8 ways to beat the age clock

Author and nutritionist Fiona Kirk shares her top anti-ageing tips and tricks to keep you looking and feeling younger for longer

1 Nourish your skin

Your skin needs nourishment from both the outside and the inside. What we see on the outside is an excellent indicator of what is going on inside. Certain nutrients are vital for collagen production, elasticity, defence, protection, wound-healing and general integrity. These include the vitamins A, C, E, K and the Bs, the minerals zinc, sulphur, silicon, selenium, iron and copper plus omega-3 fats. It’s a long list but a diet rich in soups, salads, smoothies and snacks involving a wealth of colourful vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds and their oils and butters, red meat from pasture-fed animals, free-range poultry and game, fish and shellfish, eggs, a little butter, cream and cheese, plenty of water plus regular use of chemical-free and antioxidant-rich beauty products ticks the majority of boxes.

2 Try an ‘internal sunscreen’

A relatively new kid on the block is astaxanthin, a protective plant chemical dubbed ‘the king of carotenoids’, which has been shown in studies to improve skin moisture levels, smoothness, elasticity, fine wrinkles, spots and freckles. It also helps to reduce damage caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun which has earned it the title of ‘internal sunscreen’. This plant chemical gives salmon, river trout and shellfish their pinkness, which occurs because the algae these fish feed on is a rich source. Seafood has always been respected as a friend to skin because it offers good levels of omega-3 fatty acids but now we are aware of the additional protection of astaxanthin, there is even more reason to include the pink varieties regularly in our diet. Krill oil supplementation is rich in astaxanthin while spirulina offers good levels for vegetarians and vegans.

3 Stock up on good fats

Up to date studies on postmenopausal women suggest that a higher intake of fat is associated with higher serum levels of not only the family of oestrogens but also DHEA, the mother hormone produced by the adrenal glands and a very powerful precursor to all of our major sex hormones. A diet that includes a healthy mix (but not an overload) of saturated and monounsaturated fats plus omega-3 essential fats is what we are after. Omega-6 fats are also essential but we now know that deficiency is rare because the typical Western diet contains an abundance of these fats from vegetable oils used in cooking and food processing and to an extent from animal fats. This has created an imbalance of omega-6s to -3s in many diets, so to get the balance back we need to concentrate on increasing the omega-3s through eating more oily fish, seeds, walnuts, pecans and omega 3-rich free range eggs.

4 Top up with the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D deficiency has become a global concern. An estimated 85 per cent of us are not getting enough of this ‘sunshine vitamin’, which helps fight bone loss, infection, and abnormal cell growth. Our best source of vitamin D is sunshine. To encourage maximum production, try to get outdoors for 20-30 minutes between midday and 2pm and whenever possible, dependent on weather, bare as much skin as possible and don’t be tempted to slather on high sun protection as you don’t want to block the sun’s rays – a light moisturiser is all that is required for such short exposure. If you live in the northern hemisphere where daylight hours are short during the colder months and you suspect that you may be deficient in vitamin D, have your levels checked by your GP or health practitioner as you may need to supplement. If you do need to supplement, opt for vitamin D3 cholecalciferol.

5 Get some shut eye!

While we sleep the body rests and repairs itself, stress levels are rebalanced, the liver clears toxins and waste from the blood, growth hormones are released, appetite hormones are controlled, our immune system is strengthened and, whilst the brain never sleeps, it consolidates previously learned information during sleep. Sleep is clearly important and insufficient sleep over a period of time can have a hugely harmful effect on our mood and health. Aim for seven to eight hours per night. Try and get into the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, sleep in a dark room or wear an eye mask. Ensure the room is neither too hot nor too cold and if you are plagued with poor sleeping patterns, consider a bedtime snack rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which encourages the production of the calming chemical, serotonin. Cold cooked turkey on a couple of oatcakes or cottage cheese with mixed seeds are good choices.

6 Look after your bones

Bone health is particularly tricky to assess as we can be well down the road heading towards bone-thinning and osteoporosis before we know anything about it. But bone loss is not inevitable as we age. Regular exercise is without doubt the biggest gift we can offer our bones and it is never too late to start. Evidence strongly suggests that loss of bone mass is related to an extent to vitamin K2 deficiency. Pesticides in our soil and the regular use of certain medications, particularly antibiotics, have been shown to cause vitamin K deficiency so foods rich in this vitamin (such as kale, spinach, parsley and broccoli) should be regularly included in your diet. Also, to aid in its conversion to vitamin K2 by bacteria in the gut, fermented and probiotic foods should be eaten daily (for example yoghurt, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha and kimchi). If you struggle with these foods, a probiotic supplement is recommended.

7 Boost your brain power

In addition to nourishing the network of nerve cells in the brain through diet, studies show that nourishing it through cognitive training – pushing the brain to new limits – strengthens existing neural connections and encourages new ones. Activities such as learning a new language, playing competitive chess, backgammon or poker and various forms of now-universal computerised cognitive training programmes have all been studied, and there is a strong indication that this type of brain exercise initiates structural changes. This suggests that those who choose to challenge their intellectual capacity reap benefits. The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is much more than just an overused idiom!

8 Support your immune system

As we age, our immune system ages, can lose its memory to an extent and physiologically ‘forget’ that it has encountered certain bugs before and how to deal with them. Furthermore, the increasing manifestation of antibiotic-resistant viruses presents a problem for us all, but particularly when we are older. One food source which has received a great deal of attention over the past few years is yeast, or more accurately the beta glucans derived from yeast cell walls. These are scientifically-proven biological defence modifiers (BDMs) that enhance and modulate the immune response. Although there is no single magic bullet when it comes to eliminating disease, research shows that adding beta glucans to your daily diet – either in the form of supplements or foods that contain the compound (such as baker’s yeast, shiitake mushrooms, barley, oats and rye) can play a significant role in helping your body fend off not only the common cold and respiratory infections but also more serious diseases, including cancer.

Fiona Kirk is the author of Diet Secrets Uncovered. To find out more, visit www.fionakirk.com

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