Naturopath Teresa Mitchell-Paterson has the latest research findings on how to stay youthful and energised.
In 1964, eight percent of the Australian population was aged 65 and over, while just 0.4 percent was 85 and over. Looking ahead to 2064, 23 percent will be aged over 65, and five percent will be over 85.
So we can expect to live for much longer, which means even if you're 30 now, you must get yourself energised and remain energised to ensure you stay healthy to the end. Why age 30? Because regrettably this is the point where all the rejuvenating hormones start to decrease, a decline that continues until about age 70, by which time those hormones sit at about 20 percent of youthful levels.
Poor lifestyle and eating habits accelerate this decline, as do sedentary and stress-filled lives, nutrient-deficient diets, and hormonal imbalances. The latter can relate to using prescription hormones, because the body was never designed to pump out the same level of hormones every day. The five main youth boosters are:
1. Increase testosterone levels
I discovered quite recently that one of the most important hormones to give us energy is testosterone. It's very much needed in females as well as men, and in both genders it declines by one to three percent per year after age 30. Combine this with the other factors mentioned above, and it’s possible to hit low testosterone levels in your early 50s. If this happens, metabolism and energy drop as well as sex drive.
In clinic, I’m now seeing much lower testosterone levels in men aged 35 to 40. I attribute this to chemical hormone disruptors impacting testosterone in the same way they affect oestrogen in women.
Most women don't get tested for testosterone, but I'm finding when we do test for it, levels are woefully low. Low testosterone comes with a specific set of symptoms: lack of ambition and drive; slower recovery from exercise; declining eyesight; a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Mental function slows and you simply don’t have enough energy.
A surprising fact I discovered from my research is that it’s necessary to decrease protein to maintain testosterone levels. Large amounts of protein actually reduce testosterone, so not good news for the gym junkies pumping iron and drinking large quantities of protein powders.
The NHMRC’s recommendation for protein is between 0.8 grams to 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day for a person doing a lot of exercise. So a 60 kilogram person needs on average about 55 grams of true protein, which is the protein content in food. In meat, protein is 20 percent of the total weight, so 100 grams of meat yields 20 grams of protein. With legumes, protein content is between seven and 10 percent of the total weight.
Over-training is something else that lowers testosterone levels; it also elevates stress hormones and causes inflammation and fatigue. You wear out all the glycogen in your muscle tissue and unless you're eating sufficient carbohydrate to replenish it, you'll be fatigued. And smoking inhibits production of testosterone as it destroys the leydig cells in the male hormonal system that produce testosterone.
Eating pure sugar also causes testosterone levels to decrease, according to research from the Endocrine Society, as it leads to high insulin, and high insulin creates low testosterone. So not only will it lower your testosterone, it also deprives your body of energy, which means you can't access fat as a source of energy. Whatever sugar remains in the system becomes fat.
2. Eat a healthy diet
The most effective diet known to increase testosterone levels is the Mediterranean diet. The healthy fats and zinc present in nuts, seeds and olive oil are used to make hormones, so definitely an important part of the diet to boost youthful energy. They’re also fabulous for the skin.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, and low-GI foods like these help boost our energy and sustain it over time. Oats surprisingly increase free testosterone levels because they contain the beta-sisterol, which is one of the building blocks for free testosterone.
More than three cups of caffeine a day, which is the therapeutic dose for caffeine, will deplete testosterone, as will excess alcohol.
Energy creates energy. If you want to be youthful, you must exercise. Exercise increases bone mineralisation. You need protein to build the scaffolding of the bone structure and minerals to mineralise the bone structure. The only way this happens is to stress your bones with weight-bearing exercise. Walking is good but weight training is even better. Also effective is intermittent high level exercise, or high intensity interval training (HIIT). So alternating short bursts of running or vigorous walking with resistance training temporarily boosts testosterone levels. Perform these several bursts for perhaps 15 minutes three times a day. Testosterone is naturally higher in the morning, so to get that second wind, exercise again at lunchtime and you’ll perform very well through the afternoon. But don't exercise just before bed because you won't sleep.
4. Drink red wine responsibly
I mentioned that alcohol is not good, but if you do drink red wine – and it is part of the Mediterranean diet – it should be only 150ml. This is less than a typical 170-180ml glass served in restaurants or pubs. You’ll benefit from the powerful anti-inflammatory flavonols myricetin and quercetin; the catechins and the epicatechins that are very similar to those found in green tea; and the proanthocyanins and anthocyanins including some pterostilbene resveratrol, which definitely gives you a juice boost not just from the point of view that it's anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous, but also because the proanthocyanins are great for your skin.
5. Seek expert herbal help
If you’re determined to boost your youth, you should talk to a herbalist about adaptogenic herbs that will provide plenty of energy support, but the key is to use the right one.
All ginsengs aid in testosterone production, but we need to prescribe the right type of ginseng in the right dose. A number of trials have shown some beneficial effects of ginseng supplementation on cardiovascular health, diabetes and immunity, and definitely in energy production, and cognition and athletic performance in the ageing.
The Indian ginseng, withania, boosts energy levels by increasing DHEA and lowering cortisol. Maca, the Peruvian ginseng, helps support the pituitary gland, which stimulates hormones for the whole endocrine system. Traditionally it has been used as a reproductive restorative but we know that in the aged it's actually an energy promoter.
An oldie but goodie I don't see many younger herbalists using is fenugreek seed, which helps boost testosterone through its action of increasing luteinising hormone, which in turn stimulates testosterone production. So include fenugreek in curries, or drink fenugreek tea, although it doesn't taste very nice. A word of caution: if you consume a lot of fenugreek it will come through your pores and your sweat will smell like curry.
And from traditional Chinese medicine is the herb cordyceps, which is classified as a powerful builder of life essence. It's said to enforce the will and revitalise the body.
Caution: Check testosterone levels. Before embarking on a program to boost testosterone levels, it’s important to have your levels checked, because if you already have high testosterone it can cause fatigue. I’ve found testosterone levels in a number of my patients who've been on hormone replacement therapy troches to be through the roof – and this the reason for their fatigue. High levels of testosterone as seen in diseases such as PCOS and breast cancer are very dangerous to both men and women because it puts them at risk of cardiovascular disease.
When you have your testosterone checked, you need to also check sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) because in medical testing if testosterone looks as though it's normal, but SHBG is high, that elevated SHBG will reactivate testosterone, which means it looks as though it's there but it's not active.
If SHBG is high and testosterone looks normal, but the person is suffering from fatigue and mood swings, one of the best herbal remedies is to drink some nettle tea as it reduces the effect of the SHBGs.
Teresa Mitchell-Paterson BHSc(CompMed) MHSc(HumNut) AdvDipNat is a member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. www.atms.com.au