Ageing and health
Ageing and the common denominator
How do you feel about the prospect of getting old, or older? It’s not a great feeling is it? There are a whole bunch of categories into which you can put the various negative aspects of ageing. But by far the biggest of them would be the one called health.
You could fill that category with the diseases and ailments of old age. You also know that you will suffer from at least some of them as you age. But is this necessarily the case? Can preventative action be taken to sidestep at least some of them as we get older. Fortunately that’s not as wild as it seems on the face of it. The thing here that works in our favour is the fact that almost all the health pitfalls of ageing stem from a single root cause. That cause is poor circulation. Deal with poor circulation and you have the key for healthy ageing in your hand.
Circulation and health
As we get older our circulatory system often becomes compromised. There are a number of different mechanisms that affect blood vessel function. They can be genetic, environmental, dietary and/or lifestyle factors. They are also cumulative, so become more severe over time and tend to manifest themselves later in life. They are aggravated by a typically less active lifestyle as we get older which also causes circulatory issues.
It starts with a build-up of cholesterol-containing plaque within artery walls. This causes a progressive narrowing and hardening of the arteries. This restricts the flow of blood through the artery and raises blood pressure.
In the worst cases it can lead to the formation of blood clots, or thrombosis. Blood clots can obstruct the artery where they form, or may break off and lodge elsewhere in the circulatory system. This can be life-threatening if a blood clot blocks an artery that supplies a vital organ such as the heart, causing a heart attack. If the artery supplies the brain, a stroke will result.
Ageing and poor circulation
But, leaving aside this worst case scenario, poor circulation leads to most of ailments and conditions we consider to be a normal part of ageing.
- As less blood reaches the extremities (mainly legs, feet, fingers) this leads to pain and swelling. This in turn compromises mobility.
- Reduced sub cutaneous blood flow leads to thinner, weaker and wrinkled skin.
- Lower blood flow to the eyes compromises eyesight.
- Perhaps most seriously, compromised blood flow to the brain reduces cognitive performance and memory. Dementia is an ever increasing phenomenon as populations age. This has also been linked to reduced blood supply to the brain.
Remarkably, cocoa flavanols have shown a characteristic called “perfusion”. This plays a role in accessing areas of the brain previously inaccessible due to the blood brain barrier. This could prove significant in future treatment or prevention of dementia and diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
Flavanols and healthy ageing
Cocoa flavanols have a protective effect on vascular health by stopping or reducing a number of processes which lead to compromised circulation.
- Inhibiting the oxidation of bad cholesterol by free radicals which is an important initial step in the formation of plaque.
- Reducing the tendency for small blood cells, called platelets, to bind together and form blood clots. This is sometimes described as an ‘aspirin’ effect.
- Regulating inflammatory and immune responses in blood vessel walls.
- Regulating vascular tone, or degree of constriction of small blood vessels by relaxing the vessel walls, thus reducing blood pressure. See this article – Cocoa Flavanols in the body for more information.
In producing these beneficial effects, cocoa flavanols appear to act through a range of different mechanisms. Some are well understood, others are being researched. In summary, healthy blood circulation is essential to transport freshly oxygenated blood and nutrients to all organs and tissue in the human body. When that supply line is compromised, health is compromised.
Cocoa flavanols are antioxidants
Apart from the circulatory benefits of cocoa flavanols many health benefits associated with flavanols are linked to their activity as antioxidants. Antioxidants are a powerful defense mechanism against ‘free radicals’, which are small molecules generated during normal metabolic processes. Excessive free radical production causes damage to cells and their components. This is thought to have a key role in the ageing process and causing degenerative and age-related diseases. Flavanols act as antioxidants by ‘mopping up’ free radicals in cells and limiting the damage they cause.
This is hugely important in the context of prevention of atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes, senile dementia, degenerative eye disease and many others.
The process of biological ageing might also have a free radical basis.
“The human species is not genetically adapted to survive past middle age, and it appears that antioxidant supplementation of our diet is needed to ensure a more healthy elderly population.”
Centre for Environmental and Health Science Pty Ltd, Sydney, NSW
Let’s face it, lifestyle changes are nearly always painful and difficult to maintain. That does not mean you should not attempt them. Take small steps and make sure you have thoroughly ingrained the new habit before you attempt the next one.
But aside from modifying our lifestyles and habits to help achieve healthy ageing you now have a powerful weapon on your side. Cocoa Flavanols not only help prevent the diseases of old age, they play a very active role in treating them. No matter where you fall on the age scale, if you are worried about or already experiencing old age, you now have access to a supplement which could play a big part in the quality of the rest of your life.