Anti-Aging Medicine: What Is It and Does It Work?
The aging process is the same for everyone, but how fast it occurs depends on genetic and environmental factors. Scientists compare populations that age slowly with those that boast large numbers of centenarians to gather clues about the aging process and how to slow it. As your body ages, it loses its ability to adapt to your environment.1 The life expectancy of humans has almost doubled in developed countries over the past century. However, longer life spans mean an increased prevalence of age-related diseases.2
Anti-aging medicine tries to understand the metabolic and genetic changes that occur over a lifetime and lead to the symptoms associated with aging. Understanding these changes can lead to medications and treatments that slow or even reverse the aging process in humans. Progress in anti-aging medicine is expected to accelerate over the next few decades. Many anti-aging products have already shown great promise for slowing the aging process.
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What Is Anti-Aging Medicine?
Anti-aging medicine is a rapidly growing medical field focused on preventing or slowing the aging process. Anti-aging medicine targets the superficial signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, along with less visible signs, such as changes in liver function and blood vessel flexibility. These products cannot and are not designed to prevent aging from occurring. Reversing the signs and symptoms of aging may be on the horizon as scientists learn how to better manipulate gene function and reprogram human cells. Future anti-aging technology may make age reversal a possibility. Anti-aging has been achieved in earthworms and other simpler creatures, but in humans, making changes that slow the aging process inevitably causes unwarranted side effects, such as increasing the risk of cancer.
Examples Of Anti-Aging Drugs
Autophagy is an essential housekeeping process in your cells that allows them to eliminate damaged cell organelles, abnormal or misfolded proteins, and infectious pathogens. Autophagy reduces stress on cells and helps them maintain a stable internal environment. Enhancing autophagy is a useful treatment for many diseases and conditions, including metabolic disorders, neurodegenerative conditions, cancers, and infections. Autophagy has a significant role in the aging process. Medications believed to have anti-aging benefits enhance the autophagy process. Examples of these medications include metformin, resveratrol, rapamycin, and everolimus.2 Large prospective placebo-controlled clinical trials are underway or planned to test metformin and its anti-aging properties, including the Metformin in Longevity Study (MILES) and Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME).3
How To Slow Down Signs of Aging
While, at this point, aging isn’t preventable, this has not stopped society’s desire to look and feel younger. While aging is inevitable, scientists worldwide are actively exploring medications and treatment options that may slow the process. By 2030, the anti-aging market is expected to grow to around $119.6 billion. And while breakthrough anti-aging products supported by controlled scientific studies are increasingly available, so are unsafe medications, supplements, and creams that are a waste of money and can even harm your health.
Until the risks and benefits of these medications and surgeries to reduce the appearance of aging are better understood, it is better to make lifestyle modifications that improve your health and well-being and are likely to add years of healthy living to your lifespan. Read 8 Healthy Aging Tips: How to Promote Wellness as You Age and How to Stay Healthy With Age to learn more about lifestyle choices you can make to extend your healthy lifespan.
Avoid Tobacco and Alcohol
Smoking causes early aging, especially premature skin wrinkles, discolorations, and sagging. Cigarette smoke contains toxins that stress body cells, damage blood vessels, damage lung tissue, lead to premature skin aging, and increase cancer risk.4 Telomeres are caps that protect the ends of chromosomes. A shorter telomere length is a marker for cellular aging. In a review of 84 clinical studies, telomere length was shorter in smokers than in people who had never smoked. There was an inverse relationship between smoking pack years and telomere length.5
Nicotine and other chemicals narrow blood vessels. This reduces blood flow to your skin and increases the risk of impotence, another condition that becomes more common with aging. Cigarette smoke also contains carcinogens, cancer-causing substances that damage cells and cause changes to your genetic code that remove the brakes on cell division.
Alcohol use, especially excess consumption or binge drinking, stresses the liver, increases cancer risk, and can worsen many medical conditions. As people age, they tend to require more prescription medications, and alcohol can interact with these medications. Decreases in key hormones associated with aging, such as testosterone, and health conditions that result from changes in hormone levels and damage to blood vessels, such as erectile dysfunction, are more common with aging and can be made worse with alcohol use.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and hormone that is produced in the skin after exposure to ultraviolet light or consumed in the diet. Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in parts of the world further from the equator. People who cannot go outdoors, must always use sunscreen, or have darker-pigmented skin are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. Immune cells have receptors for vitamin D, and having adequate stores can help reduce your risk of infection. Vitamin D may also support weight management, reduce inflammation, and boost mood.
Get outdoors to exercise, commune with nature, and boost your vitamin D.
Improve Your Sleeping Habits
Sleep is an active process. Many people think their brains slow down or become inactive during sleep, but research suggests this is false. Your brain uses sleep to repair damage to body cells, restore hormones and chemicals in the body, remove waste, and consolidate memories. Sleep deprivation can worsen chronic medical conditions and negatively affect weight management, immune health, mood, memory, and cognition. It’s never too late to improve your sleep habits. It is never too early to think about anti-aging, and getting adequate sleep is an anti-aging strategy you can implement today.
Tips to improve sleep:
- Improve your sleep environment: Your sleep space should be uncluttered, cool, dark, and quiet.
- Use your bed for sleep and sex only: Your brain needs to associate your bed with these activities. Develop a consistent calming routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep.
- Limit caffeine intake: People metabolize caffeine at different rates. If you metabolize caffeine slowly, even a caffeinated beverage at lunchtime may negatively affect your sleep.6
- Reduce or abstain from alcohol: Alcohol makes you sleepy and may shorten the time you need to fall asleep, but it can also cause insomnia and frequent awakenings throughout the night.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: Your body has a 24-hour circadian rhythm. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day supports this rhythm.
- Watch your diet: Avoid heavy meals, greasy foods, and alcoholic beverages before bedtime.
- Reduce stress: Try yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises to reduce stress and fall asleep easier.
- Get regular exercise: Exercise improves sleep and reduces stress. Track your exercise timing and sleep to see whether morning or evening exercise induces better sleep.
Maintain A Well-Balanced Diet
There are so many recommended diets out there. A well-balanced diet supplies your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally, which can look different for each person. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are commonly recommended because they are rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats. Choose whole, unprocessed foods high in fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants.
As you age, nutrition becomes even more important. If you have specific medical needs, consult a nutritionist or dietician for guidance.
Participate In Physical Activities
Exercising and prioritizing physical activity throughout your day is probably the single most important anti-aging strategy. Walking improves cardiovascular health, helps with weight management, reduces the risk of chronic medical conditions such as osteoporosis, reduces blood sugar spikes, improves mood, and helps with balance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend choosing one of the following options:
- Exercising at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for a total of 150 minutes of exercise per week.
- Exercising at a vigorous intensity for 75 minutes per week.
- Doing a combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity exercise.
Besides aerobic exercise, it is important to do strength training sessions at least twice a week. Strength training helps reduce muscle loss associated with aging and improves balance and strength.
There are so many exercise choices available, even some recommended specifically for older and overweight individuals.
Here are a few exercise options to get you started:
- Walking, running, or jogging
- Water aerobics
- Weight training
- Balance exercises
- Yard work or cleaning
- Climbing stairs or hiking
Maintain Your Mental Health
It is essential to keep your brain fit and active to maintain cognitive health. Managing stress is essential to maintaining mental health.
- Get plenty of restful sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Get outside
- Spend time with people you enjoy
- Practice mindfulness and breathing exercises
- Eat healthily
- Listen to music
Brain health and mental health intersect. Improving mood and reducing stress can improve brain health. To maintain brain health and protect against changes associated with aging, it is important to protect your brain cells from toxins and provide them with the nutrients they need to function optimally.
Ways to improve your brain’s health:
- Protect your brain from injury by wearing a helmet and seatbelt. Small insults to the brain accumulate over a lifetime.
- Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain and reduces blood pressure. Therefore, exercise is the single most important anti-aging strategy for your brain and mental health!
- Manage your weight and blood sugar to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease prevalence increases with age. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, choosing a healthy diet that minimizes blood sugar spikes, and avoiding added salt can help reduce the cardiovascular disease associated with aging.
- Limit your exposure to stress. Stress raises blood pressure and blood sugar, which can reduce blood flow to your brain.
- Protect your vision and hearing: Reduced hearing sensitivity, especially to high frequencies, and changes in eyesight, especially peripheral vision, are common with aging. Schedule regular appointments with your eye doctor to identify glaucoma and cataracts early, when they are most treatable.
- Avoid unnecessary medications. Medications are essential to treat some medical conditions, but all medications have side effects.
- Treat high blood pressure and high blood sugar. High blood pressure and high blood sugar put stress on blood vessels, which can reduce blood flow to the brain and increase your risk of blood clots.
- Talk to your doctor about any cognitive changes you notice or any mental health concerns you may have. Prompt treatment may slow cognitive changes associated with aging.
Increase Your Supplement Intake
Many people turn to vitamins and supplements to support their aging metabolism.
Commonly used vitamins and supplements recommended for age management include:
- Sermorelin is a growth hormone secretagogue. Sermorelin can increase muscle mass and strength and reduce body fat.
- Glutathione is a potent antioxidant; glutathione can improve immune function and reduce oxidative stress.
- NAD+ is a universal cellular electron transporter, coenzyme, and signaling molecule that transfers energy from foods to body cells, where it can be used for growth and repair.
- Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant and mitochondrial cofactor that is involved in energy conversion in mitochondria. These organelles produce cellular energy.
- Metformin synergy combines the anti-aging benefits of metformin with leucine and sildenafil, which act synergistically to reduce body weight and triglycerides by activating SIRT1.
Other vitamins and supplements may support cognitive function and improve overall brain health, such as:
- B vitamins such as B12 and B6 may lower homocysteine levels and are involved in many chemical reactions in the brain.
- L-theanine is found in tea and mushrooms and is thought to improve focus and attention.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood and may benefit cognitive health.
- Ginseng: Ginseng contains ginsenosides and gintonin and may improve memory and mood.
- Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is essential for proper immune function.
The best time to start anti-aging practices is now because these vitamins and supplements have benefits that extend beyond anti-aging. Prioritizing a healthy diet and restful sleep, managing stress, and engaging in regular physical activity are likely to pay off in an extended health span, the period of your lifespan in which you are healthy and active.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
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2. Shetty AK, Kodali M, Upadhya R, Madhu LN. Emerging Anti-Aging Strategies – Scientific Basis and Efficacy. Aging Dis. Dec 2018;9(6):1165-1184. doi:10.14336/ad.2018.1026
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6. O’Callaghan F, Muurlink O, Reid N. Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning. Risk Manag Healthc Policy. 2018;11:263-271. doi:10.2147/rmhp.S156404