Internal Health Versus External Fixes: Choose Nutrition

The anti-aging industry is a multibillion-dollar business, and you don’t have to look far to get the message that maintaining a youthful appearance is worshiped in our society. Just take a gander at the shelves in the cosmetic aisle at your local drugstore or department store: You’ll see anti-wrinkle creams and peels, collagen-boosting moisturizers and masks, and more.

However, the amount of time and energy that you spend on your outside appearance should be rivaled by the amount of time you spend maintaining good health on the inside. I would go so far as to say that the energy you spend on improving you internal health should surpass the attention you give to how you look on the outside. If you take good care of your body by eating well, increasing physical activity, and meditating daily, then the way that you look on the outside will match your inside. When it comes to aging, the key to unlocking youth and vitality really lies with changing your genetic and environmental risk factors through diet, exercise, and meditation, and my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, tells you how.

This newsletter looks at major health conditions that are associated with aging—heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and anxiety, as well as the nutrients that help alleviate (and sometimes prevent) their effects. The next newsletter on nutrition will discuss herbal remedies for many other conditions, including memory decline and the reduction of inflammation.

Eastern Diet/Western Diet: The Case for Good Nutrition

People in many cultures have long lifespans, and if you look at the Japanese, they have one of the longest. Their ability to age well is often attributed to their low-fat diet; however, the Japanese diet isn’t solely a low-fat diet. Rather, it includes a moderate amount of eggs, pork, chicken, and beef. Despite their daily consumption of fish and broth (such as miso soup), the Japanese likely have a diet that is higher in cholesterol than most Americans. But the type of fat that they consume is not partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and fat type makes a huge difference. Although they do eat rice, the Japanese do not consume white flour or any other processed foods.

Studies comparing Japanese people who reside in the United States with those who live in their native land found that those who live here tend to adapt to our Western diet—as well as our ballooning weights. As a consequence, the Japanese also face many of our chronic ailments such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and, inevitably, accelerated aging. So, let’s look at how food can prolong your life and improve your health: a natural prescription for aging well.

Nutrition: An Addition Not a Replacement

I want to underscore that medications are an important part of treating patients. Unfortunately, once someone receives a prescription medication to treat an illness (with the exception of bacterial infection and some other easy-to-treat medical problems), the person is usually taking a drug on a long-term basis. One of the most complex issues in treating older adults is the dispensing of multiple medications by various doctors. But it doesn’t have to be this way. From the young to the oldest, practice makes perfect. Eating foods that are good for you is a healthy habit that will take time, so allow yourself room for error, as long as you correct the behavior and continue to eat and live well.

Nutrition, as we discuss here, goes a long way in reversing, mitigating, and sometimes preventing age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), memory loss, stress, anxiety, and chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and aging. You’ll find videos that explain how nutrition mitigates each of these five chronic conditions on my website,, and YouTube. As I say in my video on aging, aging is a biologic process, and growing old is an option.

Now, let’s look at the mechanisms, scientific research, and specific recommendations for the most common age-related conditions.

Nutrients Improve/Prevent Key Aging Conditions

Foods With Micronutrients For Heart Disease and Diabetes

Because older adults are on the fast track to becoming the largest segment of our society, there will be a proportional rise in age-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. What does this have to do with memory loss?  Well, poor blood circulation in cardiovascular disease means that there’s a problem getting enough blood to the brain, in general, which means that the brain isn’t able to obtain maximal amounts of energy. And diabetes means that there’s a problem getting the brain’s main energy source, glucose, into brain cells. Studies have shown that nutritional deficiencies are linked to cognitive decline. Eating foods that contain micronutrients like nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fish, as well as taking supplements, replenish low levels of necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Magnesium: For Alzheimer’s, Learning, and Memory Loss

After diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke, Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death in United States. Because of the booming older population, Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple by 2050. Although no cure exists at this time, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have identified several key nutrients, which hold promise as nutrigenetic ways to fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Various modifiable factors were identified in the progression of Alzheimer’s.  A major pathway in the loss of memory results from the breakdown of connections between nerve cells in the brain. Fortunately, these pathways are deemed correctable by nutritional interventions—namely, magnesium. Recent findings show that because magnesium enhances neural transmission and plasticity in the brain, it helps to facilitate learning and memory, two key cognitive losses in Alzheimer’s disease.

Specifically, magnesium works in conjunction with calcium to regulate ion channels, which are the gateway for ions to enter and leave nerve cells and propagate a nerve impulse to release the desired neurotransmitters. The NDMA receptor controls ion channels: It promotes memory by triggering greater synaptic connections between nerve cells (synaptic density) and enhances the brain’s ability to grow, learn, memorize, and change with the input of new information from the environment (plasticity).

For many reasons, magnesium levels in the body are often deficient, and these low levels can accelerate memory loss, as well as brain cell aging. Not only is magnesium found to be deficient in the aging population; it is particularly deficient among women, who were found to consume only about 60% of the recommended daily amount.

MgT: Hope for PTSD and Neural Plasticity

The MIT researchers also found an extremely absorbable form of the mineral magnesium that is efficiently transferred and concentrated in brain tissue. Called magnesium-L-threonate (MgT), it was shown to enhance short-term memory and long-term memory by 18% and 100%, respectively, in experimental studies.

MgT is also a readily transferable oral form that specifically enhances brain concentrations of magnesium. Animal studies have shown that MgT in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) blocks the emotional response that is associated with an event and its associated fearful reaction by acting on the prefrontal area of the brain to inhibit the processing of old fearful memories.

What does this mean for aging Baby Boomers? Well, both spatial and long-term memory loss are problem areas as we get older. Thankfully, MgT supplementation has been shown, in experimental models, to significantly improve neural plasticity. Animal studies have had such a positive impact on brain health that MIT researchers are preparing to develop human studies examining the effects of MgT on memory.

Supplements for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Older adults can also suffer from various forms of dementia, and unlike Alzheimer’s disease (AD), certain types of dementia are reversible. A sign of early dementia is mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is associated with deficits in memory, thinking, language, and judgment, but the individual’s ability to carry out his or her day-to-day activities is not impaired. Not all patients with MCI necessarily progress to AD—some get better, while others’ cognitive states may never worsen. Good supplements for the treatment of MCI include vitamins D and B12 and the fatty acids EPA and DHA, all of which I recommend to my patients.

Exercise for Heart Disease

Let me underscore that daily exercise is a key component in maintaining overall good health, and I recommend it to all of my patients. Exercise increases the body’s metabolic rate, which then helps burn fat, and it is particularly effective in the control and maintenance of healthy heart functioning. Women with heart failure were found to have more benefit from exercise than men in a Montefiore Medical Center study reported in Science News. More than 2,300 women were tested, and exercise training “reduced the risk for subsequent all-cause mortality or all-cause hospitalization in women by 26 percent, compared with 10 percent for men.”

Meditation and Stress Reduction

Besides eating healthy and exercising, meditating is another lifestyle practice that has been scientifically proven, time and time again, to reduce stress and heighten clear thinking. Stress, of course, is a risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, and even cancer. Sitting quietly for 20 minutes a day will also help boost your immune system, the body’s first line of defense in fighting any adverse health condition. I teach my patients how to meditate, and I have created several meditation CDs that are effective guides.

Age: Just Another Number

This has been a brief look at how good nutrition can help abate some of the major conditions that are associated with aging. Aging can actually be luminous and vibrant. In fact, aging is a far cry from “growing old” when you add healthy, daily nutrition and lifestyle practices. And, remember, all of my suggestions not only treat negative health conditions; they enhance your very DNA. That means that at the genetic level, you are enhancing your entire life with long and lasting benefits. Age, ultimately, is just another number.

Photo Credit: Ruslan Guzov/
Brown-Borg H, et al. Nutrition in aging and disease: update on biological sciences. Aging Health. 2012;8(1):13-16.
Baum L, Lam CWK, et al. Six-month randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, pilot clinical trial of curcumin in patients with Alzheimer disease. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology. 2008; 28(1):110.
Ng TP, et al. Curry consumption and cognitive function in the elderly. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006;164(9):898-906. Accessed May 29, 2013.
Rude RK, et al. Skeletal and hormonal effects of magnesium deficiency. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2009;28(2):131-141.
Hoane MR, et al. Magnesium dietary manipulation and recovery of function following controlled cortical damage in the rat. Magnes Res. 2008;21(1):29-37.
Slutsky I, et al. Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium. Neuron. 2010;65(2):165-177.
Abumaria N YB, et al. Enhancement of cognitive control of emotions by elevated brain magnesium leads to anti-depressants like effect. Poster presentation #549. Society for Neuroscience 2009 Meeting.
Abumaria N, et al. Effects of elevation of brain magnesium on fear conditioning, fear extinction, and synaptic plasticity in the infralimbic prefrontal cortex and lateral amygdala. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2011;31(42):14871-14881.
Montefiore Medical Center, Exercise training improves health outcomes of women with heart disease more than of men, Science News, March 26, 2014.