Not so long ago, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was routinely prescribed for menopausal women to alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia, as well as to protect against osteoporosis, heart disease, dementia and aging. Even women who were content to age naturally were sometimes pushed into taking hormones. For example, my mother decided against hormones, and was told by her doctor, “All right then, you can just let your skin sag and watch your body age quickly.” Unfortunately for women, hormone replacement turned out to have unexpected negative consequences, as long-term clinical studies showed that HRT increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, blood clots, and hormone-related cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer—even with short-term use. HRT is also associated with a significant increase in lung cancer and death from lung cancer. It’s almost unthinkable, but HRT has even been prescribed for women with breast cancer, with the result being double the reoccurrence rate of cancer (J Natl Cancer Inst 2008; 100: 475-482).
On our recent trip to Israel, my wife Jen and I appreciated the abundance of healthful foods, including fresh pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice is a popular beverage throughout the country, and everywhere we went, there were stands offering freshly prepared juice, either straight up or mixed with fresh orange juice. We looked forward to watching the vendors juice the ripe pomegranates, and then enjoyed sipping the delicious ruby red beverage.
This may seem to be a radical stance, but I believe it is mistake to think that illness and disease are an inevitable part of the normal aging process. Although we may think of aging in relation to outward appearance, the way we look reflects only certain aspects of age, some of which are superficial–such as gray hair and laugh lines. How we think and feel inwardly–including our energy and zest for life–and the way our brain, bones, digestion, immune system, and the rest of our body functions is a much more accurate indication of our aging status.
In the last twenty years, osteoporosis has morphed from a relatively rare (albeit serious) condition affecting elderly women into an epidemic threatening close to half of all post-menopausal women and almost one-third of men in the United States. What’s changed? Frankly, not much except the hype. Unfortunately, I believe this is yet another case of the medical establishment and drug companies creating disease diagnoses by manipulating diagnostic criteria. The more medications prescribed for osteoporosis and osteopenia, the more profits for the corporations. And not a lot of doctors are offering healthy, natural solutions prior to doling out prescriptions, either.
If you’ve ever walked into a room and couldn’t remember why you were there; misplaced your keys (or even your car in a parking lot); or forgotten the name of an acquaintance, you might have momentarily wondered if you were losing your mind. If you’re over the age of 50, you might even be seriously concerned about the possibility of Alzheimer’s.
It’s a valid concern. According to the 2008 Alzheimer’s Association figures, more than five million Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, approximately 500,000 Americans under the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Although a decline in memory and brain function is generally regarded as an inevitable part of growing older, in reality, brain aging is caused by poor cerebral circulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation, oxidative damage, and decreased levels of anabolic-repair hormones, including DHEA and testosterone. All of these factors contribute to changes in the brain that lead to neuronal degeneration and cognitive impairment.
I’m intrigued by research on the Blue Zones, which are essentially hot spots of longevity. In these areas of the world, it’s not uncommon for people to still be living active, healthy lives beyond the age of one hundred. So far, researchers have identified five Blue Zones:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
These areas are diverse geographically, culturally, and spiritually. But what they have in common is a lifestyle that naturally supports all of the facets of good health: physical, emotional, and spiritual. People fortunate enough to be born in Blue Zones eat healthfully (a plant based diet, accented with small amounts of animal protein). Continue reading “Secrets of the Blue Zones: The World’s Hot Spots of Longevity”