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If you are one of the millions of 35 + woman trying to conceive you should feel encouraged by some exciting new studies suggesting that it may be possible to improve a woman’s egg quality and slow down, or even reverse premature aging. The explanation for this lies in what medical science is now learning about the difference between chronological and biological aging.
Chronological versus Biological Age
Your chronological age is determined by how many birthdays you’ve had. And there is nothing you can do about that except to celebrate! But your biological age—how well your body systems function compared to others that are the same age– appears to be something that you can influence by your diet and lifestyle.
Scientists have established what they call biomarkers for many of our physiological processes like, blood pressure, muscle strength, and immune system function. Your biological age is determined by comparing these biomarkers to the average results of others who have the same chronological age.
It appears that the reproductive system may be another important “biomarker” for aging. Your ovaries use up more energy than any other organ in the body and you can think of them as “the canaries in the coal mine” as they are particularly susceptible to factors that cause premature aging in other systems in the body.
For example studies show that women who smoke experience menopause, on average, two years earlier than women who don’t smoke. That means that their “reproductive age” is at least two years older than non-smokers with the same chronological age.
It appears that your ability to conceive a child depends more on the age that you go into menopause (your biological age) than simply how many birthdays you have had (your chronological age). Conversely, your reproductive age may be a predictor for longevity as a whole.
A study of centenarians (women who lived to be over 100) showed a much higher than normal number of them had given birth in their late 40’s and even 50’s The fact that they were able to conceive and give birth at this advanced aged suggests that they were aging at a slower rate than their less fertile peers.
A study published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology on biological versus chronological ovarian age shows that both environmental and genetic factors contribute to egg quantity and quality, and that biological age is more important than chronological age in predicting the outcome of in vitro fertilization (http://www.rbej.com/content/7/1/101).
This variability in the rate at which people age seems to have more to do with lifestyle and environmental factors than innate genetics.
For examples, studies of the Okinawans of Japan, who had the longest life expectancy as well as the longest health expectance of any people in the world, show that diet, exercise, stress and lifestyle can have a very significant impact on your health and longevity.
What causes accelerated aging?
Accelerated aging is primarily the result of the evil twins: inflammation and oxidative stress. Together they disrupt the homeostasis (balance) of the body, interfere with the metabolic feedback system and cause body functions to decline.
Inflammation in your body occurs normally when your body tries to defend itself against injury or invading diseases. According to Dr Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, this normal response goes wrong when your defense system begins attacking itself. This overactive immune response can create chronic hidden inflammation (High insulin levels are the most common source of chronic inflammation). Hidden inflammation is at the root of most chronic illness: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and causes accelerated aging in all the system the body including the reproductive system.
The role of your metabolism is to take the oxygen you breathe and the food you eat and process it to make energy. When the food is burned or metabolized with oxygen in the mitochondria; waste is produced in the form of free radicals that create a chain reaction of rusting or oxidation
Oxidative stress is the by-product of this energy production in the same way that exhaust is the by-product of your car engine burning gas.
The problem arises when your body is subject to chronic oxidative stress as the result of environmental toxins, allergens, eating too many calories, stress, and a poor quality diet high in refined carbs and unhealthy fats.
Oxidative stress accelerates ageing by affecting your body’s regulatory systems, such as the nervous, endocrine and immune and reproductive system. This “disregulation” causes the feedback systems of your body to function less efficiency and impairs your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis (balance) and, therefore, health and fertility.
One of the most powerful things you can do to minimize oxidative stress is to eat a diet high in antioxidants. Deeply coloured fruits and veggies like cranberries, blueberries, plums, blackberries yams, beets, broccoli and carrots are particularly rich in anti-oxidants like polyphenols. These miraculous compounds clean up the free radicals and positively affect cell to cell signaling, receptor sensitivity, inflammatory enzyme activity and gene regulation.
Chronic stress is another factor that speeds up the biological clock. Stress hormones like cortisol wreak havoc on the body and its systems, interfere with insulin levels, cause weight gain, create inflammation and damage DNA.
A recent study has shown that anxiety in women was associated with shorter telomeres http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0040516
Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes (like the tips on the ends of your shoe laces that prevent them from unravelling). They protect chromosomes from deteriorating and guard the genetic information at the ends of chromosomes during cell division. Telomeres are considered markers of biological or cellular aging. Shortened telomeres have been linked to increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and mortality.
Factors that Cause Accelerated Aging
The main factors that cause your biological (and hence reproductive) clock to tick faster are:
- Processed high GI diet
- Too many calories
- Lack of antioxidants (fruits and vegetables) in the diet
- Chronic stress
- Lack of exercise
- Poor sleep
- Social isolation and lack of support network
- Environmental toxins
The good news is that by changing your diet and life style you can reverse the process of accelerated aging, slow down your reproductive clock and achieve peak fertility.
Notes for this blog:
Dr. Lorne Brown B.Sc, CA, Dr. TCM, FABORM, CHt is the founder and clinical director of Acubalance Wellness Centre, the first Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic in British Columbia dedicated to reproductive health and fertility. He is also a panel expert for FlowerPowerMom.com–to watch his video discussion on how TCM can enhance later fertility, go to: http://www.achildafter40.com/our_expert_panel/.
After receiving his Dr. of Chinese Medicine at Vancouver’s International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Lorne completed extensive postgraduate training in gynecology, obstetrics and reproductive medicine under notable experts in the field. He is a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM) (http://www NULL.aborm NULL.org/), and a registered Clinical Hypnotherapist.
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