We can't stop the clock, but we can stop the rot

Nobody wants to get old, but sadly it is an inevitable fact of life. Being old comes with a lot of undesirable changes including saggy skin, grey hair and body parts that don't function as well as they used to.

It's hard to say what age is considered to be the beginning of "old" age. Generally, when we have progressed into our 60s, we are considered old.

However, a person actually has two ages: biological age and chronological age. Biological age is how old your organs are and how well they are working. This is the age that shines through and contributes to how old you look. Anti-ageing treatments can help in this department.

Chronological age is the number of years you have lived (or the number of years you have used up!). For example, a 50-year-old man can look and feel like someone in his late 30s because his biological age is much lower than his chronological age.

The term "anti-ageing" makes it sound like some miracle can be performed; this is because people often misunderstand the word and think it means you can turn back the clock and tighten up those loose parts.

Since 1970, a group of doctors has been researching and developing anti-ageing medicine and, after decades of tireless work, there is finally enough evidence to prove that we can indeed slow down the ageing process and live longer, healthier lives. Anti-ageing medicine is not all about external appearances, though. It's also about preventing organs from deteriorating as time goes by. Another aspect is promoting happier and healthier lifestyles for older people so that they make the remaining years count, rather than just count the years remaining to them.

There are ways to slow down ageing such as food supplements, hormone replacement, antioxidants, detoxification and using nanotech-nology to tackle ageing genes. There are actually many other techniques, but I would like to focus here on natural ways; these are free, easy to implement and they really work for everyone.

Rule 1: Avoid stress. Stress causes a lot of people to drink and smoke, so getting rid of stress will help reduce the urge for those unhealthy things. If you are not a smoker, avoid people who smoke. Live a clean, chemical-free life as much as you can, and remember that UV rays can do a lot of damage to your skin. However, regular exposure to a small amount of weak sunlight is needed for vitamin D production and the health of your bones.

Rule 2: Eat fewer calories, but get more nutrients. A lot of animals have died in research labs to prove that limited calorie intake will make you live longer. This has been shown to be true for human beings, too.

Rule 3: Eat limited amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat). Avoid processed food because it is not very nutritious and might contain preservatives and other chemicals which can affect how our cells work; it may even promote the growth of cancerous cells.

Load up on grains and high-fibre food such as organic vegetables and non-sweet fruits. Fibre will help cleanse your colon and get rid of free radicals. Free radicals can go all over your body and rob you of youthfulness.

While meat can be nutritious, you can get your protein from vegetables and grains as well. Some vegetables, such as asparagus and broccoli, contain a significant amount of amino acids, antioxidants and "good" fat. Some people like to joke that eating lots of meat is a good way to ensure you'll never get old _ because you're likely to die from cancer first.

Fat can be good for your health, but choose the right sources, such as olive, sunflower, corn, safflower and rice-bran oils which are rich in vitamin E. Never reuse leftover cooking oil because it is full of free radicals and carcinogens.

Rule 4: Add micronutrients _ the term for vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants _ to your diet as needed, but don't overdo it. It may be difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food alone. This is especially true for older people whose bodies might need more of this or that mineral, but who find that they no longer have the appetite they used to have and so tend to eat less. A lot of studies have shown that taking supplementary vitamins and minerals every day, in tandem with eating healthy food, will lead to better health and less illness.

Nutrients that are very important for those who are afraid of looking old include beta-carotene and the co-enzyme Q10. Vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, magnesium, folic acid, manganese, calcium and vitamin D will also help ensure you stay fit, but please consult your doctor before taking any of those vitamins or minerals. Too much of a good thing can turn out to be bad.

Rule 5: Exercise. Yes, just one word. Do it! There are also other less common nutrients and amino acids such as N-acetylcysteine, glutathione, L-carnosine, alpha-lipoic acid, dimethylethanolamine, astaxanthine and resveratrol which are said to help slow down the ageing process, but please do your homework and research supplements properly before deciding to take anything. I would need to do more research before I could fully recommend any of these.

Another widely discussed approach is the use of human growth hormone, which is available in injectable form, as a spray and as a pill to be taken orally. It is said to help increase muscle mass, adjust mood, increase sex drive and promote better sleep. Sounds miraculous, doesn't it?

Now let's take a look at its dark side. It has been reported that some people experienced heart failure, high blood pressure, swelling, joint pain and bloating after taking this hormone without consulting a doctor.

Another popular hormone is melatonin which is used as a mild sedative and to treat jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone of the young, so when used in older people it can purportedly make them feel younger again. It sounds very exciting, but I would prefer to wait until I hear more before I start believing that this is some miracle cure.

Last, but not least: if you don't want to be old, don't act old!

Some scientists have cultured human cells in an ideal environment free of unhealthy germs and they found that human cells can survive for as long as 120 years. This is the same age that the Buddha said a well-behaved person who follows the Four Paths of Accomplishment (aspiration, exertion, thoughtfulness and reasoning) could reach.

That was said more than 2,500 years ago, but it is advice that never gets old.

Dr Nithi Mahanonda is a consultant cardiologist and interventionist at Perfect Heart Institute, Piyavate Hospital. Visit his website at www.drnithi.com

About the author

Writer: Dr Nithi Mahanonda
Position: Writer