If there is one positive that came from COVID-19, it was people taking a renewed interest in their personal health. As we all turned to cooking more at home, we also took a closer look at what we were eating and its nutritional content. Dietary supplements to support a healthy immune system, offset stress and support sleep also became a priority.
All of this is a good thing, given that life expectancy in the U.S. seems to be on the decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2017, the average life expectancy was 78.6 years. Yet in the first half of 2020, this dropped to 77.8 years.
Inflammation & Aging
As we renew our interest in our personal health, now would also be a good time to consider how we want to age. What many people don’t realize is that there is a direct correlation between healthy aging and our body’s inflammation. The strength of our immune system, how we sleep and manage stress, what we eat and how much we exercise all can cause and correlate back to inflammation.
“So many of the concerns we have about aging relate to inflammation. The number-one way to naturally slow aging is to eat a better diet,” says Michelle Simon, Ph.D. N.D., president and CEO of the Institute for Natural Medicine, who also runs her own naturopathic practice in Seattle. “Many of the conditions we face can be corrected by a diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits, high-quality meats and seafoods, spices and leafy greens, and healthy fats. Outside of diet, the second most important thing is that people need to move.”
Simon outlines the main signs of poor aging, which include joint pain, bad sleep, inflammation, cognitive problems—such as brain fog and short-term memory issues—weight gain, varicose veins, skin problems, digestive issues and nutrient absorption challenges. She stresses the importance of following a regular exercise routine to maintain normal blood flow, which helps regenerate tissue and keep some of the challenges of aging at bay. But it doesn’t take as much as we think to maintain our physical strength.
“Twice a week is the minimal amount we need to do to maintain muscle tone. But it’s important as we age, especially if we are living independently,” says Simon.
As far as diet goes, if there is one thing to focus on, Simon advises removing sugar and replacing it with lots of fruits and vegetables.
“Sugar is something that ages us more quickly,” she says. And then there’s sleep. In this time of electronic gadgets that we are tethered to, Simon emphasizes the importance of setting a routine around sleep. She suggests turning off lights at least 30 minutes before you are getting ready for bed to help you relax and increase melatonin production.
Consider These Supplements for Healthy Aging
Along with regular exercise and a healthy diet, Michelle Simon recommends the following supplements to help mitigate inflammation and support the process of healthy aging.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to all of the things that bombard it on a daily basis, from toxins and bacteria to muscle recovery. To help offset inflammation, Simon recommends turmeric. Its active ingredient curcumin is a powerful natural anti-
inflammatory shown in studies to be as effective as ibuprofen. “It is good for many things: It is an anti-inflammatory but it has also shown to be as effective as Prozac in managing depression and is helpful for arthritis for maintenance, pain management and reducing symptoms,” she says.
Recommended dose: 750 mg of 95 percent pure curcuminoid daily.
The body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 diminishes with age, which can lead to fatigue. “As we age, our stomach acid levels decrease, which interferes with our ability to absorb vitamin B12, one of the most important nutrients for our energy and which is needed to convert carbohydrates to glucose,” explains Simon. B12 also is important to support the central nervous system.
Recommended dose: 1,000 mg daily.
A lesser-known antioxidant, astaxanthin is a reddish pigment in certain algae that gives salmon, trout and other seafood its pinkish color. Studies have shown it to help with muscle mass in elderly people. According to Simon, as you age, muscle mass is a measure of resiliance and research has shown that you can get more benefit from working out if you are taking astaxanthin at the same time.
Recommended dose: 4–12 mg daily.
“Magnesium is becoming one of the minerals Americans are most deficient in and it has so many benefits,” says Simon. It has been shown to help balance blood sugar, relax the nervous system, and support healthy sleep, mood and muscular skeletal function. Simon suggests taking it in the form of magnesium glycinate and starting with a low dose as too much magnesium can cause loose stools.
Recommended dose: 300 to 500 mg daily.
“I can’t say enough about the importance of vitamin D as we age. It supports bone health and protects against cancer and heart disease. It improves immune system function and balances hormones. And it is necessary to absorb calcium,” explains Simon. The amount you need can depend on where you live in the country and your exposure to sun.
Recommended dose: Up to 2,000 IUs daily.
As you age, the best support for skin health and the structural form of skin is vitamin C, says Simon. You can get it through food or supplementation. “You need vitamin C as a basic building block,” Simon explains.
Recommended dose: 500 mg 1–2 times daily.
Resveratrol is a naturally occurring phytochemical present in wine and blueberries—plants with deep-colored pigments. Rich in antioxidants, it neutralizes free radicals, which can wreak havoc on our health if left unattended. Studies have shown it to help decrease inflammation and to support cardiovascular health.
Recommended dose: Approximately 100–500 mg.