The Major Degenerative Diseases
Good health late in life depends largely on avoiding the major degenerative diseases associated with getting old. These common disorders greatly accelerate the aging process -preventing these conditions would allow many to live a healthy life well past the age of 100. (A detailed discussion of the nutritional prevention and treatment of each of these important disorders can be found in later sections.
- Cancer. The chances of getting cancer double every 10 years after the age of 50. The accumulated effects of poor nutrition and exposure to cancer-causing substances in the environment weaken the immune system and impair DNA repair mechanisms - making cancer more likely in lateryears. It is estimated that about 30-50% of all cancers are due to dietary factors.7 Proper eating habits, antioxi-dant supplementation, and a healthy lifestyle can dramatically reduce risk of cancer.
- Cardiovascular disease. The risk of heart attack and stroke rises steadily with age and become much more common after age 60. The major contributing factors - nutritional deficiencies, too much dietary fat and alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise - can all be avoided.
- Type 2 diabetes. After age 40, the chances of developing diabetes double every 10 years. Most cases occur in individuals who are overweight, do not exercise regularly, and eat too much fat. Proper nutrition, exercise, and maintaining a normal weight can cut the risk substantially.
- Obesity. Obesity increases the risk of many of the chronic diseases that affect older adults. Overweight adults are three times more likely than normal-weight people to be hypertensive. Overweight people are more often hyper-lipidemic and have more heart attacks and strokes at younger ages, compared with normal-weight people. Obese people have three to four times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.8
- Immune weakness. Susceptibility to infections and cancer steadily increases with age. The immune system is dependent on many micronutrients, particularly zinc, selenium, vitamin E, and the B vitamins. Optimizing body levels of these nutrients can help maintain immune function into older age.9
- Dementia. Many older people are disabled by a gradual loss of brain functions, a condition referred to as dementia. About 5% of people over the age of 65 have dementia and the incidence increases sharply with age -over 30% of those older than 85 are affected. Dietary factors, including nutritional deficiencies and overconsumption of fats and alcohol - contribute to one-third to half of all cases.10
- Dietary zinc
- Absorbed zinc
Young men 22-30 y
Older men 65-74 y
Fig. 4.17: Reduced zinc absorption in older adults. A study of the effect of aging on zinc metabolism showed a significant difference in zinc absorption between younger and older men. While younger men absorbed 31 %of the zinc from the test meal, older men absorbed only 17%. (Adapted from TurnlundJR, etal.J Nutr. 1986; 116:1239)
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