sperm and egg cells, respectively. These incredible cells, from which all the other cells in our bodies originated, came in the form of the original zygote (sperm-fertilized egg) donated by your father and mother, and theirs by their fathers and mothers, going back not just to the origin of our species but to the preceding mammalian and premammalian species from which we evolved.
Astoundingly, these germline cells reproduced over and over, in an immortal thread that runs back through billions of years, through a near-infinite number of replication cycles, to the first cell that spawned all living things. This mystery is at the heart of all biological systems today. And this original protocell, called LUCA, is believed to have appeared some 3.4 billion years ago. LUCA’s legacy is found in every one of our cells, but especially the stem cells that inhabit our various tissues and work tirelessly to replace damaged and diseased tissue, creating it anew. These stem cells are responsible for our incredible regenerative potential and directly connect us to all other living things in the web of life.
We are immensely powerful and resilient biological entities, and it is this power that we recruit when we engage and capitalize upon regenerative dietary and lifestyle practices that help us to undo chronic disease and reverse premature aging.
This isn’t a mystical belief but is instead an actionable longevity goal. Consider ginkgo biloba, the world’s oldest living plant, whose very existence is an archetype of immortality and resilience. It can live well over 1,000 years, and like all plants, it contains stem cells known as meristematic cells, which give rise to the various tissues in the plant body. Gingko biloba is believed to have originated around a quarter of a billion years ago and is appropriately nicknamed a “living fossil.”1 Ginkgo biloba has survived the Earth’s five mass extinction events and was the only plant species to survive the August 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A month after the bombing, six ginkgo biloba trees were still standing at the epicenter of the blast. They budded shortly after and are still alive today.2
Amazingly, ginkgo biloba’s incredible hardiness and cellular longevity transfer over to humans. At the cellular level, it works as an antioxidant, reducing the oxidative stress that can lead to diseases we associate with aging, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease. It also enhances mitochondrial respiration, one way in which the cells produce energy. And ginkgo biloba elicits this antiaging effect across several cell types: neurons, blood platelets, and fibroblasts (which produce the collagen needed to support the skin and make it smooth), as well as cells of the liver, heart, and endothelium.3 And these are only a few glimpses into the mysterious power that ginkgo biloba wields and shares with those who consume it.
Magnesium, Cell Aging, and Restful Sleep
It has long been observed that astronauts experience accelerated aging while they’re in space. They return to Earth with the same cardiovascular capacity you’d expect from someone who is aging at 10 times the normal rate. One of the likely culprits is the magnesium reduction that often occurs during space flights.4
Magnesium deficiency is common here on Earth as well because the Western Pattern Diet is low in magnesium-rich foods, the most archetypal of which are green, leafy vegetables saturated with magnesium-rich chlorophyll. Magnesium deficiency might underlie accelerated aging in the cardiovascular system, and it can prevent healthy cell regeneration in a way that leads to a host of other symptoms and disorders we associate with “normal” aging.
You need magnesium to keep the cells of your heart working. The heart’s muscle cells know how to contract automatically, without a signal from the brain. These contractions help to keep your blood pumping. As an antioxidant, magnesium prevents free radicals from damaging your heart. And it can act as a natural alternative to calcium channel blockers, a class of blood pressure-lowering drugs that have significant side effects, including weakening the heart muscle by preventing it from fully contracting.
Magnesium’s importance extends past the heart cells to the cellular regenerative process throughout your body. A deficiency of magnesium accelerates aging in several cell types, interfering with their ability to divide and renew themselves. These cell types include endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels and the heart. You also need magnesium to avoid premature aging in your fibroblasts, which are cells in your connective tissues such as bones, tendons, and cartilage. These cells aid in the production of collagen, which maintains the cell’s structure and keeps your skin looking firm and elastic. When these cell types can’t replicate as often as they should, their tissues can undergo changes similar to those seen in the aging process.5 But with the right amount of magnesium, these tissues can thrive for a much longer time.
Magnesium is a true utility player with a staggering number of functions, binding to 3,700 different sites in the body.6 It plays a role in mood and cognition, with studies showing that it improves mild to moderate clinical depression in as little as two weeks, and can act as a buffering agent during times of stress by helping to modulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.7 When you’re under stress, the body releases a cascade of hormones, sending dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and others streaming into your blood. This stress response, if sustained over extended periods, interferes with the body’s regenerative, self-healing process.8
Another major benefit of magnesium is that it can improve sleep by partially reversing some of the changes that come with aging. According to a 2002 study published in Pharmacopsychiatry, magnesium supplementation restores sleep brain wave patterns and improves the neuroendocrine disruptions that happen in the night as we get older.9
Yoga and Your Stem Cells
Stress is inevitable and even health-promoting if allowed proper expression (positive stress is known as eustress). But much of what we stress about chronically is maladaptive. Sometimes the causes are unknown or are so deeply buried within our psyches that it is best to use meditation, yoga, exercise, or essential oils to soothe the jangled nervous system. The practice of yoga, which, according to a robust body of science, has more than 100 distinct health benefits,11 is at least 5,000 years old and can help you live longer and happier.
Some of yoga’s youth-promoting effects include increased physical flexibility, focused breathing, and deliberate, agile movement. But yoga goes much deeper–all the way to the marrow of your bones. Stem cells from your bone marrow periodically leave their “bone home” and enter the bloodstream. If you’ve torn a muscle, bone marrow stem cells can become healthy muscle cells, thereby fostering a regenerative process. If you have joint problems, they can convert into cartilage that pads your bones. A study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found that people who practice yoga regularly have more of the markers in their urine that indicate the presence of stem cells.12 The study suggested that all that bending, twisting, and deep breathing can release the stem cells from the bone marrow and send them into the bloodstream, where they search for tissue in need of repair. This process prevents premature cell senescence and death, and it reduces inflammation, possibly helping to explain why yoga is so astoundingly beneficial for aging bodies.
There’s a yoga practice for everyone, from the sweaty and challenging power yoga to gentle classes that begin with students seated quietly in chairs, working on improving their basic mobility skills. Even those who don’t feel they are flexible can reap these benefits with gentle versions of yoga.
Like ancestral foods that feed our DNA with information they need, yoga is a time-tested discipline that appears to have deeply regenerative effects. But to really understand all that it can do for you, you need to experience its benefits directly.
Our outsides reflect our increasingly toxified inner physiology as early wrinkles, prematurely sagging skin, age spots, and general dullness. We can pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for harsh beauty treatments but that will only make the underlying toxicity worse. Instead of Botox, which has recently been proven to numb the emotions and alter cognition,14 we can choose natural and sustainable approaches to slow and even reverse the effects of premature aging.
Add Good Fats and Plants to Your Diet
A large Japanese study of more than 700 women showed that women who ate more total fat, including saturated and monounsaturated fat, had better skin elasticity.15 Quality is the most important factor. When consuming plant-derived fats, go for raw, organic, or extra-virgin pressed, if available. Avoid vegetable oils, including soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, safflower, and sunflower, which have nothing to do with the kinds of vegetables we should be eating and are and disproportionately rich in easily oxidized and pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, which can accelerate skin aging. For the best fats, I recommend grass-fed meats, wild-caught salmon, pastured poultry and eggs, avocados, coconut oil, and olive oil.
The same study mentioned above revealed that women who ate more green and yellow vegetables had significantly fewer wrinkles. Green and yellow vegetables are wonderful sources of antioxidants and beta-carotene, which promote clear skin. Make sure to enjoy kale, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, cabbage, arugula, yellow bell peppers, winter squash, or yellow zucchini a couple of times a day.
Opt for More Natural Topical Products
Aloe vera. Of the roughly 100 natural substances that have been researched to improve aging skin, aloe vera is possibly the most effective. (Visit http://www.greenmedinfo.com/disease/aging-skin for a comprehensive list.) In addition to its antiaging effects, this youth-enhancing plant has another 50 or so side benefits, ranging from topical application to heal wounds, treat burns, and promote dental health to treatment for many forms of cancer. Taken orally, aloe deeply soothes, hydrates, and increases the production of collagen. Aloe also decreases the gene activity that causes collagen production to decline in the first place. One study found that women who took aloe vera gel capsules had fewer wrinkles after 90 days. Moderate doses of about 1,200 milligrams will also improve skin’s elasticity.16
You can take aloe vera gel capsules, but I always like to use products that are closest to the source–in this case, gel that comes straight from the aloe leaves. You don’t need much aloe vera gel to see results.
Red ginseng has been dubbed a “beauty food” by a group of researchers in Korea, who were exploring the extract to measure how it diminishes wrinkles. They concluded that the herb had increased the synthesis of collagen in the skin.17 Red ginseng is readily available as a tea, and you can drink it daily.
Pine-bark extract reduces unwanted pigmentation of age spots according to one Japanese study of more than 100 women. But its age-defying effects didn’t stop there. The women also experienced greater skin elasticity and hydration, probably due to increased levels of hyaluronic acid, which is necessary for smooth and youthful skin. Pine bark also enhanced the expression genes that help produce new collagen. The study used a commercial extract known as Pycnogenol, which can be taken as a supplement. Doses as low as 40 milligrams were found to be effective.18
The Invisible Thorns That Cause Joint Pain
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterized by out-of-control inflammation, chronic pain, and decreased mobility. We can take drugs to mask the pain, but we won’t experience true relief unless we address the real causes. One of the most common causes of inflammation can be found on our dinner (and lunch and breakfast) plates. I’m speaking of lectins. Traditional ways of preparing foods, like cooking, sprouting, and fermenting, can help, but they do not remove them entirely. For instance, sprouted whole wheat may contain more wheat lectin (technically known as wheat germ agglutinin, or WGA) than regular bread, because the germ contains the largest amount and is removed in processed bread.
Consuming WGA lectins can lead to inflammation and joint pain–and for many people, that pain drives them to take NSAIDs or other drugs to relieve the symptoms. But NSAIDs can increase intestinal permeability, which allows the body to absorb even higher quantities of WGA and other problematic proteins found in wheat. Which means you’ll have more symptoms and want to take more NSAIDs. To break the cycle, cut wheat and gluten-containing products out of your diet. This step can greatly relieve the pain of inflammatory arthritis. If you are sensitive to wheat lectin, you might need to remove other sources of lectins with similar binding properties as WGA (so-called “chitin-binding” lectins), such as potato,19 barley, rye, tomato,20 and even rice.21 Because joint disease is often characterized by a deficiency of collagen, you can also take vitamin C and the amino acid lysine, both of which are required to produce collagen. Glucosamine is another option since it happens to have the exact same binding target as all the lectins mentioned above (namely, N-acetylglucosamine),22 only they will bind to the supplement and not your tissues.
Of course, sometimes your joint pain will still flare up. You might not have the time to stop and wait for dietary changes to reveal their results. This may be a good opportunity to use a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant like black seed oil. Black seed is not well known in the United States, but it has a long and noble medicinal history that dates back to ancient times. A 2016 study, performed with volunteers in a nursing home in Iran, showed that when black seed oil is applied topically, it performs better than oral Tylenol for controlling the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee.23
Natural Menopause Relief
Women are often prescribed synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to mitigate the symptoms of menopause, including bone loss, cardiovascular risk, mood swings, and hot flashes. HRT contains estrogen and/or progesterone, which decreases in midlife as the ovaries naturally reduce their production. But HRT comes with clearly established dangers, including increasing the risk for breast and ovarian cancers, blood clots, and stroke.25 While far safer, natural forms of HRT can still promote the physiological state of deficiency by sending a message to already poorly performing endocrine glands that they don’t have to make more hormones. This also leads to a deepening dependency on external hormones and gland atrophy.
I suggest that you fortify your own regenerative stores during menopause by avoiding the Western Pattern Diet, especially these items:
Refined sugar and processed carbohydrates. Many women worry about the weight gain that can come with menopause. These highly addictive foods can raise insulin levels, which in turn can lead to estrogen dominance, maladaptive patterns of fat deposition, and the physical symptoms the menopausal transition is notorious for.
Anything that’s been treated with growth hormones. Check your dairy and animal products to make sure they don’t come from animals that were given recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as bovine somatotropin (BST), or any other growth- or weight-promoting hormones. To be safe, buy only pastured or grass-fed meat and dairy (if you must include dairy in your diet at all; it can be a good idea to remove it altogether for a few weeks and reintroduce to assess tolerance).
You can also add these hormone-regulating foods to your diet:
Fruits and vegetables. They are rich in phytoestrogens, a form of estrogen found in plants. They are adaptogens, adaptable to your body’s estrogen level. If you need more estrogen activity, they increase it. If you’ve got too much, they help block it.
Flaxseed. These incredibly therapeutic seeds can slow the growth of breast cancer.26
Blueberries. They inhibit the development of cellular senescence (aging cells) in studies of animals that have had their ovaries removed.27
Ginger. It reduces the loss of spatial memory in menopause.28
Soy. It can improve bone health, decrease cardiovascular risk factors, and reduce hot flashes.29
Evening primrose oil. This may decrease the severity of hot flashes, as well as improve measures of social activities, relationships with others, and sexuality in menopausal women.
Pomegranate. Technically a berry and the fruiting ovary of a plant, it contains naturally occurring steroid hormones similar to the human ovary, such as estrogen and testosterone.
Women are not the only ones who experience hormonal changes in midlife. Men also undergo a transition called andropause, during which hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) are produced in lower quantities. Both testosterone and HGH are known as the virility hormones, and a robust industry plays on men’s fears that they will become less virile–and, especially, less sexually potent–after age 50 or so. This industry sells more than $2 billion in testosterone drugs per year.30 But there’s a smarter way to think about the problem. This new approach might benefit far more than your sex life; it could address a condition underlying the primary cause of death in the modern world.
In men, impotence is often an early sign of endothelial dysfunction throughout the cardiovascular system. An erection depends on the free flow of blood to and from the penis, and that blood flow is made possible through a healthy endothelium, which fully relaxes and contracts in response to blood pressure fluctuations. Left unaddressed, endothelial dysfunction can lead to atherosclerosis. And that buildup of plaque in the blood vessel is what can eventually cause a stroke, heart attack, or coronary artery disease.
If you respond to erectile dysfunction by artificially amping up hormone production, you are throwing a Band-Aid on the problem, ignoring your body’s cries for help while risking major side effects and even a heart attack. Keep in mind, not all causes of disease are physical. Beyond endothelial dysfunction, a deficiency of emotional intimacy and an unhealthy relationship dynamic can be just as important contributors to ED, both of which can be addressed with various forms of psychological and spiritual self-work.
The most direct way to address this early cardiovascular warning sign is through a radical transformation of your diet. Omit the grains and dairy products that our bodies do not recognize as sources of healing, renewing information. Focus on an ancestral diet rich in high-nutrient, low-carbohydrate vegetables, tubers, and fruits. Your diet should also include high-quality natural fats and protein sources that are consistent with our biological heritage. GreenMedInfo.com contains a database of over 100 natural substances31 studied for reversing endothelial dysfunction, the top five being these: (1) arginine, (2) vitamin C, (3) flavonoids, (4) vitamin E, and (5) isoflavones. Exercise is also crucial. It powerfully improves vascular function within the cardiovascular system.32 Conversely, inactivity has been demonstrated to contribute to erectile dysfunction.33
Another compelling approach may be to drink green tea. Preclinical research into the use of green tea for erectile dysfunction has shown extraordinary results, specifically diminished atherosclerotic plaque progression within the rodent corpus cavernosum, the erectile tissue forming the bulk of the penis, including increases in androgen hormones.34 If you don’t like green tea, you can enjoy other beverages that are rich in catechins, which are some of green tea’s most active ingredients. Black tea is a good choice, but because it contains only about half the catechins of green tea, consider double-brewing your cup.
Fatigue, Depression, Aches, and Pains: Sickness Syndrome
Sometimes what feels like old age is really something much more fundamental. Sickness Syndrome is a term that describes a cluster of symptoms: general fatigue, depression, low libido, aches and pains, suppressed appetite, and a desire for solitude. These symptoms fit our culture’s stereotypes of old age, but they are not a normal, inevitable part of getting older. Nor are these symptoms limited to older people. A depressed mood, low energy, low libido, and a tendency toward isolation can happen at any time of life.
The aches, pains, depression, and other symptoms that we try to escape through various addictions are often related to a deficiency of our basic primal needs: water, light, exercise, interpersonal intimacy, and a felt sense of community. Without all these resources, we will feel fatigued and achy. In a scientific investigation known as the Rat Park study, researchers took rats that were addicted to morphine and sorted them into two groups. The first group was placed in a typical, crowded rat cage that was small and devoid of natural light. The second group was placed in what researchers called Rat Park, a kind of playground about 200 times larger. When the still-addicted rats were given access to either morphine-laced or tap water, only the conventionally caged rats preferred drug self-medicating as a response to their oppressive environment. The rats in Rat Park largely ignored the morphine, consuming 19 times less.35 Their social environment was so healing that they no longer drugged themselves.
There are several lessons here, but I want to focus on this one: survival is contingent upon a healthy social and physical environment. Without it, we start showing signs of weariness and depression. We lack motivation and want to crawl back under the covers almost as soon as we wake up.
What usually happens is that these behaviors are mistaken for the disease itself. The symptoms are pathologized. We try to medicate them away. This can happen in a formal setting–for example, a doctor might diagnose depression and prescribe antidepressants. My wife, holistic psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, M.D., has found that when many of her patients adopt lifestyle modifications and psychospiritual practices that foster deep levels of self-care, they’re able to put into complete remission a range of “incurable” mental health disorders, and even autoimmune conditions such as lupus, without needing to stay on their psychiatric medications.36 By redefining their suffering in such a way that they are able to extract meaning from it and perceive adversity as an opportunity for introspection and self-exploration, many are able to move through their illness into a greater state of empowerment and health.
Sickness Syndrome is an adaptive response to an unhealthy lifestyle, a compensatory coping mechanism designed for self-preservation. Your body may be telling you to shut down, withdraw, and redirect your energy toward rest, repair, and recovery as a last-ditch effort to survive in a world that fundamentally diverges from that which our physiology has evolved to recognize. It is therefore a self-protective, and even a regenerative, response, and we would be smart to tune in and honor it.
In the next part of this book, I’ll help you put the Regenerate approach into practical action. Here you’ll find a detox plan to help you begin to cleanse your body from the effects of the Western Pattern Diet and a lifestyle plan that will stimulate deep bodily renewal and rejuvenation.
This was an excerpt from ‘Regenerate: Unlocking Your Body’s Radical Resilience with the New Biology‘ – Chapter 8 – an international best-seller published by Hay House, available in 8 languages.
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About the author:
Sayer Ji is the founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, and Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.