Factors That Affect the Aging Process
©Copyright 2010 by Robert Chuckrow
Whereas much is scientifically known about the aging process, there is widespread misunderstanding on this subject. What follows is an attempt to clarify the basic ideas about aging.
The word aging implies change as a result of the passage of time. It is a common mistake to disregard the mechanisms of aging and to place the main emphasis on the factor of time alone. The aging process does not result solely from chronological age. Instead, the critical factor is the length of time during which events occur that are injurious to the body and its cells. Whereas there are many mechanisms by which aging occurs (some of which are not fully understood), scientists have a basic understanding of the general categories of factors that initiate cell damage resulting in aging. Let us examine these factors, some of which are impossible to prevent, but others of which can be prevented with a bit of knowledge and effort.
Radiation in this context refers to the emanations of particles or electromagnetic energy from radioactive decay or from man-made processes such as x-ray photography of the human body.
In non-massive amounts, such radiation damages individual cells. Damaged cells may be impaired in their function (such as a muscle cells losing their ability to contract). As time passes and the number of impaired cells increases, the entire muscle (in this example), which is composed of a very large number of individual cells, becomes impaired in its general functioning. If the cells in question are that of an organ, as time passes, that organ will become decreasingly able to perform its function, and other organs will, in turn, be affected. Eventually, when the proportion of these damaged cells throughout the body reaches a certain degree, the organs cannot fulfill their functions. The individual cannot survive the resulting avalanche effect and dies.
The damaging effects of radiation occur cell by cell and are a substantial part of the aging process.
Another effect is that cells that are damaged by radiation may lose their ability to reproduce, and, therefore, healing of injuries is increasingly limited as the number of such damaged cells increases. Or, the cell damaged by radiation may still retain the ability to reproduce but generates defective copies, or, it reproduces excessively, causing a tumor to be formed.
Last, consider a reproductive cell such as a sperm in the male or an egg in the female. If this cell becomes damaged or has originated from other damaged cells and takes part in sexual reproduction, the resulting offspring can be seriously deformed.
The effect on offspring is probabilistic; namely, the greater the amount of radiation, the larger the proportion of damaged genetic cells. Consequently, the probability that the offspring will be defective increases with exposure to radiation.
In experiments with animals exposed to radiation, the damage to cells is proportional to the radiation exposure. This proportionality holds for amounts of radiation so low that they are barely measurable. There appears to be no “threshold” of radiation below which there is no damage.1
Ways in Which We Are Exposed to Radiation
Some radiation is unavoidable because it comes from outer space and from natural objects such as rocks. Other radiation results from nuclear explosions or from the venting of radioactive materials into the air, which occurs either accidentally or routinely in nuclear power plants. Still other radiation is received from medical x-rays. By eliminating all medical radiation other than that which is crucial (e.g., x-rays for a broken bone), we can cut the harmful effects of radiation approximately in half. It should be noted that dental x-rays constitute a very low exposure compared to chest x-rays. Also, x-rays to the extremities are not as bad as those to the trunk of the body, wherein lie the organs. X-rays to the genital area are especially to be avoided if one expects to conceive offspring. There is reason to suspect that chest x-rays may contribute to breast cancer.
Presently there is a growing concern among scientists that the electromagnetic radiation from power lines, television sets, computer monitors, electric stoves and heaters, etc. causes damage to cells. The extent of this danger is presently unknown, but it is best to play safe and minimize such exposure. A recent report in Macworld Magazine on the emission ranges of monitors regularly used with Macintosh computers explains some of the risks.2
Free radicals are molecules that are ingested or produced within the body that combine haphazardly with the molecules of living cells. Free radicals damage the cells of all the bodily organs —especially the heart and arteries.
Free radicals are formed in foods during processing, storage, or cooking. Fats, especially unsaturated ones, are subject to free-radical formation when they are exposed to heat, light, or oxygen. To avoid the introduction of free radicals into the body, you should avoid damaged fats. Damaged fats include not only foods fried in vegetable oil but bottled oils, most of which have been exposed to processing, heat, light, and oxygen. Since fats are essential to health, one should eat a moderate amount of fats that occur in raw, whole seeds and nuts or in steamed or baked cold-water fish. Such foods are rich in undamaged “essential fatty acids.” The undesirable fats should be avoided. An excellent book on fats and oils by Udo Erasmus3 is essential reading.
Once free radicals have been introduced into the body, they are removed and their damaging effect is offset by substances called anti-oxidants. Vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium are examples of anti-oxidants. It is ironic that the very oils which produce the free radicals have had the vitamin E removed in the refining process. Moreover, white flour, the staple of the American diet, has had all of the zinc and vitamin E removed, as well as other vital nutrients. When the natural anti-oxidants are unavailable, the body utilizes cholesterol to clean out the free radicals. To attempt to reduce blood cholesterol levels by removing cholesterol from the diet does not address the problem of free radicals and may place an additional burden on the body to manufacture its own cholesterol. The answer is to lower intake of free radicals and increase the intake of antioxidants.
Another manner in which cells are damaged is by not receiving the nutrients required for their functioning, repair, or reproduction. Every cell in our body requires a supply of oxygen, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, sugar, etc. Every cell also requires that waste products such as carbon dioxide be eliminated from it. It is not sufficient to eat a “well-balanced diet.” The food must be digested, absorbed into the bloodstream, and routed to the appropriate cells. Optimal digestion and absorption are unlikely when foodstuffs are haphazardly consumed without regard to their mode of digestion and the effect of one upon the digestion of the other. Full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this book but can be found in Herbert Shelton’s excellent book on combining foods.4
Unfortunately, most foods lack essential vitamins and minerals. This lack results from forcing foods to grow in impoverished soil, from losing vitamins and minerals during processing, or from purposely removing nutrients. For example, wheat products such as bread, pasta, cake, cookies, crackers, and cereals are made almost exclusively from white flour rather than whole-wheat flour. Even bread labeled “made from 100% whole-wheat flour” is often made primarily from white flour and some 100% whole-wheat flour, as can be verified by reading the list of ingredients. White flour is whole wheat, from which is removed most of the magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, chromium, vitamin E, and B vitamins. Then iron (in a less assimilable form) plus three B vitamins are added as a token gesture (“enriching”). In addition to our being deprived of essential nutrients, we are subjected to the stresses discussed next, some of which increase our requirements for vitamins and minerals. Gary Price Todd5 has written a valuable book that clarifies the role of supplements.
Repeated Cellular Reproductive Demand
Widespread or repeated damage to cells requires many cell divisions for the repair of the damage. The greater the number of reproductions that occurs, the greater the probability that errors will be made. Such errors can result in (a) tissue that is unable to perform its specialized function, (b) an inability to reproduce past a certain point, and (c) cancerous growth.
Excessive or Insufficient Sunlight
Health consequences stem from exposure to too much or too little sunlight (see article on sunlight).
There are many important restorative effects that occur during sleep. During the day, our body is under the constant pull of gravity in a vertical direction. Gravity compresses the spine and requires the heart and vascular system to pump blood against its pull. When sleeping, which is usually done lying down, the heart and vascular system can rest, and the spine can regenerate. Of course, merely lying down will give similar benefits, but there are other benefits that only occur during sleep. For example, certain hormones such as growth hormone and cortisol are secreted only during sleep. Also, the brain and nervous system go into a state that does not occur while awake. Many of the benefits of sleep occur during meditation, and those who meditate regularly often require much less sleep.
Stimulants such as coffee, tea, and chocolate cause difficulty in falling asleep, and then, the minimal sleep that occurs is not deep. Stimulants also lead to “overdrawing one’s energy account,” which is never adequately paid back. Also, work schedules and alarm clocks also cause many people to incur a sleep deficit.
Excessive Sexual Activity
For the male, excess sexual activity is not without a cost. Sperm requires energy and nutrients for its production, and engaging in excessive sexual activity tends to stimulate a larger than normal production of sperm. Moreover, the production of seminal fluid requires nutrients that are lacking in the diets of many. For example, the secretion of the prostate contains relatively large amounts of zinc, and unless one eats a diet primarily consisting of natural foods or takes mineral supplements, that mineral is not easy to get. The main staple of the American diet, white flour, has had essentially all of its vitamins and minerals removed in the refining process. Whole-wheat flour, from which white flour is made, is rich in many nutrients, especially zinc.
On the other hand, excessively abstaining from sexual activity is probably a bad idea. At the very least, large amounts of mental energy are required for abstinence. Moderation is, of course, the answer.
A poison is any substance that has an adverse physiological relationship to the growth and nutrition of the cells of the body. There are a multitude of poisons that harm us and are, consequently, to be avoided. Among these poisons are artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, polluted air, polluted water, damaged fats, alcohol, caffeine, mercury-amalgam dental fillings, inoculations, most pharmaceuticals, and products of putrefaction in the gut. Whenever a poison enters the body, it is transported to all of the cells of the body via the blood. Cells that are bathed in these poisons are altered deleteriously in function. Aside from the physical damage caused by poisons, there is an addictive effect. The addictive effect stems from the fact that as the poison is eliminated, the cells must resume their original function. However, by now, some of the essential constituents of the cell may have been released and are no longer available. Thus, it may be easier for the body to adapt to the elimination of a poison by the introduction of more of that poison. This adaptation is experienced as a craving for the poison that was eliminated and explains addiction. Therefore, it is imperative that poisons be avoided.
Insufficient, Improper, or Excessive Exercise
Here is a case where the aging process is not so much a result of age but, rather, the number of years of lack of proper use of the body. For example, flexibility continually decreases with lack of movement that involves regularly using muscles through their full range, and increases with proper “stretching.” The word stretching is in quotes because that word implies lengthening a muscle by applying an outward force on each of its ends, and much of the way people stretch in exercise class tends to be done that way, namely by pitting one set of muscles against another. The concept of stretching that I have learned from my teacher Elaine Summers, is having muscles lengthen on their own by actively extending rather than being bullied by an opposing set of muscles.
The benefits of proper stretching are toning and strengthening of muscles, tendons, blood vessels, nerves and acupuncture meridians; strengthening of bones; and massaging organs and glands. Aerobic exercises such as running, bicycling, swimming are valuable for the cardiovascular system, lungs, and weight stabilization. Meditative exercises such as T’ai Chi have many benefits. Weight or resistance training increases muscle strength and tone and strengthens and adds mass and density to bones.
Excessive exercise breaks down the body, as does improper exercise. For example running with improper leg alignment can cause knee and ankle problems—even arthritis.
Lack of Ch’i
When Ch’i to an organ is disrupted, all vital functions are affected. This is why it is essential to do Ch’i Kung to come into touch with the normal flow of ch’i and know how to reestablish this normal flow if it is disrupted.
1John W. Gofman, Radiation and Human Health, Sierra Club Books, San Fransisco, CA, 1981, Chapter 11.
2The Magnetic Field Menace,” Macworld, July 1990, pp. 136–145.
3Udo Erasmus, Fats and Oils, Alive Books, Burnaby BC, Canada, 1986.
4 Herbert M. Shelton Food Combining Made Easy, Dr. Shelton’s Health School, San Antonio, TX, 1972.
5Gary Price Todd, M. D., Nutrition, Health and Disease, Whitford Press, West Chester, PA, 1985.
More Articles on Nutrition and Health
Book on Optimal Nutrition and Weight-Loss