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Anti-aging and Longevity Medicine

Longevity

An enduring dream of humankind is to find the "Fountain of Youth," a way to the prevention of aging. There are many notions of what causes aging. The idea which seems to tie them all together best is the free radical theory. This notion, put forth by Denham Harmon in the 1950s has it that oxidation liberates molecules with unpaired electrons and that before these unpaired electrons can be taken into the antioxidant systems of the body, damage is done to cell structures, DNA, RNA, and proteins. This is thought to leave the cells of the body in a state of diminished vitality, a kind of damage which is not fully repairable. This includes the vital hormone system.

As far as slowing aging is concerned, perhaps the two most important tools we have are the antioxidant and hormone replacement therapies. Endogenous antioxidants are those which are made by the cells of the body. Exogenous antioxidants are those which are taken in with food or as nutritional supplements. Glutathione is an example of the former. Ascorbate (vitamin C) is an example of the latter. A supplementation program of the precursors of the endogenous antioxidants and of the full range of exogenous antioxidants should, theoretically, slow aging. "Endocrine" glands secrete directly into the blood and circulate immediately throughout the body. "Endo" means inside, thus denoting that these glands place their secretions inside the body, namely into the blood stream. Such a secretion is a "hormone" (derived from a Greek word meaning "to stimulate"). Hormones are the language the body speaks between its various parts, letting the various organs know if they need to speed up or slow down, make more of this or less of that. It is an exquisite biochemical symphony. Blood circulates throughout the body in sixty seconds. Therefore, it takes approximately sixty seconds for a hormone to reach any other part of the body.

The endocrine glands are the following:
  PITUITARY  
thyroid   adrenals
parathyroids   pancreas
thymus   ovaries/testes


The pituitary is listed on top and in capital letters, because it is the so-called "master" endocrine gland. It serves to regulate the other endocrine glands. It produces a variety of "trophic hormones" which tell the other endocrine glands to speed up, work harder. (It also produces HGH or human growth hormone, covered in a separate web page.)

As we age, and the endocrine glands decrease their function, the pituitary begins to whip them like tired horses. This contributes to the development of a state of exhaustion. It is plain and clear to me that normal aging (as distinguished from abnormal aging from poor diet and lack of exercise) is caused by the gradual decline of the endocrine glands with a resulting decrease in circulating hormones. What causes this gradual decline in the endocrine glands probably is the effect of free radical pathology. This, in itself, is something which can be slowed down by proper diet and supplements. Aging cells become more and more resistant to the effects of hormones, and just at that time in life when the body needs a boost in hormone levels, it gets a decrease instead. The hormone secretions of the endocrine glands not only effect the health and well-being of the rest of the body, but they also are dependent on each other to maintain health. Thus, when the thyroid gland takes a nose-dive, and the basal metabolic rate is slowed down, this, in turn, slows down the functioning of all the other endocrine glands. When the parathyroids age, they no longer hold calcium metabolism within the boundaries required for maximal health. When the thymus partially degenerates (which it does by age twenty) the immune system is no longer the lion it once was. When the pancreas puts out less insulin, all the other endocrine glands are denied easy access to glucose, because insulin helps drive glucose into cells. Glucose is an important energy source for the functioning of all the cells of the body.

The adrenal glands are responsible for regulating the body's response to stress through regulation of protein, carbohydrate and mineral metabolism, as well as powering up the immune system in conditions of stress. When the adrenals are exhausted, the other glands are unable to cooperate in reducing the effects of stress, and the body is more susceptible to infections. The adrenals become exhausted through constant exposure to stress from any source. This is an extremely common condition in our society. The testes and adrenals in men and the adrenals alone in women make testosterone, and this hormone is responsible for maintaining aerobic metabolism and preventing the body from resorting to the far less efficient anaerobic metabolism. The ovaries and adrenals in women and the adrenals alone in men make estrogen, which lends softness and pliability to tissues without sacrificing strength. When estrogen production wanes, the connective tissue component of all organs (including the endocrine glands) suffer. The point is: all the endocrine glands work together and depend upon each other, and the failure of one of them affects the rest as well. Endocrine gland failure is inevitable, and it is part of what I call "normal" aging. Warding off abnormal aging is done by proper diet, exercise and sleep. Slowing down normal aging is possible through timely recognition and correction of endocrine failure — and there is the rub.

Traditionally, doctors have relied on laboratory tests to diagnose deficiencies. That works well for the under 35 age group. However, after 35 or 40, the amount of hormone needed to maintain a youthful condition goes up progressively. Therefore, if you have a set of symptoms which could be attributed to hormone deficiency, you may go to the doctor, be sent for lab tests and then be told there is nothing wrong with you — you are just getting old. Well, that is true, you are getting old, except it is not true that nothing is wrong with you. What is wrong with you is: you are getting old. Doctors say you are just getting old when they cannot correct a problem. Does it make sense to keep saying that when the means are at hand to correct the problem? While it may be true that the endocrine glands are getting old and will not put out as much hormone as needed to keep the rest of the body young, that does not mean we should lie down and learn to live with it. If we can rejuvenate or supplement the endocrine glands, and if that rejuvenation or supplementation is safe and creates an enhanced experience of health and well being, as well as increased longevity, why shouldn't we do it? While it is true that our ancestors had to live with degeneration of the endocrine system, it does not necessarily follow that we should retrace their footsteps. We can now go to the health food store and buy "glandulars," preparations made from animal endocrine organs containing the precursor molecules necessary to power up the various endocrine organs. This works, up to a point, and is especially effective to prevent aging of the endocrine organs and, to some degree, reverse it. When it no longer works, it is now possible to supplement with the actual hormones themselves.

Where the Doctor Fits In

The contribution the doctor can make is the correct diagnosis, based on clinical symptoms and physical examination, of which endocrine organs are weak. Your doc should also know the correct replacement dose(s) of hormone(s) which are required and have the courage to prescribe them whether or not the lab tests reveal a hormone level consistent with low endocrine function for a person your age. The idea is to have youthful levels of hormones, whatever your age. If you want to roll back the clock and completely rejuvenate your body, it is necessary to become familiar with, consider closely the health of, and then fully support the function of each and every endocrine gland. This is known as a glandular workup" — in which we test and examine each gland in your body and then bring each gland up to youthful function.

Some of the well-known human hormones which are used in anti-aging medicine are pregnenolone, DHEA, progesterone, androstenedione, estradiol, estrone, estriol. Cholesterol, far from being the toxic substance it is portrayed to be in the popular press is the precursor hormone for all of these. Without cholesterol you would die very quickly. In the oxidized form in the relative absence of antioxidants, especially ascorbate (vitamin C), and in the presence of micro injuries to the vascular wall, cholesterol is one of the items which collects to plug the leak. However, lowering cholesterol too much is more dangerous that allowing it to remain greatly elevated.

Naturally, diet, Aerobic Exercise and Anaerobic Exercise are extremely important in anti-aging medicine.


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The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.
Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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by Ron Kennedy, M.D. Santa Rosa, CA.
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