April 16, 2011

PHILIPPINES: Aging is now considered a disease.

MANILA / Manila Bulletin / Lifestyle / April 16, 2011

Never Feel Old
If Symptoms Persist...
Aging is now considered a disease. Or, as my favorite beatnik philosopher Alan Watts would have said, aging is now considered a dis-ease. This mind shift among health professionals and increasingly, among the educated public has tremendous implications in the way we approach the aging process.
In the past, physical aging was resignedly expected. Now, with better science and greater access to knowledge, our bodies can be tweaked and tinkered with for optimal function to the very end.

One new fact is that only 30% of any man or woman’s longevity can be blamed on genetic factors. Health behavior – the choice of food, environment, and activity – accounts for 70% of living long and strong. For indeed, worldwide, this new century will not only see an active elderly population (the elderly defined as 65+) but also a new group called the “oldest-old,” or those 85 and older. 20% of the world’s elderly population or 61 million people are in the oldest old. By 2020, this group will double to 146 million.

So what causes aging? Three main areas contribute to aging and death: aging of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system), aging of the immune system, and aging caused by accidents and the environment. Clogging of the arteries from a diet of highly saturated fat can cause heart attacks and strokes. A weak immune system and environmental toxins may cause some forms of cancer. Of course, accidents may mean premature death.

What accelerates aging? There are lifestyle choices that pull you closer to an early grave. These are: overeating and poor nutrition, smoking of whatever form, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise, lack of mental challenge, and feeling unloved or uncared for. How many of these can you control? All of them.

Successful aging. According to Dr. John Rowe of the Mount Sinai Hospital and School of Medicine, successful aging is the ability to maintain three key behaviors. These are:
* Actions that produce low risk of disease.
* High mental and physical action.
* Active engagement with life.

Prevention is the main action in producing low risk of disease. Therefore, know your numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body weight, etc. See a doctor and determine if measures – diet, medication, supplementation or surgery – are needed for correction.

“High mental and physical action” means continuing mental and physical independence. Having to depend on someone because of disease or disability causes depression in the elderly. I am sure that you have heard of old people dying of sadness.

Finally, older people like everyone else, need love and respect. Active engagement thus means a continuing role in society as guru or sage. At home it can be as simple as feeling useful and needed. In the community, it can be mean mentoring, volunteering, or any action that keeps the elderly integrated.

What’s on the horizon? Two – human growth hormone (hGH) and sex steroids.

In theory, since hGH and testosterone (or estrogen) are responsible for the rapid growth and maturation in adolescence, replenishing them in old age will reverse the effects of aging. In fact, a study (from the Journal of the American Medical Association) said that combined hGH and sex steroids did just that – increased lean body mass and decreased fat in both men and women subjects. So is this the new silver bullet? It’s too soon to say. Long-term risks and side-effects are not completely known.

We all grow old. Aging gracefully, now that is a matter of choice. Because you may grow old but it’s a choice NOT to feel old.

Dr. Jose S. Pujalte, Jr is an orthopedic surgeon.
E-mail jspujalte@yahoo.com

Copyright 2011. Manila Bulletin