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Ageing begins on the inside

In 2004 a 25 year longitudinal Australian study reported what most health practitioners regard as a “given” – that the lifestyle decisions we make before age 40 determines how long we’ll live, our quality of health in older age, and our susceptibility to chronic illness.

It’s well documented how the effects of smoking, excessive alcohol & long-term exposure to the sun prematurely age our skin. However – to the exception of most health professionals – many people are unaware that skin and body ageing is immensely accelerated by hormonal and/or nutritional disturbance.

Again nature has presented post-pubertal women with the ‘short straw’, for they are far and away the highest risk group. Of the numerous nutritional deficiencies (or excess) having the potential to cause dry skin – low zinc, high copper, or iron levels are arguably the universal offenders. Many pre-anaemic women have experienced the frustrations of dry, lifeless hair which even the most expensive conditioners fail to correct. At the same time their overall hair density – as well as the individual hairs themselves – suffers a steady decline in fullness.

How Hormones influence the ageing process:

Thyroid gland dysfunction – chiefly the underactive category, is fast becoming the most common autoimmune disease of our age. The thyroid gland is situated in the neck; its 2 lobes laying either side of the larynx (voice box). This hormone-producing gland is so important because every cell in our body must receive minute amounts of thyroid hormone to regulate cell temperature, function and growth. Without thyroid hormone our body’s metabolism and temperature would decline to the point of death.

Women are seven times more likely than men to develop thyroid illness, and it’s estimated around 20% of menopausal women will exhibit symptoms of a failing thyroid. The predominant indications vary between individuals but most relate complaints of profound fatigue with no energy for life, exceptionally dry hair, skin and brittle nails, weight gain, suffer the cold, absent libido, irritable, anxious or depressed.

Low thyroid activity may be the indirect cause of anaemia in some women.
This steady decline of their total being often has a devastating emotional, physical and psychological impact on these unsuspecting women – many of whom hitherto have been active, trim and accomplished, but now report looking and feeling as if they’ve aged 20 or 30 years almost overnight!

Accelerated ageing results from the effects of excessive oxidation and ‘reactive oxygen species’ (ROS) – commonly known as ‘free radicals’ – within our bodies. ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ and stress adaptive responses promote elevated levels of insulin and cortisol – the combined offenders of accelerated ageing in a society that is increasingly overweight, work-exhausted, and suffering nervous tension.

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when two or more of the following problems are evident:

  • Raised blood insulin levels
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Elevated lipids (cholesterol levels)
  • Increasing weight gain around the central abdominal area, hips & buttocks.
  • Chronic stress

At the heart of Metabolic Syndrome is insulin resistance, whereby the body’s cells lose their sensitivity to the action of insulin. Glucose then remains in the bloodstream instead of being taken into the cells for energy production. Continuously elevated blood glucose generates ROS activity and the ‘catabolic’ or destructive breakdown of protein chemical structures – the precursors to premature ageing. Elevated testosterone levels in women may also produce this catabolic effect.

Excess adrenal cortisol obstructs the secretion of a number of vital hormones, as well as their sensitivity on target tissue. Hormones that regulate ovarian/testicular function (gonadatrophins) in the respective sexes are decreased, resulting in lowered oestrogen & testosterone levels. The pituitary gland’s production of growth & thyroid stimulating hormones are blocked by the indirect influences of elevated cortisol, diminishing & disordering the conversion of the thyroid hormones from inactive to active – an under-functioning thyroid eventually being the result.

What’s a Girl to do… ?

It may be a well-worn cliché but “everything in moderation” is still the best approach:

Diet:

Don’t skip meals, and preferably ‘graze’ with 4-6 small meals staggered over the day. Breakfast is still the most important meal as it dictates both blood glucose stability and metabolic rate for the day. A protein-accented diet with fewer carbohydrates (not a carbohydrate-free diet) will aid in stimulating metabolism and therefore better thyroid function. Non-meat protein sources are chickpea, lentils, egg white (the best) and nuts.

A high protein, grain and fibre diet will assist in decreasing excess oestrogen, and raise 2-OH Estrone – the “good” oestrogen in post-menopausal woman that won’t stimulate carcinogenic cell growth.

Cravings for refined, sugary carbohydrates are an indicator of low thyroid function.

Moderate alcohol consumption to the recommended daily amount, and give yourself at least two alcohol-free days per week. Cut back on coffee, cola or other caffeinated drinks. Green tea is high in the amino acid
L-theanine which helps support adrenal function during times of stress.

Exercise: Moderate, regular exercise together with a wholesome balanced diet can restore hormone disparity to a considerable degree. The many forms of aerobic exercise, weights training, yoga or Pilates stretching are immune-building activities that produce positive ‘flow-on’ effects to every system of the body. The endorphins produced when exercising support a calming, anti-depressant effect on the mind and body.

Lifestyle:
  • ‘Recreational’ drugs such as Ecstasy and Amphetamines significantly increase physiological oxidation and cell ageing.
  • Nicotine, responsible for the strong psychological dependence on cigarettes, inhibits the production of an enzyme – 11-beta-hydroxylase – which is required to produce the vital hormone DHEA. DHEA production should peak around 20-25 years of age. There is a correlation between low DHEA and the onset of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, allergies, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and osteoporosis. Cigarette smoking does have an adverse affect on hair growth as it vaso-constricts and progressively destroys the micro-capillary network to the hair bulb. It’s also believed toxic chemicals contained in cigarette smoke interfere with matrix cell DNA synthesis of the forming hair.
  • If you’re experiencing anything more than slight pre-menstrual discomfort or you are under intense stress, take a saliva test for your hormone levels. Saliva is more sensitive and accurate for the assay of fat-soluble steroid hormones than is the serum (“watery” part) of blood. Ask your Doctor to check your iron levels – particularly iron storage – twice per year. Research suggests a woman’s iron storage (known as ‘ferritin’) should be greater than 80ug/L for optimal hair growth. Bio-identical hormone replacement experts advocate 120ug/L for hormone stability.
  • Minimise your exposure to the synthetic hormones of contraceptives, environmental oestrogens (from meat production, pesticides, fertilizers and petrochemical products) and particularly hormone replacement therapy.

For decades pharmaceutical companies have waged a relentless PR campaign to convince women and their Doctors that patented synthetic hormones and naturally- occurring endocrine hormones (produced by a woman’s own body) are identical. Simply put, a woman has receptors sites for oestrogen produced from her own ovaries. She does not have receptor sites for pregnant horse’s URINE, from which Premarin is made.

Provera is a Progestin – an imitation form of progesterone – made from synthetic testosterone. It has been called”schizophrenic progesterone” as it has very limited progesterone – like effects on a woman’s endometrium, but also produces the adverse effects of testosterone in women – androgenetic alopecia, increased facial hair, and mood disturbance. Progestin has none of the beneficial effects of Progesterone, instead creating symptoms of progesterone deficiency. More alarmingly the Women’s Health Initiative hormone study found Provera increased the risk of breast cancer by 26%, heart disease by 29%, and Alzheimer’s Dementia by 200%.