Archive for the ‘Healthy Ageing’ Category

Feeding your face: How food can make you look younger or older

Friday, May 1st, 2009

What woman doesn’t want clearer, more youthful skin? Many of us spend more than we’d like on creams, toners, moisturisers and anti-wrinkle products, but the best kept beauty secret to make your skin look younger and smoother is hidden in your refrigerator or kitchen cupboard.


Looking younger and holding back wrinkles is simple if you make sure you eat the right nutrients required for your skin. As an added bonus nutrients that are nourishing to your skin are also nourishing for your body and mind – so you’ll not only look great, you’ll feel great too.


The following ‘look younger’ foods are not expensive and you can get them from all food stores.


Look younger foods:



These tasty, crispy nuts are a fine source of skin-saving essential fatty acids and the antioxidants selenium and vitamin E, and research has shown that all of these are essential for smooth, healthy and supple skin.

Before consuming almonds as a between meal snack, or sprinkled on cereal or yogurt, do check on the portion sizes. Almonds weigh in at 160 calories per one single ounce (i.e. a small handful), so you don’t need to eat large amounts every day to get the skin saving benefits. I also think they taste even better if you soak them in water for about 15 minutes or so before you eat them – you can absorb more nutrients when they have been soaked.



Mackerel is a great source of vitamin A, which is needed for cell regeneration, and it is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids as well. According to a study recently published in the Journal of Lipid Research, omega 3 fatty acids help prevent wrinkles, delay the ageing process of the sun, keep skin supple and prevent inflammation of the tissues, which damages skin cells. Despite all these benefits most of us don’t have enough oily fish, like mackerel, in our diet. Eat at least two 140 g portions of oily fish a week. If you are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding eat no more than two portions as oily fish can contain levels of pollutants that can collect in the body. If you can’t stomach fish then take the fish oil in capsule form (see Omega 3 on the Resources Page). If you are vegetarian then use 1000 mg of flax or linseed oil a day as this will give you similar omega 3 fatty acid benefits. I have included a lovely recipe for Mackerel Pate in this issue of Natural News (see page 46).


Citrus fruits

A good source of collagen – which is the substance that helps make your skin look young and smooth – citrus fruits can certainly help hold back the years. Try to eat one citrus fruit a day and don’t just stick with oranges and lemons, experiment with different varieties of citrus fruits. There are plenty of them: clementines, limes, grape fruits, mandarins, tangerines, kumquats and satsumas are all nutrient packed tasty alternatives.



Recent research showed that people who ate 55g of standard tomato puree a day for three months had 33 per cent more protection from sunburn (the equivalent of a very low factor sun cream) and much higher levels of procollagen, a molecule that gives the skin its structure and keeps it firm. For maximum anti-ageing benefits it seems that cooked tomatoes have more lycopene – another crucial component that protects the skin – than uncooked ones, so grill tomatoes for breakfast or supper, make some tomato soup for lunch and add extra tomato puree to pasta and pizzas.



A rich source of collagen-boosting vitamin C, blueberries also contain an antioxidant pigment (which gives them their purple colour) called anthrocyanin. Antioxidants can help fight the free radical damage (caused by smoking, pollution and sunlight) that can cause wrinkles. Try to eat at least 100g of blueberries a day, either on their own or blended into yogurts and smoothies or as toppings for cereal or dessert. If you can’t get fresh blueberries then frozen ones are fine and will still retain their antioxidant nutrients.


Wheat germ

Rich in zinc, vitamin E and selenium – three of the most powerful nutrients that can fight against ageing – wheat germ is an anti-ageing essential. Zinc, which is also found in wheat and whole grains, helps maintain the proper functioning of the oil-producing glands in the skin that can help to keep it looking young and supple. Vitamin E promotes skin healing, helping to protect cell membranes and guard against sun damage. And selenium is a powerful anti-ageing antioxidant. Try sprinkling wheat germ over cereals, salads, vegetables, soups and yogurts every day or add it to homemade cakes and breads.


Green tea

Researchers from the Medical College of Georgia in America have found that green tea contains compounds called polyphenols that can help eliminate the free radicals that speed up the ageing and wrinkling process. The polyphenol which is most active in green tea is called EGCG and it can help enhance skin regeneration and produce a younger looking, fresher complexion. For maximum benefits aim for one or two cups of green tea a day.



Containing a myriad of nutrients and vitamins, avocados help to moisturise, exfoliate and enrich the skin. They are particularly rich in the essential anti-ageing antioxidant vitamin E, which helps protect the skin from free radical damage. Vitamin E is also considered by professional beauty therapists to be an essential ingredient in treatments that help reduce the appearance of ageing.


Other skin savers include vitamin-A-rich sweet potatoes and circulation-boosting garlic but perhaps the best nutrient of them all – and one that is often forgotten – is water. Be sure to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water every day to flush out toxins and keep your skin looking healthy and fresh. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly is also essential, as is avoiding foods that can make your skin look dry, peeled and older. Here are the major culprits to avoid:


Look older foods:



Skin care experts agree that a diet high in sugar makes you age faster by a process called glycation. Glycation is the uncontrolled reaction of sugars with proteins, which happens when glucose and insulin levels are allowed to get out of control. It’s a bit like the browning effect on foods when you bake them. If glycation is allowed to happen, it will create a damaged, ‘encrusted’ structure in different parts of the body. This browning effect results in the formation of highly toxic chemicals called Advance Glycosylation End products (AGEs). These AGEs damage the protein in cells, preventing them from functioning normally. They also cause membranes and blood vessels to thicken and can harden arteries. Over time, blood vessels will lose their elasticity and skin can become wrinkled – all signs of ageing. Basically ageing is the accumulation of damaged cells, so the more we can do to lessen the damage to our cells, the slower the ageing process will be and the healthier we will become. 

To keep your sugar intake to a minimum cut down on sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sugar-coated cereals and snack bars. Start to read food labels – look for the figure corresponding to carbohydrates as that is where the sugar can be found. More than 15g of sugar per 100g is too high, 5g or less per 100g is low and anything in the middle is medium. You should also swap soft drinks, which are typically high in sugar, with fruit juices diluted with filtered water and spread your toast with peanut butter or jam made with pure fruit and no added sugar.


Processed meat

High in salt, processed and cured meats (such as sausages, burgers, packaged and sliced meat) can make your skin age fast. This is because the high salt content dehydrates cells, which reduces the skin’s elasticity and increases puffiness. It can also aggravate dry skin. Not to mention the fact that processed meats are very high in saturated fat, which can slow down skin cell regeneration and inhibit the delivery of oxygen to your cells, making your skin look dull and tired. Try to replace processed and cured meats with fresh fish, oily fish, legumes and soya.


White rice

A diet rich in foods high on the glycaemic index (GI) – such as white rice and refined breads – can cause high levels of insulin, which in turn can trigger an inflammatory response that can damage skin cells. Researchers believe that this process could well be a major cause of premature wrinkles. Aim to switch from high GI foods to lower GI alternatives, which don’t cause such wild blood sugar swings. For example, swap white bread for wholegrain bread, white rice for brown rice and eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and avoid processed foods and crisps.


Pies and pastries

Baked foods (such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies and white bread) can be made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are likely to contain trans fats. Study after study has shown that not only can trans fats increase the risk of heart attacks and cancer, they can also interfere with the body’s ability to build long chain fatty acids – the type known to help keep your skin looking smooth and supple. The best way to avoid trans fats is to avoid fast food, baked goods such as pies and pastries, and any foods with hydrogenated vegetable oil listed in the ingredients.



Along with smoking, one of the fastest ways to look older than your years and to experience premature wrinkling is to drink too much alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates the skin, which increases the risk of wrinkles and also limits the body’s ability to absorb skin-saving free-radical-fighting vitamins and minerals, in particular vitamin C. It also dilates blood vessels close to the skin causing broken and peeling skin. You don’t need to cut out alcohol altogether, but should not drink more than one unit a day and drink at least one glass of water for every unit of alcohol you consume. Try to have at least three alcohol-free days a week and opt for red wine rather than beer or white wine, as it is higher in age-fighting antioxidants.


Look on your plate:


There’s nothing wrong with spending money on anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle products, but hopefully the information above has shown you that the foundation of smooth, younger looking skin can be found not at your chemists but on your plate. Pile it high with healthy, fresh food rich in nutrients and low in additives, preservatives, salt and sugar – within a few weeks you’ll notice how much softer and smoother your skin looks, naturally.

Your 40s 50s and 60s: control common problems the natural way

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

As we age we all become more vulnerable to certain health conditions, but there are plenty of natural ways to prevent them so you can live your life to the full. Whatever your age, the following natural well being plan will help you control some of the most common age-related problems.


Your 40s


Sleep problems

Sleeplessness is more likely to occur in your 40s when the hormonal changes of the menopause approach and this can increase your risk of stress, anxiety and fatigue. Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise studies have shown that a quality night’s sleep is essential for weight management, hormone balance and good health in general.


To encourage a good night’s sleep boost your calcium and magnesium intake by eating more green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds during the day. Calcium and magnesium work together and are often described as ‘nature’s tranquilisers.’ You may also want to try a little herbal help with valerian, which, along with passion flower and hops, is known for its sleep-inducing and calming qualities.


Try to get at least 30 minutes exercise in the fresh air as natural daylight and activity can result in 50 percent improvement in sleep patterns. It can also help to make sure your bedtime routine is relaxing. Have a warm bath with aromatherapy oils to wind down and avoid drinking caffeine during the afternoon and evening. Don’t take your worries to bed. Make a list of things you need to think about tomorrow. If you still can’t get to sleep don’t lie there tossing and turning and clock watching – get up and do something relaxing, such as listening to calming music, until you feel sleepy.


Lack of energy

Many women over the age of 45 say they suffer from tiredness and as you enter your 40s you may start to find your energy levels dropping. As we age, metabolic and physiological changes can impact on your body’s energy levels, causing fatigue. But this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. With the right diet and exercise plan and a positive mind set, many women in their 40s – and beyond – feel more energetic than ever. Take the actress Meryl Streep, for example, anyone who saw her singing, dancing, and leaping around in the movie ‘Mama Mia’ would have found it hard to believe she is a year shy of 60.


In the next few issues I’ll be giving you more advice about natural ways to boost your energy levels, but for now the most important things you can do are to exercise more and cut down on caffeine and sugar. Regular exercise is essential for keeping your energy levels up. Caffeine and sugar may give you an instant hit but they’ll leave you feeling tired and depleted in the long run. A healthy, balanced diet is crucial as nutritional deficiencies can trigger fatigue (see also the article on ‘Eating for energy’) and you could also benefit from supplementing with a daily multivitamin and mineral, especially one that contains vitamin B12, which is known to boost energy. Choose a multivitamin and mineral that is designed for leading up to and through the menopause, the one I use in the clinic is called Menoplus. Herb wise, ginseng is the ultimate energy booster. Several trials have shown it to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of low energy but for women it is better to use Siberian ginseng rather than any other kind of ginseng, otherwise the effects can be too strong and some women found they were having palpitations. (See the Resources Page for information on the supplements and herbs).


Peri-menopause and menopause

During your 40s you are most likely to experience the symptoms of peri menopause. This occurs when your ovaries have reduced egg supply and they gradually cease to produce the female hormone oestrogen. Perimenopause can occur as early as five to ten years before the actual menopause, which is most likely to occur in your early 50s. The symptoms of perimenopause are lighter but mirror those of the menopause and include irregular periods, hot flushes, mood swings, weight gain and insomnia.


If you’re experiencing hot flushes, avoid clothes made from synthetic fabrics and wear layers instead to keep warm. Use bedclothes made from cotton and layers rather than a big duvet. Watch what you eat and drink – a hot drink before bedtime can often trigger night sweats or make them worse. Other triggers include caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. And although it may make you feel hotter and sweatier in the short term, women who exercise regularly seem to have fewer flushes.


There are a number of natural therapies to choose from if you are in the early stages of peri-menopause. Phytoestrogens are hormone like substances that act like a weaker version of oestrogen and can help balance fluctuating hormones. They are present in foods like soya, legumes and linseeds (flaxseeds). The herb sage is known to be helpful at the menopause and black cohosh has shown to be effective for the hot flushes and night sweats. The ancient Chinese herb dong quai can also help balance hormones. (I think a combination of herbs is often more effective than single herbs so I use one called Black Cohosh Plus in the clinic. This contains black cohosh, dong quai, sage and milk thistle – see the Resources Page).


Bowel cancer

Over the age of forty your risk of bowel cancer increases. To find out how simple diet and lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of getting it, refer to the article ‘Bowel cancer: How to protect yourself’ in this issue.


Your 50s


Concentration and memory

In your 50s you may find that words and putting names to faces sometimes eludes you. Age does tend to affect our ability to store and retrieve information, but try not to panic. It’s very unlikely that this is an early sign of dementia. Doctors have recently confirmed that forgetfulness is a perfectly normal stage of ageing, just like greying hair. It may even be of benefit to avoid cluttering your mind with too much information. For example, you may forget where your spectacles are but you won’t forget what they are or what they are for! 


So instead of worrying about remembering – which just makes it harder to remember – take simple steps to help you remember things that you often forget. For example, put your keys in the same place every time and use visual association to help you remember names. For instance, if a woman you are introduced to is called Elizabeth, picture her standing beside Queen Elizabeth or Helen Mirren. It also helps to keep your mind active.


Just as your body needs regular exercise, your brain needs regular exercise too. Keep it fit by playing cards and chess games, reading books, doing crosswords, learning an instrument or new language or by pursuing a new hobby. The supplement ginkgo biloba is recommended for its memory boosting properties – studies show that taking this herb on a regular basis can improve concentration powers (see the Resources Page).


High blood pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension is becoming increasingly common with age and after the menopause women no longer have the protective effect of oestrogen. It is estimated that as many as one in four women over the age of 50 may have high blood pressure and if it is not controlled it can put incredible strain on your heart and arteries and increase your risk of stroke and diabetes. Symptoms include frequent headaches, dizziness or blurred vision, but worryingly it can often manifest without symptoms.


To reduce your risk of age related high blood pressure, cut down on your salt intake. Eating too much salt can send blood pressure soaring. The recommended maximum intake of salt per day is 6 grams so try replacing salt in cooking with herbs and spices for seasoning. And take note of hidden salt in foods – the British Heart Association estimates that three quarters of the salt we eat may come from processed foods and even basic foods such as white bread and cereals contain salt, so be sure to read food labels carefully.


Taking regular exercise will lower your blood pressure and will also help you to lose weight but you should also be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day are a must. You should steer clear of saturated fats, added sugar and refined foods as these can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood; the higher your cholesterol the greater your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.


Potassium intake can also help lower blood pressure – foods rich in this mineral include dried apricots, pulses and nuts. And the minerals magnesium (found in brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and soya beans) and calcium (found in dairy products and green leafy vegetables) have also been shown to lower blood pressure. The herb ginger has traditionally been used to help lower blood pressure. Garlic is also recommended for general heart health. You can take both ginger and garlic in supplement form if you think you can’t get enough with your food. I would recommend a specific form of garlic called Aged Garlic which is organically gown and odourless, but more importantly it is cold aged for 20 months which results in a more potent garlic. Co-enzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance contained in nearly every cell of your body. It is important for energy production and normal carbohydrate metabolism. Deficiency in co-enzyme Q10 can occur with ageing. In one randomised double-blind trial patients with high blood pressure who were taking blood pressure medication were given co-enzyme Q10. On the Q10 they had lower blood pressure and their HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) increased.  (See the Resources Page for information on supplements and herbs).



As many as one in two women will develop osteoporosis over the age of 50, because loss of bone density speeds up after the menopause as oestrogen levels decline. Many women aren’t aware that their bones are thinning dangerously until they get a broken bone after a minor bump or fall. But the good news is that osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated with natural therapies if detected early enough.


The first step is to give up smoking and to avoid passive smoking as both these can have a weakening effect on the bones. It is also vital to make sure that you don’t drink more than 10 units of alcohol a week, as alcohol depletes your body of bone-building nutrients. Calcium is bone food and it is found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, beans and dried fruit. You can also take it in supplement form, usually in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, which helps aid its absorption. Regular weight bearing exercise such as brisk walking, aerobics and jogging helps to strengthen bones and you should aim for at least five sessions a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. (For more detail on the prevention and treatment of Osteoporosis see my book ‘Osteoporosis – the silent epidemic’.)


Your 60s



As you age your body’s ability to deal with glucose (energy from food) declines and this decline increases your risk of diabetes. As many as eight out of ten people with diabetes are overweight, so eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep your weight down. Studies have shown that women who exercise for 30 minutes a day and eat a diet low in trans fatty acids (found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and processed foods, such as biscuits and margarine) and high in fibre (found in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables), reduce their risk of diabetes by up to 90 percent. So eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, brown rice and pasta and choose monosaturated oils, such as olive oil, rather than trans fatty acids found in processed foods.


Diverticular disease and IBS

After the age of 60, diverticular disease, which is an inflammation of the intestines, is increasingly common, although many people don’t realise that they have it. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) has similar symptoms. The exact cause isn’t known, but it is thought that stress and anxiety can be triggers.


Avoiding large meals, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, increasing fibre intake, and drinking plenty of water can all help. Relaxation is especially important. Certain supplements may also help keep your digestive system healthy and these include peppermint oil, which has an anti-spasmodic effect; artichoke extract which can reduce symptoms of bloating and probiotics (e.g. BioKult), which can replace healthy bacteria in the colon and ease digestive problems.


If you are experiencing any changes in your bowel motions, then it is important to see your doctor for a check up. 



Your risk of developing arthritis increases as you get older because arthritis is a wear and tear disease. Millions of people suffer from arthritis in the UK and the majority of them are over the age of 60, but it is certainly not inevitable.  


It is important to keep as flexible and mobile as possible – so gentle exercise, such as swimming, is a good idea. You should also keep pressure off your joints. As always, a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables and omega 3, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, is essential for healthy joints.


Many arthritis sufferers find that the supplement bromelain eases inflammation. Bromelain is a natural enzyme found in pineapples. Omega 3 fish oils have an anti-inflammatory effect and can sometimes work as well as prescription drugs to ease pain. Make sure you get a fish oil with high levels of EPA and DHA, the one I use in the clinic (Omega 3 Plus) contains 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA from just two capsules a day. Ginger has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and glucosamine is an amino acid found naturally in your body’s cartilage that may help with joint repair. I find that the combination of MSM and glucosamine seems to work even better than either glucosamine on its own or combined with chondrotin (see MSM Plus on the Resources Page). 


As far as herbs go, boswellia and turmeric can also be extremely helpful for joint pains. Apple cider vinegar is also often recommended for arthritis as, contrary to what one might think, it actually helps the body to be more alkaline, so reducing inflammation. 

In the News: Three months of healthy eating helps you stay young

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Switching to a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low in unhealthy fat and refined sugars for as little as three months or 12 weeks can boost your lifespan and protect against killer diseases.


For the first time a new study has shown the beneficial effects of healthy eating on the ageing process within the body. They believe that along with taking a daily vitamin and mineral and fish oil supplements, regular exercise and stress management people can reduce their cancer risk and the delay the ageing process. And the research team have called for urgent further research to discover just how powerful a factor diet and lifestyle is on overall health.


It is estimated that one in four women will develop cancer and rates are thought to increase with age. Although cancer risk can be linked to genes and the environment, researchers are now convinced that diet and exercise also play a crucial part. According to Cancer research, UK, approximately one in four of the 15,000 cancer deaths each year are connected to poor diet and resulting weight gain, but until now the link has been unclear. Previous studies that compared what people ate with their risk of illness were notoriously unreliable because most people can’t recall exactly or reliably what they eat. The latest research, however, from the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California, published in The Lancet Oncology, looked at a new part of the human system that was not based on dietary surveys. It showed that cancer sufferers who switched to healthy eating saw a significant increase in an enzyme, called telomerase, which protects cells from damage.


The research supports existing studies that show there is a clear link between cell ageing and factors such as diet and stress.  In my opinion the findings of this latest study are of enormous significance and will help take science even closer to discovering exactly why and how diet is so important for our health and wellbeing.