Biochemical Aging - Awareness of Biochemical Aging and an Approach to Offset its Impact on Wellness
by Carolyn Mercer, BSc, ND
Immune System Management Clinic and Lab
302 - 80 Aberdeen St
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5R5
1. Our Chemistry Changes as We Age
What Is Aging, and Why Do We Often Become Ill as We Get Older?
Aging is not really about how long someone has been alive, but more about the decline in physical ability and health that tends to occur once a person reaches later life. Aging involves a variety of factors—including our genes, our environment, and infections with harmful viruses and bacteria. These factors—genetic, environmental, and biological—can overlap and cause us to begin the aging process, called “senescence,” which goes all the way down to the cellular level.
Consider just a few of the biochemical changes as we age:
||Disease states including liver, kidney, or heart failure; diabetes; and cancer can all result in a deficiency in taurine (an amino acid). Aging bodies often cannot internally produce optimal amounts.
||We need more protein to offset the age-related loss of muscle tissue. When we lose muscle mass, we tend to lose bone mass as well, initiating a downward spiral of increased frailty and diminished function. Although our calorie needs decrease as we age, our protein needs actually increase; that means we need to get a larger percentage of our calories from protein—but that is exactly the opposite of what happens for many seniors.
||Glutathione is made from three amino acids, namely glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine. Glutathione is present in every cell of the body and is essential for life itself. As people grow older, the levels drop, and this can result in an increased susceptibility to metabolic stress, a factor that greatly accelerates the aging process.
||A hormone that is the precursor for testosterone and estrogen, DHEA decreases by 95% in many people by age 75.
||The hormonal stimulus for sex drive in both men and women is testosterone, which declines with advancing age in both sexes. Testosterone also plays an important role in maintaining muscle mass, strength, and bone density.
|Estrogen and progesterone 
||The “female” steroid hormones estrogen and progesterone play important roles in maintaining bone density and strength, sexual function, and mental function, as well as in countering the effects of menopause.
||A hormone that is a highly potent antioxidant, and which has been described as the pacemaker of the aging clock in humans. It is released every night to help induce sleep, and aids in recuperation from fatigue.
|Coenzyme Q10 
||An essential component of healthy mitochondrial function, where it facilitates and regulates the oxidation of fats and sugars into energy; it also recycles other antioxidants. About 95% of cellular energy is produced in the mitochondria. Aging humans have been found to have over 50% less. A deficiency accelerates DNA damage and leads to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness, and eventually, heart failure.
||Long-lived cells such as nerve and muscle cells contain high levels of carnosine, which is made up of the amino acids beta-alanine and l‑histidine. Carnosine enables the heart muscle to contract more efficiently. Muscle levels of carnosine correlate with the maximum lifespans of animals. Aging causes irreversible damage to the body’s proteins (glycation). Carnosine positively interferes with the glycation process.
||Aging is accompanied by increases in both mental and physical fatigue, along with a loss of motivation. This is in part the result of reduced levels of a compound called NAD+, found in every cell in the body, that enables the transfer of energy from the foods we eat to vital cell functions and is required to “turn off” genes that accelerate degenerative aging processes. NAD+ levels decline as we age.
2. Can’t I Just Eat More Nutritious Foods?
We like the idea that food can be the answer to aging and all our ills, and that if we eat nutritious foods, we will not need medicine or supplements. We have valued this notion for a long time: as far back as 2500 years ago, as described by the Greek physician Hippocrates.
In North America, food is plentiful. In 1940, a very small percentage of our purchased food was processed. Today, that figure is over 90%. Much of our food is processed, artificial, genetically modified, laden with cellular and neurotoxic chemicals, dyes, preservatives, and additives. It is irradiated, fractionated, microwaved, and sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. It can become contaminated while it is stored for long periods or shipped in hot weather.
Technically, we are not starving to death. In fact, we are eating more than enough calories, but we are getting far too few nutrients. We are limping along with symptoms of nutrient deficiencies that we have been conditioned to expect and accept.
The aging immune system is extremely sensitive to the body’s state of nutrition. Every day, the immune system produces billions of new cells, which busily communicate with one another by means of a vast array of messengers. The functioning of all these cells is profoundly affected by what we eat and do not eat. The quality of our cellular machinery is only as good as the quality of the “building blocks” the body has to work with.
Nutritional needs change throughout the various stages of life. While overall caloric needs tend to decrease with age, the requirements for individual micronutrients (vitamins and nutritionally essential minerals) do not decrease. In fact, the needs for some micronutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, actually increase with age. Older adults may also need more dietary antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, as well as certain B vitamins, including vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12. Micronutrient deficiencies are quite common, and older adults are especially vulnerable.
3. Food Today and Nutritional Deficiencies
Farmers today can grow two to three times as much grain, fruit, and vegetables on a plot of land as they could 50 years ago, but the nutritional quality of many crops has declined. We have more food, but it’s worth less in terms of nutritional value. Today’s food produces 10 to 25% less iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C, and other nutrients. The amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin C have substantially declined over the past half century.
How does the lower nutritional value of food affect us? Here are a few examples:
Magnesium: It is estimated that 58–80% of the population is deficient. Magnesium is a crucially important mineral for optimal health, performing a wide array of biological functions.
Vitamin D: Researchers estimate that 50% of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency, and this percentage rises in higher-risk populations such as the elderly.
Omega‑3s: We eat too many inflammatory omega‑6 fats (think vegetable oils) and too few anti-inflammatory omega‑3s, setting the stage for cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes, just to name a few.
Choline: Data shows that 90% of children and adults are not getting enough. Choline helps keep your cell membranes functioning properly, plays a role in nerve communications, prevents the buildup of homocysteine in your blood (elevated levels are linked to heart disease), and reduces chronic inflammation.
The list goes on and on:
|Calcium: ||Average diet contains 40 to 50% of RDA.|
|Chromium: ||90% of diets deficient.|
|Copper: ||75% of diets deficient; average diet contains 50% of RDA.|
|Iron: ||Most common mineral deficiency.|
|Niacin: ||Commonly deficient in elderly.|
|Vitamin B5: ||Average elderly diet contains 60% of RDA.|
|Potassium: ||Commonly deficient in elderly.|
|Vitamin B6: ||71% of male and 90% of female diets deficient.|
|Selenium: ||Average diet contains 50% of RDA.|
|Vitamin C: ||20 to 50% of diets deficient.|
|Zinc: ||68% of diets deficient.|
4. A Three-Tier Approach to Wellness
Symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that something is not right. They are not the cause of the illness or disease.
A stuffed-up nose is not the cause of a cold: it is a symptom.
Heart attacks are not the cause of heart disease: they are a symptom.
Cancer is not the cause of a disease: it is a symptom.
Naturopaths tend to focus on the needs of the individual, versus the symptoms, and address the breakdown of the body’s immune and metabolic function by balancing the body’s core components to optimal levels. Naturopaths consider the approach to wellness to be a long-term commitment that typically happens in three tiers:
Tier 1. Foundation
Your body demands a sturdy base—a strong foundation for both the metabolic and immune systems to support basic life processes, such as cellular energy production, growth, repair, and regeneration.
No matter what age you are or what you are going through, you have the same foundational requirements as everybody else; the amounts may vary from person to person, but you need them all. Think of them as the essential nutrients for living well as a human. They include:
Tier 2. Personalization
- Balanced amino acids to form the millions of proteins your body utilizes daily.
- Vitamins/minerals and various cofactors to enable the reactions of the various proteins in every cell.
- Energy sources to ensure each cell is fully energized.
Personalization is all about you. It’s about finding the right clinically demonstrated, evidence-based approaches to help you control the conditions most likely to affect you personally. What is your unique situation?
- Undergoing chemotherapy or radiation?
- Gastrointestinal issues?
- Chronic stress?
- Autoimmune tendencies?
This tier is designed to prevent and mitigate ongoing disease through optimally balancing for immune function and specifically targeting various illness drivers.
Tier 3. Optimization
This tier does not only meet your immediate health-care needs—instead, it optimizes your regimen for future wellness.
- Often, one must focus on gut issues before one can truly resolve amino-acid or other nutrient imbalances.
- Often, one must focus on depression/anxiety before chronic inflammation can be controlled.
- Often, an individual’s pharmaceutical drugs, that are not treating the base cause of the problem, are creating symptoms of their own and disguising or complicating an appropriate route to health.
A life out of balance will catch up with you eventually. We do generate illness (and wellness) in our lives. The connection between illness and lifestyle does not happen overnight; in fact, illness is probably among the last signs of an enduring pattern in life. By the time you get sick, it is probably because you have already been entrenched in a way of being for years or decades.
Good health is not a given. It is a state of mind and body that is earned. Each of us is biochemically unique, which explains why our reactions to both immune challenges and medical treatments as we age are not completely predictable. Take charge of your wellness, and consider your current stage of health support in terms of the Three-Tier Approach to Wellness.