Anti-ageing medicine is a new medical specialty devoted to the early detection, prevention, treatment and reversal of the diseases related to ageing. It is a new approach to preventive medicine.
Anti-ageing medicine is the fastest-growing medical speciality in the world. International conferences on anti-ageing medicine held in many countries are attended by thousands of doctors interested to learn about the new speciality.
The aims of anti-ageing medicine are
– to maintain youthful vigor and vitality as people grow old
– to prevent, or delay the onset of, the degenerative diseases usually associated with old age.
The focus is very much on the maintenance of wellness.
Anti-ageing medicine represents a major shift in the way ageing, and the diseases related to ageing, are viewed by the medical profession. The physical and mental decline usually associated with ageing are no longer considered inevitable.
It is expected that over the next 50 years, with modern anti-ageing interventions, the human lifespan can be considerably extended. The primary focus in anti-ageing medicine is not so much on extending life, however, but more on improving the quality of life that people experience in their old age. The emphasis is on good diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation and the correction of hormone deficiencies.
A healthy diet, rich in important nutrients, is critical if one wants to live a long and healthy life. Dietary advice generally given by anti-ageing doctors includes the use of organic foods, and the avoidance of food additives, highly processed foods, foods high in sugar and foods containing trans fats.
Dr Dobie gives individual dietary advice to all his patients, and often recommends so-called “superfoods”, which are foods particularly high in beneficial nutrients.
Regular exercise, both aerobic exercise and strength training, is essential for the optimal function of the human body. Research studies demonstrate many benefits from maintaining an exercise regime as we get older.
There are many theories about why ageing occurs. One of the most popular theories relates to hormone levels in the body. Most hormone levels decline with age, and many researchers consider that ageing occurs partly as a result of these declining hormone levels. When all our hormones are at optimal levels, our bodies are healthy, resilient, flexible and strong. Correction of deficiencies of hormones such estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, DHEA, melatonin, thyroid hormone, and growth hormone is one of the most important aspects of anti-ageing medicine. Hormone levels can be measured in samples of blood, saliva or urine.
In anti-ageing medicine hormone replacement is generally with bio-identical (natural) hormones, which are hormones identical to those produced in the body.
Treatment of the menopause with bio-identical hormones has many advantages over conventional hormone replacement. Research has shown that conventional hormone replacement for menopause causes an increase in heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and blood clots. By comparison, bio-identical hormones used for menopause have fewer side-effects, are probably safer, and can be more readily tailored to the individual.
The andropause, or “the male menopause” is an important issue which has largely been unrecognised by doctors. In men, the level of the male sex hormone, testosterone, drops steadily from about age 40. This results in symptoms commonly experienced by middle-aged men such as depression, lethargy, irritability and loss of libido. Supplementation with testosterone can correct this problem.
Melatonin is an important hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is responsible for a normal sleep pattern and is an anti-oxidant. Melatonin deficiency results in insomnia and can be corrected with a melatonin supplement. DHEA is a vital hormone needed in the production of many other important hormones such as the male and female hormones. DHEA supplements are often needed in an anti-ageing program.
Supplementation with a range of nutrients such as vitamins, mineral and trace elements is important in anti-ageing medicine as it is difficult to get adequate nutrients in a modern diet. Supplements often recommended by anti-ageing doctors include fish oil, indole-3 carbinol, acetyl-l carnitine, resveratrol and anti-oxidants.
Another of the theories of ageing is the so-called “free radical” theory. Free radicals are dangerous chemicals which build up in the body and play a major role in the ageing process. Anti-oxidants are known as “free radical scavengers” because they mop up excess free radicals. Important anti-oxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione.
Supplementation with omega-three fatty acids could be considered one of the most important anti-ageing interventions. These fats are found in the oil derived from cold water fish such as salmon, and can also be obtained from vegetarian sources. Omega three fatty acids reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease, and there is growing evidence that they may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A range of pharmaceuticals known as “nootropics” or “smart drugs” are sometimes prescribed. Substances such as hydergine, piracetam, modafinil, deprenyl and vinpocetine can enhance brain function, leading to improvements in mood, memory and concentration.
Herbal products are frequently used in anti-ageing medicine. Examples are saw palmetto for enlargement of the prostate gland, black cohosh for menstrual irregularities, St John’s wort for depression, echinacea to boost the immune system and milk thistle for poor liver function. A range of herbs are also useful for improving adrenal function.
Avoidance of toxins is another important factor if one wants to live to a healthy old age. It is important to minimise exposure to chemicals such as food additives, pesticides, tobacco and recreational drugs. The detoxifying ability of the liver can be tested and enhanced, and detoxification programs are sometimes used.
Reduction of stress levels is important in any anti-ageing program. This is not always easy to achieve in a busy lifestyle, but it is important that people do work that they enjoy, avoid an excessive workload and get adequate rest. Meditation is a very useful technique that has been shown to have myriad health benefits.
More experimental technologies which will be important over the next few years in the anti-ageing field include gene therapy, stem cells and nanotechnology.