It’s a great time to grow old: the discovery of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the DNA on our telomeres (the tiny “shoelace caps” that shorten with age), is a massive step forward for longevity. And nonagenarians, no longer a novelty, are blazing trails in business and technology. Like 94-year-old physicist John Goodenough, who recently filed a patent for a new kind of battery that may revolutionize electric cars and end our dependence on fossil fuel.
Yet despite these breakthroughs, we’re far from creating a nation of brilliant centenarians. Why? Take a look at how we live, says Deepak Chopra, M.D. Our telomeres are at high risk if we:
- Are exposed to severe life stress
- Have a history of being treated for anxiety or depression
- Lack social support from friends and family
- Lead a sedentary lifestyle with no regular exercise
- Suffer from chronic insomnia, or sleep fewer than 7 hours a night
- Consume a diet high in fat, processed foods and sugar, without sufficient fiber and omega-3 fatty acids
- Are exposed to cigarette smoke, pesticides, and other chemical toxins.
While seniors in their eighties and beyond may be exempt from some aspects of this list, it describes many Boomers, the oldest of whom are now past 70, to a “T”. And that doesn’t bode well for a healthy old age.
What we can learn from indigenous cultures
Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., a medical anthropologist, psychologist, and shaman, studied indigenous cultures in the Amazon and Andes for more than thirty years. To his surprise, he found zero cancer, zero heart disease, and zero dementia. What he discovered goes hand-in-glove with telomere research.
Seniors (or anyone, of any age) can “grow a new body using ancient healing secrets,” says Villoldo. “Modern medicine does not look after our health; it looks after our disease. If you live to be 85 today, 50 percent of the population will have diagnosable Alzheimer’s: a terrifying thought when you realize that 150 years ago, Dr. Alzheimer hadn’t even been born! A senior cannot explore higher consciousness, or even feel good about themselves, if they have Alzheimer’s disease.”
How can we prevent these extraordinary “killers of civilization”, so our health span equals our lifespan? In two primary ways, says Villoldo:
1) Detoxify. We’ve been exposed to huge amounts of toxins in the last century: heavy metals such as mercury (in fish, dental fillings, and pollution generated from coal burning in China); lead plumbing, aluminum cookware, pesticides. Sugar is equivalent to a recreational drug; it’s eight times as addictive as cocaine. A century ago, we consumed five pounds of sugar per person per year; today, each of us eats 195 pounds of sugar a year! Sugar switches off the longevity gene in our cells. As we detoxify, we begin to trigger the natural production of stem cells in the body.
2) Give the body what it needs. Omega 3 fatty acids and neuro-nutrients (superfoods) trigger the production of stem cells in your brain, says Villoldo. “You need to be able to feed your higher brain. The lower, limbic brain lives in scarcity and greed, is not able to forgive because of resentment and rage: this brain feeds on sugars. To get to the higher states of consciousness where you can dream your world into being with beauty and grace, you need to turn on the higher order neural networks, which feed on good fats: coconut oil, avocado oil. Once you engage it fully, the brain fog goes away.”
The plant medicines he recommends:
- Curcumin (found in the spice turmeric)
- Resveratrol (found in the skin of grapes)
- Sulforaphane (a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, e.g., broccoli and cabbage)
All three are becoming popular dietary supplements. “In the laboratory, we found these plants switched on more than 200 longevity genes inside the cells, and switched off more than 500 genes that create disease: breast cancer, heart disease, inflammation.”
Surely you jest!
Ed Park, M.D., M.P.H., would no doubt agree with Villoldo’s assessment. Credentialed from Harvard and Columbia, Park didn’t think much about aging, or question prevailing doctrine, until his father was diagnosed with brain cancer when Park was 38. At that moment, he began studying telomeres. As the 19th patient and the first doctor to begin using a telomerase activator, his mission is to “convey a new, unified theory of aging and disease based on telomeres and stem cells.”
Yet despite his faith in telomerase, he champions the importance of gut-level healing. “If exercise and diet are the king and queen, the immune system is maybe the jester!” he says.
His 5-point prescription for increasing telomerase activity without supplementation:
1) Practice peace, love and understanding
2) Focus the mind on your breath: this puts you in the moment and relaxes you
3) Laughter: Dr. Park ran into an old flame he hadn’t seen in 25 years, and she “hadn’t aged a day. She laughed at the end of every sentence,” he says. Similarly, a 112-year-old lady he had the pleasure of meeting was telling dirty jokes and cracking people up!
4) Gratitude: being able to go with the flow and make something positive out of whatever happens
5) Sleep! Deep sleep, for at least 8 hours a night, allows the body to repair itself. It’s a myth, he says, that older people need less sleep; the exact opposite is often true.
Exceptions that become the new norm
Ninety-year-old Louise Hay, a mentor of mine for 30 years, writes, “I have come to learn that premature aging begins in your mind. A San Francisco medical school discovered that the way we age is not determined by genes, but by something called the aging set point — a biological clock that exists in our minds. This mechanism actually monitors when and how we begin to age by how we think. The set point, or aging clock, is regulated in large part by one important factor: our attitudes toward growing old.
“For instance, if you believe 35 is middle-aged, this belief triggers biological changes in your body that cause it to accelerate the aging process when you reach 35. Isn’t it fascinating! Somewhere, somehow, we decide what is ‘middle age’ and what is ‘old age.’ I have this image in my mind that I am going to live to 96 and still be active, so it’s very important that I keep myself healthy.”
If one or more of your reverse mortgage clients is envisioning an encore career well beyond what used to be “retirement age,” the new wisdom about gut health, telomeres and mindset may help you support their evolving perspective. An 82-year-old restaurateur and techno DJ, for instance, is having a blast. One young club patron enthuses, “She’s got this energy that goes beyond age, that can equal any person here.” Sumiko Iwamuro has been running her restaurant for 60 years, but only started DJ’ing in her 70s — after a year of training.
What are your thoughts on creating a health span to equal our lifespan? Please leave your input in the Comments section below, and share this post on social media using the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn icons at the top of this page. Thank you!