Your birthday marks your chronological age. With every year that passes by, and every candle that is added to your cake, your chronological age increases. Your biological age, on the other hand, is measured by your hormone levels which is the most scientifically supported marker out of all biological markers. You are as old as your oldest organ. If your organ says that you're 50 years old, and it’s your 40th birthday, the harsh truth is that you’re 50.
The beauty industry is promoting anti-ageing skincare, makeup and sophisticated technologies at every turn with the claims of anti-ageing. Unfortunately, the results are temporary and external. It’s like a nine-year-old Ferrari that is repainted, and has new changed rims and tyres. It may look new, but once you open the front of the engine, you discover that it’s in fact a 15-year-old engine that isn’t going to last long.
Instead of turning to these supposed quick fixes, if we start addressing the root of why people are ageing faster, we have a higher chance of slowing down the ageing process. The way that someone lives impacts how fast they age. Certain factors cause our hormones to start falling at a faster rate than they should for our age. If we address this at its roots and fix our lifestyle and nutrition, we can help improve the state of our hormones and consequently the rest of our body.
Many people don't realise they are unhealthy until you ask them a few specific questions. There are some questions you need to start answering to assess your health. For example, what time do you go to bed? How many hours do you sleep? Are you actually able to go into sleep or do you wake up in the middle of the night? What type of diet are you normally having? The answers to these questions reveal a lot about your health and the state of your hormones. I'll lay out these questions and explain how some lifestyle and nutrition choices affect your body's ageing.
Hormones are vital for our body’s functions. DHEA which is a precursor to making oestrogen and testosterone is the mother of all sexual hormones but it actually helps us to have good metabolism. DHEA also helps in muscle bulking, gives us good mental agility, and helps with cellular activities which makes our cells young. Oestrogen helps us to multitask, protects us against heart disease, osteoporosis, and gives us good memory. However, oestrogen alone is not the only important hormone.
Other vital hormones to look out for is insulin. Unfortunately, as we get older, our insulin increases. It is the only hormone that increases while other hormones decrease with age. As insulin goes up, it increases our storage capacity, so it stores sugar as fat. More insulin is produced during winter to stores fats. As you get older, this extends into your life all year round! Naturally your body shape changes. You constantly feel hungry because the sugar keeps getting stored and you have none in your blood. There’s no medication to bring insulin down, but what we can do is to improve our lifestyle with more cardio which decreases insulin.
What time do you go to bed? How many hours do you sleep? Are you actually able to go into sleep or do you wake up in the middle of the night? If you are sleeping late, for short hours and keep waking up in the middle of the night, you are missing out on the human growth hormone which is made between 12 midnight and 2am. Without this growth hormone, your internal single cell activity is going to be very bad. Your cell cycle gets shorter and your cells would die faster. When your cells die faster, your body is not able to replenish well and your organ functions will drop. This drop in function is definitely not ideal, so you want to be sleeping early and having enough sleep. One way to improve your sleep is to have an active lifestyle with regular cardio workouts and reduced sugar intake in your diet. For all cases it is always best to consult with the doctor in case any supplements and hormonal pills are required.
Additionally, the quality of your sleep is vital. If you had a crappy night, you will likely have a crappy morning too. If you keep waking up in the middle of the night or snore, then you may not be getting enough oxygen in your system. You will know this by how you feel when you wake up so it’s important that you pay attention to this.
If your night is normal, and you still wake up tired then you may suffer from chronic fatigue or adrenal fatigue. Some people go to bed at 11.30 pm and wake up at 8 am, but they still feel that they never slept. This means that your adrenals are not working, because there isn’t an adrenal spike in the morning, which should be happening. One way to address this problem is to eat wholesome foods with high nutritional density and high quality fish oil.
Next, how many cups of coffee do you take a day? Do you have cravings for snacks? Do you have a craving for snacks at certain times of the month? Is your menstruation regular? If you are having a lot of such cravings with an irregular menstrual cycle, chances are, you’re oestrogen dominant. You've got more oestrogen than progesterone and that's when you start to crave sugar the week before your period and you become very water retentive. You're also very emotional and have mood swings. A way to curb this is to have more green leafy vegetables when you’re craving for sugar and make sure that your diet is free from hormones, pesticides and antibiotics.
Do you have eczema? Are you feeling constipated? Do you have constipation alternating with diarrhoea sometimes? Do you see food floating in the toilet bowl? If you do, then it is likely that your gut is not healthy. You need to go back to a healthy, wholesome and diverse diet. You are what you eat.
It’s also important to note that drinking is as bad as smoking. Alcohol is not good at all. So two units a week for both drinking and smoking is more than you should have. Your hormones compensate for such bad lifestyle habits, and as a result, they start declining more rapidly.
Regardless of your age, you need to exercise. Your exercises change as you get older, but you still need to be exercising. Especially for men, the most essential hormone is testosterone which increases in production when you do more strength exercises and have a higher protein intake. Smoking and drinking kill testosterone significantly. The best exercise, in general, is walking long distances; followed by swimming because it has both strength and cardio. You kill two birds with one stone. It’s also a good idea to have a watch or tracker to monitor your heart rate to measure whether it’s fat burn or for cardio.
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Dr. Caroline Low
Preventive-Aging Physician | Fellow
American Board of Anti-Aging