Aging is a natural process that every human goes through. The aging process can be influenced by a variety of factors including: genetics, environmental and lifestyle. (Antell and Taczanowski 1999) Healthy aging involves maximizing health, nutrition and fitness to function at optimal levels by applying appropriate interventions. (Westendrop 2006) Herbal therapy, probiotics and exercise will be examined as effective interventions.
One of the great concerns with aging is the development of dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions are characterized by cognitive deterioration. Perry and Howes (2010) describe how phytochemicals can be used to prevent or treat cognitive impairment. Curcumin is isolated from turmeric. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and thought to provide neuroprotection. (Perry et al 2010) Curcumin is believed to inhibit amyloid plaque formation in the brain. β-amyloid plaque formation is associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In rat studies, curcumin has been shown to treat memory dysfunction. Synthetic derivatives of curcumin given to rats improved their memory in recognition tests. (Maher 2010)
Although there is not an exhaustive amount of double blind human research studies involving curcumin there is current research investigating how dietary curcumin may affect cognitive impairment due to aging. Currently, investigators at UCLA are studying 132 individuals from ages 50 to 90. This is an 18-month study that will conclude in July of 2017, which will test the hypothesis that participants given 180 mg curcumin supplements per day will show less cognitive decline than those receiving the placebo.
Yunfei, Zhang, Wang, Zhao, Li, Wei et al (2013) hypothesized that administering curcumin to aging rats would improve cognitive ability. In the study, three groups of rats were given curcumin. Oxidative stress is believed to be a factor in β-amyloid plaque formation. Since dietary intakes can influence oxidation activity, curcumin, an antioxidant, is believed to influence cerebrovascular impairment. After one month of curcumin supplementation, aging rats showed significant improvement in cerebrovascular impairment. The possible mechanism of action is a reduction of reactive oxygen species.
As populations grow older, using living microorganisms may combat changes in the bowels due to aging. Probiotics are live bacteria found in foods like yogurt that can provide a tremendous health benefit, especially to aging populations. Elias Metchnikoff first recognized Probiotics for their health promoting and life prolonging properties. (Kumar 2013) Some of the health benefits of probiotics include: preventing and treating diarrhea, reducing side effects of antibiotics, alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, enhancing the immune system and possibly preventing colon cancer. (Marteau et al 2001)
According to the Center for Disease Control, colon cancer risks increase with age and it is more prevalent in men. According to Malaguarnera et al (2012), the use of probiotics may stop the growth of tumors in the colon. Several studies indicate that modifying the gut flora via probiotics facilitates inhibition of tumor proliferation and growth. (Malaguarnera et al 2010)
Unfortunately, there are not many epidemiological studies on probiotics and related cancers. However, the research presented and the fact that probiotics are generally recognized as safe validates use for improving and maintaining gut health.
Aging brings an increase in the deterioration of the immune system. Immunosenescence causes an individual’s immune system to have a weakened ability to fight infections. (Haaland 2008) Exercise recommendations for aging populations include being moderately active for 150 minutes per week. The systematic review of 19 articles by Haaland et al (2008) sought to answer whether regular physical activity had any effect on the immune system of aging populations. Their review showed that exercise appeared to enhance the immune system. It was noted that strenuous exercise may possibly diminish immune function.
The aging population can benefit greatly from natural therapies that can enhance their health and wellness. In consideration of counseling these groups, the Health Belief Model can be implemented to modify behavior. Interventions and educational outreach should specifically focus on the older adult. Education should focus on explaining the natural aging process that occurs in all people. It is a fact that we must all accept which should make it is easier for older adults to understand that they are affected and can possibly engage in preventative practices. Depending on the mental and physical condition of the older adult, there may be very few barriers for their ability to change their dietary and physical activity habits. If many barriers exist for individuals it is important to help them understand the benefits to changing their behavior by using relevant health statistics and success stories.
Antell, D. E., & Taczanowski, E. M. (1999). How Environment and Lifestyle Choices Influence the Aging Process. Annals of Plastic Surgery, 43(6), 585-588.
Haaland, D. A., Sabljic, T. F., Baribeau, D. A., Mukovozov, I. M., & Hart, L. E. (2008). Is Regular Exercise a Friend or Foe of the Aging Immune System? A Systematic Review. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 18(6), 539-548.
Kumar, S.G.The Role of Prebiotics and Probiotics in Human Health. (2013). Journal of Probiotics & Health, 01(02).
Maher, P., Akaishi, T., Schubert, D., & Abe, K. (2010). A pyrazole derivative of curcumin enhances memory. Neurobiology of Aging, 31(4), 706-709.
Malaguarnera, G., Leggio, F., Vacante, M., Motta, M., Giordano, M., Biondi, A., . . . Salmeri, M. (2011). Probiotics in the gastrointestinal diseases of the elderly. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 16(4), 402-410.
Marteau, P. R., De Vrese, M., Cellier, C. J., & Schrezenmeir, J. (2001). Protection from gastrointestinal diseases with the use of probiotics. The American Jorunal of Clinical Nutrtion, 430S-436S.
Perry, E., & Howes, M. R. (2010). Medicinal Plants and Dementia Therapy: Herbal Hopes for Brain Aging? CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 17(6), 683-698.
Pu, Y., Zhang, H., Wang, P., Zhao, Y., Li, Q., Wei, X., . . . Zhu, Z. (2013). Dietary Curcumin Ameliorates Aging-Related Cerebrovascular Dysfunction through the AMPK/Uncoupling Protein 2 Pathway. Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry, 32(5), 1167-1177.
Westendrop, R. (2006). What is healthy aging in the 21st century? American Journal of Clinical Nutrtion 83(2):404S-409S