The secret to looking and feeling young...
Is it possible to change the way you age and stay healthy and youthful for longer? Author and physician Dr Sara Gottfried thinks so. She lets us in on the top tips from her latest book Younger
At the age of 44, Dr Sara Gottfried became interested in telomeres - the 'protective caps' at the end of chromosomes which shorten as we get older.
Telomeres are a key biomarker of biological ageing but what fascinated Sara was the idea that the rate at which telomeres shorten can be accelerated, slowed and even reversed.
"I always test things on myself before I test them on my patients so I decided to test my own telomeres first," she explains. The result came as a shock. "At the age of 44, I had the telomeres of a 64-year old woman! Nobody wants to get that news."
Sara's background made the news even harder to digest. She is a Harvard and MIT-educated physician practicing integrative and functional medicine, a board-certified gynecologist and the author of two New York Times bestsellers: The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet.
"My previous work had all been on hormones," she adds. "I was in a pretty good hormonal state so I just couldn't understand why I was ageing so fast.
"I could see that many of my patients had the same problem - yet it was a problem that nobody was talking about. I was in a crisis and I had to do something about it, so that set off a scientific exploration to really find out why it was that I was ageing so fast."
Sara's research for her latest book, Younger, uncovered some uncomfortable truths about the ageing process: after 35, your body fat rises 1pc per year unless you take specific action to build more muscle; ageing accelerates at 40 and, by the age of 50, you've lost, on average, 15pc of your lean body mass.
Sure enough, when Sara starting writing her book, she was at what she describes as a decent weight with a body mass index (BMI) of 25. However, she also had what she calls a 'thass' - a word her daughters Gemma (17) and Maya (12) taught her to describe the outline of the body when there is no demarcation between the bottom and thighs.
Meanwhile, she had always heard from older friends that she needed to reach her ideal body weight before the age of 40 because, after that age, her metabolism would slow down and future weight loss would come "not from my belly, but from my face".
Her research revealed that they were absolutely right. Fat loss does indeed occur in a woman's face, as opposed to her belly, after a certain age because "collagen no longer undergirds the architecture of the facial skin and bones".
If this is all beginning to sound terribly depressing, worry not. During her research, she made another discovery: women who take 2.5-5 grams of collagen hydrolysate daily dramatically improve their skin elasticity in eight weeks. Sara started drinking collagen lattes (recipe right) and the effects were "profound" (and apparently better than Botox and fillers).
Sara, who lives in Berkeley, California, also had her genome sequenced as part of her research. Again, she received "a lot of bad news". She discovered that she carries what is known as the 'Famine Gene'. "People, such as the Irish who outlived the potato famine or Ashkenazi Jews who survived programmes in Eastern Europe, are gifted at banking fat," she explains. "They stay alive during times of hardship, when food is scarce."
"I'm half Irish and half Polish, so I'm programmed for insulin resistance. I'm also programmed to like to drink a lot. I found that both of those are potentially assets, but in terms of fitting into my skinny jeans and not suffering with hangovers, I had to make some decisions based on my genes."
Her research largely focused on the emerging field of epigenetics. Where once we believed that we were slaves to our genes, epigentics is proving that they are only one part of the picture. Sara likes to use the axiom that 'genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger'.
"When I went through my medical training, we really believed that you were stuck with the genes you inherited," she explains, "but what we've learnt since then with epigenetics is that you may be stuck with the genes that you have but not with the way the genes talk with the rest of your body.
"So, you know, overall you can change the way your genes talk to the rest of your body by 70-90pc. And most of the diseases related to ageing - if you take that subset - 90pc of those genes can be modulated by your environment, most of which is determined by your lifestyle choices."
Sara is proof of this. After years of researching the ageing process and adjusting her lifestyle and diet accordingly, she has essentially reversed the ageing process. She had her telomeres tested again last November and, at the age of 49 (she turned 50 last month), she had the telomeres of a 52-year-old.
Her body is leaner, her cheeks are plumper and her 'thass' is no more. More importantly, she has made the lifestyle changes necessary to prevent age-related illness.
'There's a history of Alzheimer's in my family so I always thought I'll worry about that in my fifties or sixties, but the truth is that you want to be making those tweaks that add up over the decades in your twenties, thirties and forties." Once again, Dr Sara Gottfried has delivered a book that empowers readers by helping them to understand the inner workings of their bodies.
Younger combines cutting-edge research and vigorous scientific data with a holistic mindset, and covers every aspect of ageing.
If you spend every morning looking for your car keys or every evening examining wrinkles in the magnifying
* AVOID PROCESSED FOOD
"If it didn't come out of or walk on the ground and isn't recognisable as a plant or meat or fish, avoid it. Of course, processed foods fall along a continuum: macadamia nuts are less processed than macadamia oil. The point is to avoid foods with five or more ingredients that you cannot easily pronounce, or fake food that comes in a box with a long shelf life."
* EAT MORE PROTEIN & LESS CARBS
"Purchase clean protein and have about 80-120 grams (three to four ounces) of animal or plant protein at each meal, which will help switch on your longevity genes. Ideally, eat meats only from animals fed in their natural habitats: pastured chicken and grass-fed beef, buffalo, and venison. Limit pork and processed meats such as sausage. Set your goal of low and slow carbs to decrease inflammation and glycation. Stock up on sweet potatoes, yams, yucca, and quinoa."
* SIT LESS/MOVE MORE
"Even if you have a desk job, get up at least once every 45 minutes. Set a timer on your smartphone or wear a tracker that measures your standing time. Do a one-minute burst of enthusiastic dancing after sitting for an hour. Invest in a stand-up or treadmill desk, and use it daily (I've walked more than two thousand miles on mine while writing this book). Aim to find bursts of movement that fold into your natural rhythm. Practice fifty heel lifts while you chat on the phone or queue at the grocery shop. The point is to find moments of movement rather than only forced discipline that's devoid of pleasure."
* TAKE RESVERATOL (OR DRINK PINOT NOIR MODERATELY)
"Resveratrol has been shown to fight the effects of ageing on a cellular level and to mimic the benefits of calorie restriction. The dose is 200mg once per day. Pinot noir contains the highest concentration of resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes (and blueberries) that may offer several anti-ageing benefits, including prevention of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer - data in humans are mixed. Three studies even suggest resveratrol may mimic the longevity-enhancing effects - but unpopular tactic - of caloric restriction. Effects are most impressive in people who are obese, with a BMI greater than 30. Resveratrol concentrations in pinot noir were higher than in other varietals across the world, except in the Trentino region in Italy, where the levels in cabernet sauvignon were higher."
* GET BETTER SLEEP
"Sleep deprivation changes the expression of one in three genes. Sleeping five hours or fewer a night equates to ageing an extra four to five years, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Go to bed before ten, or at least thirty minutes before your usual bedtime, and sleep seven to eight and a half hours. Go to sleep at the same time every night, seven nights a week. Get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Binge sleeping doesn't work because you lose the normal sleep architecture and sleep quality suffers. Try to keep sleep architecture almost exactly the same every single night this week."
* TAKE A VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENT
"Vitamin D affects at least three thousand genes. Generally, I recommend about 2,000 to 5,000 IUs/day, but the best strategy given the multiple genes involved in vitamin D metabolism is to track your blood level over time. Take enough vitamin D to keep your level 60 to 90 ng/mL. The target range shifts slightly based on research updates, so the range may be adjusted in the future. If your serum vitamin D is usually less than 60 ng/mL, don't worry, as it's unclear whether higher levels will benefit your telomeres - higher levels have not been studied for correlation with telomere length. As you'll find with many nutrients, there is a U-shaped curve between vitamin D and health, so too little is bad, and too much is bad too. You want just the right amount for your biology."
* DRINK GREEN TEA
"A morning cup of green tea not only wakes you up without the usual rev of caffeine but also provides a rich dose of polyphenols, antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress from making you old and sick, and it inhibits phase one while stimulating phase two of liver detoxification. It also stimulates an important transcription factor called Nrf2, which regulates oxidative damage. One of the shining stars of green tea's cast of characters is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) contained in green tea leaves, stems, and buds."
* TRY INTERMITTENT FASTING
"Intermittent fasting turns on SIRT1 [aka the 'skinny gene'] and turns off the mTOR gene; when hyperactive, mTOR is associated with Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and early mortality. Practice intermittent fasting by waiting 12 to 18 hours between dinner and breakfast. For instance, stop eating at 6 p.m., and eat again at noon the next day for an 18-hour fast, which seems to work best in women. Be sure to eat a nutrient-dense meal before the fast to make sure you have the nutrients you need. For weight loss, perform intermittent fasting twice per week. For the ageing benefit alone, perform once per week. When you fast for a longer interval overnight, inflammation clears up and you may reduce your risk of breast cancer."
* RESEARCH THE 'BLUE ZONES'
"Five cultures in the world are famous for the longest-living residents. They have certain habits in common that switch on the right genes and switch off the wrong genes when it comes to ageing, which results in the people in these cultures living twelve years longer than the average person in the rest of the world. Think of it as DNA whispering. They all live on the coast or in the mountains. They eat fish. They consume fresh food in season. They dine on a particular superfood that is rich in antioxidants, such as seaweed in Okinawa, Japan, where women live the longest."
* MAKE OR BUY BONE BROTH
"Consuming bone broth is one of the best ways to replenish collagen in your body so that your hair regains lustre, your nails, joints, and teeth strengthen, and your gut seals over the leaky junctions between cells. Your body's production of collagen declines with age, leading to wrinkles, neck waddles, and weak joint cartilage. For our family, making bone broth is the most convenient way to get collagen into our food plan. If that sounds disgusting, just start with chicken bones, filtered water, and a slow cooker - the slow cooking breaks the collagen down into gelatin. You'll be amazed."
* ACTIVATE YOUR 'METABOLIC MASTER SWITCH' WITH BERBERINE
"Blood sugar rises with age, starting at 50, and berberine is one of the supplements proven to help you normalise serum glucose. Not only that, berberine will cool inflammation in your body, lower cholesterol, assist weight loss, and behave like an antioxidant. I recommend it if your fasting blood sugar is greater than 85 mg/dL. Take 300 to 500 milligrams once to three times per day, which has been shown to activate an important enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or AMP, nicknamed "metabolic master switch."
* HIT THE SAUNA
"If you want to live long and healthy, you need molecular chaperones to tend to your DNA, and that's what sitting in a sauna provides. Sauna is a heat stressor, a form of hormesis that resets the body, including the DNA. It's like a bench press for your longevity genes, but without the grunting. When you sit in a sauna, you activate the longevity gene called FOXO3, which turns on the genes for stress resilience, antioxidant production, protein maintenance, DNA repair (prevents mutations), and tumour killing. Most of these genes decrease their genomic expression with age. You won't be surprised to learn that when you make more FOXO3, you triple your chance of living to one hundred."
* FLEX YOUR BRAINPOWER
"What you don't exercise atrophies. It's true for muscles, and it's true for your brain. The stimulation of adult education reduces the risk of dementia by 75pc. When you stop engaging in cognitively stimulating activities like crossword puzzles, games, baking, or staying up on current events, your brain can go south. Picking them up again can help reverse mild to moderate symptoms of Alzheimer's."
* TRY BURST-TRAINING
"Cavemen and women tended to exercise in bursts: a quick run to the river to fetch water and carry a bucket back to the tribe, a jog with a sick infant to a neighbour's dwelling for help. Our bodies perform well with burst training, and then recover at a moderate intensity for one to three minutes. Protocols vary; use one that makes the most sense for you. Burst training can be applied to cardio exercise - e.g., intermittently sprinting on a trail alternating with a jog."
INTRODUCE OIL PULLING TO YOUR DENTAL HYGIENE ROUTINE
"Start swishing with coconut or sesame oil, a practice called oil pulling. Take one to two teaspoons of coconut oil, place it in your mouth to melt and, keeping your lips closed, swish for five to 20 minutes. Don't swallow. This will reset the microbiome in your mouth."
* SOOTHE STRAINED EYES
"It's common to feel eye strain from near work on the laptop and smartphone. Here is one of my favourites, called palming. Your eye muscles can become fatigued just like muscles elsewhere, but we rarely think to relax them actively. Rub your hands together vigorously, then place you warm hands on your eyes to soothe and relax the muscles. Leave them there, applying gentle pressure for about one minute. Palming relaxes strained eyes."
* TRY A MANTRA
"Sylvia Boorstein is one of my favourite teachers of loving-kindness. Here's one of her meditations to focus your thoughts:
May I feel protected and safe.
May I feel content and pleased.
May my physical body provide
me with strength.
May my life unfold smoothly with ease."
* Younger by Dr Sara Gottfried is in bookshops now. Always talk to your doctor before taking a new vitamin or supplement.
Health & Living