If the promises overheard at beauty counters are to be believed, the fountain of youth is most likely found in a jar. True cell health, however, is impacted on a much deeper level. We all know that excess consumption of sugar and smoking can negatively influence cellular health (among other things), but experts agree that a combination of smart diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplement choices can also promote and prolong cell health.
Last year a small pilot study published in The Lancet Oncology made big news when it connected the dots linking diet, exercise, stress management, and social support to longer telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. The researchers explained that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and a longer life, whereas shorter telomeres are weaker and contribute to cellular aging and cell death. Shorter telomeres have also been linked to a range of aging-related diseases, including many forms of cancer, stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
The standard, nutritionally deficient American diet is a key culprit in accelerated cellular aging, according to Raymond Francis, MSc, author of Never Feel Old Again, who believes that much of the damage done to the body’s cells and tissues happens as a result of oxidation from poor food and lifestyle choices. “Most Americans are chronically deficient in key nutrients, including vitamins C and E,” he says. “Sadly today, we are measuring some 30-year-olds with the biological markers of 80-year-olds and 10-year-olds with the markers of 45-year-olds.
“You want your biological age to be substantially younger than your chronological age,” he continues. “This prevents loss of function, disability, and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer.”
The good news is that you can slow cell damage and reboot cellular health by following a three-pronged approach toward diet, lifestyle, and supplement choices.
Fine-Tune Your Diet
There’s undeniable accuracy in the proverb, “You are what you eat.” Above all, fresh is best—and organic, too—when possible. “Every cell in your body is made out of the food you have consumed,” says Francis. “Processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, packaged foods, canned foods, and foods made with refined sugars, grains, and oils will not support healthy life.”
Caroline Cederquist, MD, medical director of BistroMD, and author of The MD Factor Diet, also advocates a diet rich in lean protein (at each and every meal, including snacks), as well as a balance of complex carbs and healthy fats, as the best way to prevent cellular aging.
Here are the top foods and beverages that should be included in the diet of anyone hoping to improve their cellular health:
1| Organic Berries. Blueberries, cranberries, and goji berries are all nutrition-rich powerhouses filled with beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants.
2| Cruciferous Vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, and kale should be included among your five servings per day.
3| Lean Protein. Chicken, turkey, fish, lean pork, and lean beef can help preserve muscle mass. An optimum serving is 1g of protein per pound of body weight daily.
4| Nuts. Almonds and walnuts are excellent sources of healthy fats and support brain health. Some nuts, like Brazil nuts, are also high in beneficial magnesium and selenium.
5| Green Tea. This ancient brew is one of the most potent and sippable antioxidants; two cups a day are ideal.
6| Water. Stay ahead of dehydration. Eight glasses a day is a good start. But according to Brett Osborn, DO, FAANS, a board-certified neurological surgeon and author of Get Serious: A Neurosurgeon’s Guide to Optimal Health and Fitness, drinking upwards of one gallon of water per day can help to maintain intravascular volume and flush the extracellular space of toxic metabolites.
Supercharge Your Lifestyle
Lifestyle choices are as responsible for cell health as diet. In fact, many of today’s health problems are linked to modern lifestyles that are simply incompatible with optimal
biological functioning. Here are the top lifestyle-changing tips from Francis and Osborn:
1| Get Moving. One in three Americans gets little to no exercise, and a sedentary lifestyle can have far-reaching implications. Strength training ranks high for improving cellular health, conferring resistance against disease by bolstering bodily protein stores. Strength training can also improve insulin sensitivity (which secondarily lowers insulin levels, and therefore bodily inflammation) and also regulates the production of antioxidants within the body, protecting cells from free-radical-induced damage.
2| Manage Stress. Chronic physical and mental stress exerts innumerable deleterious effects on health. For helpful tips on dealing with all kinds of stress, including workplace pressures, visit mindtools.com and click on “Stress Management” under the “Toolkit” tab at the top of the home page.
3| Get Outside. We’ve all been warned to protect ourselves from sun exposure. Just as too much of a good thing can be bad for us, so too can too little, especially when it comes to getting a daily dose of sunlight. About 90% of our vitamin D comes from the interaction of sunlight with the compounds in our skin.
4| Get Better Sleep. Unfortunately, a good night’s sleep is increasingly losing out to modern distractions. Power down the Internet and late-night TV in favor of a solid eight hours of sleep. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with lowered immune function, numerous diseases, and accelerated aging. When sleep patterns are disrupted, conflicting signals are sent to the body, upsetting normal biochemistry and hormonal balance.
While a healthy diet and lifestyle should take the lead in the quest for optimum cell health, there are a number of dietary supplements that can also help to round out the diet and promote a healthier cellular lifespan. Following are the recommendations of Osborn and Cederquist:
1| Magnesium. Depleted by age and stress, this mineral is integral for more than 300 metabolic processes. Symptoms of low magnesium are constipation, muscle cramps, tight muscles, and overall stiffness—all symptoms associated with aging. According to Cederquist, magnesium citrate helps replenish depleted levels of the mineral and can also be used as a laxative. She suggests using care when taking it, however—magnesium citrate can cause diarrhea for some people, especially in higher doses. Magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate are good substitutes in these cases.
2| Vitamin B12. Levels of this important vitamin decline with age due to decreased absorption in the stomach and due to medications that affect absorption like antacids. Low B12 levels can cause symptoms of cognitive decline and even dementia, as well as anemia and fatigue. Cederquist recommends a multivitamin containing at least 500 mcg of B12, plus added B12 to further boost levels (use 1,000–5,000 mcg daily). Look for methylcobalamin B12, the most active form. It has been shown to be easier to absorb and utilize with age.
3| Antioxidants. Osborn specifically points to resveratrol, green tea, and vitamins C and E (use natural vitamin E with mixed tocopherols).
4| Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Most often associated with heart health, omega-3 fats are credited by the Harvard School of Public Health with playing an important role in the function of cell receptors in cell membranes, binding to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function.
5| Blood-Sugar–Lowering Nutrients such as alpha-lipoic acid, cinnamon, and berberine. Experts agree that high blood sugar can have a damaging effect by increasing cellular aging.
6| Vitamin D. Improving vitamin D levels from deficiency to normal ranges can improve insulin resistance (an important marker of cellular stress and aging) by up to 60%. Supplementing with vitamin D (2,000–5,000 IU daily) is especially helpful if you don’t spend much time in natural sunlight.
Anti-Aging Beauty Spotlight
Your hair, skin, and nails are a reflection of your overall health. If you want thicker hair, smoother skin, and stronger nails, you can boost a balanced diet with nutritional supplements that increase your body’s production of collagen and help build supportive proteins.
Molecular biologists have identified collagen as the key structural protein that helps create smooth skin and strong hair and nails. Starting at age 21, the body's collagen diminishes by one percent per year. By 30, the signs of reduced collagen on skin, hair, and nails become visible.
To counteract this problem, you want to activate your own collagen-generating cells, known as fibroblasts. The increased collagen generated beneath the skin plumps it up, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles. Collagen is also essential for strong, healthy bones and joints.
One of the best ways to benefit is with collagen supplements, which come in powdered, capsule, and even chewable forms. Look for types 1 & 3 collagen and/or BioCell Collagen—all have been clinically shown to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. For best absorption, take collagen at least 30 minutes before eating protein.
The mineral silicon is also necessary for the formation of collagen and bone. Supplementing with orthosilicic acid (BioSil), the dietary form of silicon, or the herb horsetail, which is rich in silica (silicon dioxide), can help smooth lines and wrinkles and also help fight brittle hair and nails.
Biotin is believed to help hair grow healthier, thicker, and longer, and can help address age-related hair loss at higher doses (use up to 10,000 mcg daily). It may also strengthen brittle nails, preventing splitting and breaking. —Sherrie Strausfogel
NEO CELL Super Collagen Powder, with Type 1 & 3 Collagen, easily dissolves in water or juice and helps support skin, hair, nail, and joint health.
CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH LTD. Magnesium Taurate is a blend of magnesium and the amino acid taurine; both nutrients have been shown to promote a sense of calmness.
DR. VENESSA'S Sugar Balance contains all of the top nutrients for supporting healthy blood sugar levels, including alpha lipoic acid and cinnamon.
SOLGAR Advanced Antioxidant Formula features many of the key antioxidants recommended by the experts (e.g., green tea extract, vitamins C and E).
THE VITAMIN SHOPPE B12 Methylcobalamin comes in a highly absorbable lozenge form (and tasty Black Cherry flavor), with 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12.