A 52-year-old Christie Brinkley proclaims in a CoverGirl ad: “I don’t want to be younger, I just want to look it.”
When MAC Cosmetics scouted aging celebrities for its “Beauty Icons” campaign, several actresses refused participation because it required admitting their age.
Aging actors – including Russell Crowe at 42, George Clooney at 45, and Robert De Niro at 63 – still command leading roles while the trend-setting entertainment industry elbows aside the aging actress. “It depresses me that there are so few roles written for grown-up women,” Academy Award winner Kim Basinger says. “For every woman in this branch like Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon, who thanks to their talent are able to keep their career continuing, there are a dozen well-known actresses older than 40 who can’t get any roles anymore.”
“The message is ‘don’t get old,’” as aging-specialist Becca Levy, professor at Yale University School of Public Health, notes.
It’s a lucrative message. Anti-aging spending by consumers was projected to approach a whopping $42 billion this year with 35- to 50-year-olds spending $20 billion on plastic surgery and non-surgery skin treatments alone. Looking to wrinkle creams and botox syringes for the figurative Fountain of Youth misses a critical point: to decrease the effects of aging, we must work from the inside out, not the outside in.
CAUSES OF AGING
What exactly is ‘aging?’ When we as a society talk about aging, we are really referring to the rate at which we age. This includes visible wear-and-tear such as wrinkles, muscle wasting, and cataracts, as well as a multitude of diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cancer, heart and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cirrhosis.
Symptoms of aging may be traced back to two main causes: cell division – the more rapidly cells divide, the more rapidly they age – and accumulated damage to cells. In the initial three installments of this four-part series, we’ll investigate four conditions that promote this cellular division and damage: inflammation, insulin mismanagement, oxidation and glycation. In the final chapter, we will look at natural habits favoured for reducing the effects of aging.
Inflammation is one of the key accelerants of aging. It has been linked to most diseases. It is the suspected cause, for example, of as many as 50% of all atherosclerosis cases.
Inflammation is genetically designed to be a protective mechanism. It counters injury and infection with reactions such as swelling and stiffness to create healing time while simultaneously guarding the affected area against re-injury.
It also neutralizes threats. Consider its response to invading bacteria: temperature-sensitive bacteria flourish at 37°C, the body’s normal temperature, secreting toxins and multiplying. By raising body temperature above the advantageous 37°, inflammation kills the assailants.
Inflammation’s protective instincts are roused by a variety of attacks, including:
- Sleep deprivation
- Trans fats (a big problem, given that Americans consume a shocking 80lbs of processed vegetable oil each year)
- Elevated blood sugar and/or insulin levels
- Nutrient (such as Vitamin D) deficiency
- Cigarette smoking
- Muscle damage through exercise
- Stress: physical, mental and emotional
- Even something as simple as a sunburn
For all of its protective benefits, inflammation is a double-edged sword. It may become self-perpetuating, causing rather than alleviating disease. Autoimmune Disease is an illustration of this, occurring when inflammation is unable to differentiate between proteins and invaders. As a result, it attacks the body’s own tissues. Huntington’s Disease, whereby a genetic defect causes a defective protein which inflammation seeks to neutralize, inadvertently wages war on the body itself.
Similarly, whenever the underlying causes of general inflammation are not relieved, inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation has been found to precipitate most diseases (including asthma, allergies, and psoriasis), certainly including diseases of aging like frailty, diabetes, wrinkles, and cancer.
Chronic inflammation is also strongly linked to neurodegenerative decline, be it the mild loss of memory, learning ability, and concentration that characterizes aging, or the menacing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, or MS. This is suggested by the presence of two inflammatory markers -- microglial cells and COX-2 enzymes. (Microglials are brain cells whose mission is to engulf and eliminate neurons that have been killed by injury or illness. In doing so, however, they can stimulate production of dangerous neurotoxins and free radicals. COX-2 enzymes are also an inflammatory response that likewise have dangerous side effects. They provide a pathway for the making of powerful pain- and inflammation-triggering prostaglandins.)
Chronic inflammation may also be associated with obesity, though as a consequence rather than a cause. Researchers have found that obese people, regardless of age, have a high quantity of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in their blood. While obese men displayed twice the normal amount of CRP, women studied exhibited as much as 8 times the quantity, indicating obese females have an elevated risk of chronic inflammation.
In the next instalment of our anti-aging series, we look at a second aging precipitator: insulin management, its influence on cancer and its promotion of insulin resistance.