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How to Not Look Old & Tired

In the appropriately named, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat, beloved goop contributor, Dr. Frank Lipman unravels a litany of myths surrounding the aging process, and explains exactly what we can do to look and feel great with every passing birthday. The book includes a 2-Week Revitalize Program, complete with 14 days’ worth of recipes and accompanying grocery lists, as well as a guide to supplements, an exercise plan, and de-stressing tips. And then Dr. Lipman’s lifelong Maintenance Program (also included in the book) promises to lead you the rest of the way. (If you want to see Dr. Lipman or one of his health coaches in person, he founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York.) Below, we asked him for a bit more insight.

A Q&A with Dr. Frank Lipman

Q

What are the 10 reasons we feel old and get fat?

A

Reason #1: You’re Not Eating the Right Foods and Getting Enough Healthy Fats.
Reason #2: You’re Eating Too Many Carbs and Starches.
Reason #3: Your Microbiome Is Out of Whack.
Reason #4: Your Hormones Are Out of Balance.
Reason #5: You Don’t Move Enough.
Reason #6: You’re Stressed!
Reason #7: You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep.
Reason #8: You’re Overmedicated.
Reason #9: You’re Not Getting Enough Nutrients.
Reason #10: You’re Lacking a Sense of Passion, Meaning and/or Community

Q

We commonly think of problems like fatigue, weight gain, and memory loss as signs of age, but you say that this is a misunderstanding—that none of these systems are actually signs of age. Can you explain why?

A

Yes, I think this is a HUGE misunderstanding of aging. Most people in our society view aging as this slow and painful deterioration, where you gain weight, you slow down, you develop memory issues, you get sick more and don’t bounce back from illness as quickly, you feel tired all the time, you lose interest in sex, and you develop unexplained aches and pains.

But that just doesn’t have to be true! The problem isn’t how old you are, but rather, the declining function of your organs. And, once you restore function or improve function of your organs—no matter your age—the problems that we associate with aging disappear, or at least markedly improve.

“Most people in our society view aging as this slow and painful deterioration, where you gain weight, you slow down, you develop memory issues, you get sick more and don’t bounce back from illness as quickly, you feel tired all the time, you lose interest in sex, and you develop unexplained aches and pains.”

Our bodies are perfectly capable of remaining slim and vigorous, and our brains can absolutely stay clear and sharp—if we give them what they need. If you know the right ways to eat, sleep, move, and de-stress, and if you commit to creating community, meaning, and passion in your life, the years of your 40s, 50s, and beyond can be some of the most rewarding and vital you have ever known.

The problem is that most of us don’t do that. We misunderstand what our bodies need to function at their best, so we eat the wrong foods, skimp on sleep, and deprive our bodies of the movement they crave. We become overwhelmed by the pressures of our lives, burdened by an unremitting stress that saps our bodies of vitality and drains our life of joy. We take one medication after another, never realizing that they might be disrupting our bodies’ own innate ability to heal, depleting our bodies of essential nutrients and draining our natural resilience. And most insidious of all, many of us lack the personal support and community we need to feel fully human. So yes, in that case, our bodies’ natural functions—our intricate systems of hormones, nerves, brain function, digestion, detoxification, and immune function—begin to break down.

Q

Is it inevitable that our metabolism will change as we get older? How do we avoid putting on extra pounds?

A

Yes, your body changes as you get older, but the trick is to adjust accordingly, so you don’t have to put on the extra pounds or feel old. That may mean, you may not be able to party like you did in your twenties, eat as much sugar as you had been, or skimp on sleep, and get away with it. But if you adjust your lifestyle and follow the steps I outline in the book, you will not put on the pounds.

Q

We tend to think of a lot of our health woes, especially later in life, as genetic. (Heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, being overweight, etc. are said to run in families.) But you say that when it comes to disorders associated with aging, we have vastly more control over our genes than we think. How?

A

Most of us were raised to believe that the genes we were born with are our destiny, and that the diseases that “run in the family” are most likely coming for us too. But whether you develop those diseases are usually determined by how you live your life: what you eat, how much you move, whether you get enough good sleep, how well you deal with your stress, and which supplements you take. We all have a lot more control over our health than we think.

True, we can’t change our genes. But in the vast majority of cases, we can change how our genes express themselves. The science of genetic expression is known as epigenetics, and it is one of the most exciting frontiers of medical science.

Of course, some of our genes will always express themselves in the same way. For example, the genes that determine eye color are fixed by the time we emerge from the womb. No matter what we eat, we can’t turn our brown eyes blue. Likewise, certain genetic conditions, such as sickle-cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease, are not affected by diet or lifestyle. If you have the genes for those conditions, you’ll suffer from those disorders no matter what you do.

The good news is that these “fixed” genes make up only about 2 percent of the total. The other 98 percent can be turned on or off. This is true for most of the disorders we associate with aging—Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

“The good news is that these “fixed” genes make up only about 2 percent of the total. The other 98 percent can be turned on or off.”

The foods you eat, how active you are, how you deal with stress, the quality of your sleep, and which supplements you take to address your particular nutrient needs can all have an enormous impact on whether you develop these conditions—regardless of your genetic destiny. Your exposure to environmental toxins and your ability to detoxify your body also affect your genetic expression. Whether you know it or not, you are affecting your own genetics daily and perhaps even hourly through the foods you eat, the air you breathe, and even the thoughts you think.

Several studies have shown that lifestyle changes, both good and bad, trigger changes in gene expression. These changes and the choices that we make continually “speak” to our genes and thereby modify the way our genes express themselves. Even if your parents suffered from an age-related disease—hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, or even cancer—you don’t have to go down that road.

When you learn how to support your body, you are also learning how to shape your own genetic expression. Feed your genes the right “information” and you will modify the expression of your genes, improving the way your whole body functions.

Q

In the book, you write that you’re seeing more and more younger patients (in their 30s and even 20s) who describe themselves as feeling old before their time (weight gain, stress, sleep issues, etc.). Why do you think that is?

A

I think a major factor is because so many young people have a microbiome (the community of bacteria that live in and on us) that is out of whack. Most of these bacteria are friendly or “good” guys, but there are “bad” guys, too. And when the good and bad bacteria in the gut are out of balance, it creates all sorts of problems and compromises our health. This has happened because of the foods they have been eating, growing up in the last 20-30 years—factory farmed meats, genetically modified organisms, junk food, and foods loaded with sugar or sweetened with artificial sweeteners—all of which disrupt the microbiome. In addition I have seen so many young women who have had multiple courses of antibiotics growing up, too, which also disrupts the microbiome. So correcting their microbiomes is often the first place I start with these younger patients.

Q

How do you fix the microbiome?

A

  1. Avoid GMOs whenever possible. GMO’s are sprayed with glyphosate, a herbicide, which is actually also registered as an antibiotic. So when you eat GMO’s, you are eating an antibiotic sprayed crop. So look for Non GMO labels and buy organic.

  2. Avoid junk food and processed food. They are loaded with sugar, GMO ingredients, trans fats, or processed vegetable oils, all of which are bad for your microbiome.

  3. Avoid preservatives, artificial ingredients and artificial sweeteners, which also disrupt your microbiome.

  4. Avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and some other grains, as well as in soy sauce, seitan, beer, and many packaged and processed foods. A recent study showed eating gluten, increased a protein called zonulin, which increases leakiness of the gut wall and therefore more systemic inflammation.

  5. Avoid conventionally farmed meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs, which likely contain antibiotics and hormones, and which likely have been fed on genetically modified corn or soy. All of this can kill the good bacteria in your gut.

  6. Take a daily probiotic, a capsule or powder containing friendly bacteria that can replenish your own microbiome. Taking a probiotic is especially important if you are taking antibiotics.

  7. Eat fermented foods: sauerkraut, kefir (fermented milk), kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables), or other fermented vegetables. Fermented foods contain natural bacteria that also protect your microbiome.

  8. Incorporate prebiotics into your diet: these are foods that contain the fiber on which friendly bacteria feed. Key prebiotics include tomatoes, garlic, onions, radishes, leeks, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes. Make sure to eat the stalks, not just the tips, the stalks are full of healthy prebiotics that your microbiome will love.

  9. Add a water filter to your home tap for drinking tap water and drink filtered water whenever possible. We know that the chlorine in tap water kills microbes in soil, so it’s only logical to think that the chlorine in unfiltered water will alter your bacterial balance.

  10. Exercise: a recent study in the British Medical Journal showed how exercise boosted diversity of gut bacteria and how an increase in the diversity is associated with better health in general.

Q

What can we do to make menopause and perimenopause more pleasant times in our lives?

A

Hormonal changes are normal as you enter perimenopause and menopause. But these changes don’t have to create a raft of unpleasant symptoms, make you feel old, or cause you to put on the pounds. If you are maintaining optimal function—through diet, supplements, sleep, and exercise—you can easily ride out these hormonal changes.

As I tell my patients, your hormones are like a symphony orchestra. When one instrument is out of tune, it throws off the whole orchestra. To achieve hormonal balance, we always have to look at the entire hormonal symphony and make sure that every hormone is coming in at the right level and in the right relationship to all the others. Insulin, the stress hormones (including cortisol), thyroid hormones, estrogen, and progesterone must all be in balance for any one of those hormones to play its part correctly.

So here are some starting tips to try before resorting to hormone replacement.

  1. Cut back, way back on the sweets and starches. Too many can set your hormones on a wild ride. Or better, eliminate sweets and starches altogether for two weeks to see how your body reacts.

  2. Let go of fat-phobia and eat more healthy fats. Too few good fats on your plate will shortchange your body’s ability to produce the hormones that boost energy, feelings of satiety, and suppress cravings.

  3. Be good to your microbiome—as in, feed your gut with plenty of immunity-supporting fermented foods and belly-benefiting fiber to support good bacteria and keep bad bacteria in check. This will not only keep digestion and elimination running smoothly, but help hormone function too.

  4. Aim to sleep more and better. Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep wreaks havoc on your system, limiting your body’s ability to release the hormones necessary to repair, restore, and refresh cells as you snooze. Shoot for 7-8 hours nightly to enable your hormones to do their job.

  5. Cut the chemicals. There’s no hormonal upside to on-going low-level exposure to common chemicals in your food, air, water, household cleaners, personal-care products, and cosmetics—in fact, they interfere with optimal hormonal function. Make an effort to switch to the least toxic, most natural products possible to limit exposure to chemicals.

Q

Cholesterol seems to be widely misunderstood. What actually causes high cholesterol levels and do we need to be as concerned about cholesterol as we’ve been told?

A

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is a vital component of the human body. We need it to think clearly, to remember, to support cell integrity, to enable digestion, and for just about every other bodily function. Although we might ingest some cholesterol from our food, our bodies also make their own cholesterol.

All the parts of your body depend upon cholesterol—but on its own, cholesterol has no way to reach them. Unlike glucose, cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in water so it can’t travel through the bloodstream on its own. It needs to be transported.

Enter “HDL” and “LDL”—mistakenly called “good” and “bad” cholesterol. In fact, HDL and LDL are not cholesterol at all. They are lipoproteins—a combination of fat and protein. “HDL” stands for “high-density lipoprotein,” while “LDL” stands for “low-density lipoprotein.” And it’s these lipoproteins which “carry” the cholesterol.

Contrary to what most people believe, our latest research—which is still evolving—suggests that not all LDL is harmful. One type of LDL might not be very good for you. These are the smaller particles, which tend to invade your artery walls, raising your risk of heart attack and stroke. Whereas the larger fluffy LDL particles, are either neutral or beneficial. But, we still don’t know this for certain, and even if we did, our standard cholesterol tests don’t distinguish between the large and small LDL particles.

So it’s important to understand that cholesterol itself is not harmful, but beneficial. In fact, it’s vital to human health. And LDL (aka the “bad” cholesterol)—which is not cholesterol but only carries it—is beneficial in some of its forms but might be harmful in one. For more on this confusing topic, please check out my blog post, 7 Things You Need to Know When Your Doc Says Your Cholesterol Is Too High.

Q

What about cholesterol medications, like statins?

A

Statins are medications that reduce cholesterol. They are one of the most profitable medications in human history, netting billions for the drug companies that produce them.

Knowing how essential cholesterol is for optimal functioning, you might be asking why any doctor would seek to reduce it. After all, cholesterol itself is beneficial. The only harmful substance is possibly low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), and even then, not all LDLs are harmful. So why are you being prescribed statins?

Actually, there is no really good reason that most people (especially those without a history of heart disease), should take statins. When they reviewed the studies, analysts found they would have to treat over 100 patients with statins, to prevent just 1 of them from having a heart attack. That’s a lot of patients who won’t be helped before one person benefits. And there was no overall reduction in deaths either. To make matters worse, these drugs are not benign. Side effects are not uncommon, in particular, muscle damage and an increase risk of diabetes, to name just two.

Q

What questions should we be asking our doctors about medicines that we are being prescribed?

A

I am not against medications and I believe they play an important role in medicine. But I feel they are unnecessary much of the time. A great deal of research shows that in many cases, simple and easy lifestyle changes, like I outline in the book, work better than any medication ever could. So if you do get prescribed a medication, here are 10 questions to ask your doctor.

  1. What does this medication do?

  2. Is this drug intended to cure my underlying condition or is it intended to give me relief from my symptoms?

  3. What are the potential negative effects? Are they minor or major? Common or rare?

  4. Have long-term studies been done on this drug? Have studies been done for this drug on people like me—my age, my gender, my specific condition? (Remember, many studies are conducted on young or middle-aged men, who often have different responses to medications and to dosages from other populations. Be especially sure to ask this question if you are going to take the drug long-term.)

  5. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

  6. Is this medication intended to prevent a problem or treat one?

  7. What is the evidence that it is actually effective?

  8. What is the “NNT” for this medication? (The NNT is the number of people who have to take a drug for one person to benefit.) Check out thennt.com, and search for the drug by category, for instance, statins, rather than the brand name, like, Lipitor.

  9. Are there natural alternatives I might try first?

  10. I’d like to try natural alternatives first—would you be willing to let me go that route for three more months and then retest me?

Q

Much of what you do in 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat is debunk widely held myths about what the aging process looks like. If you could change our perception of one myth, which would it be?

A

If I had to choose just one myth, it would be that aging means a slow and painful decline. It is just not true! Most of the symptoms we usually attribute to aging are rather a loss of function. And that is the premise of 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat, where I have outlined a program on how to feel young, slim, and happy.

It really isn’t that difficult, anyone can do this. In the book I go into detail on how you can improve function by
…… eating the foods your body needs
…… avoiding the foods that stress your body
…… supporting your microbiome
…… balancing your hormones
…… giving your body the movement it craves
…… finding effective ways to cope with stress
…… getting all the good, restorative sleep your body needs
…… minimizing as far as possible the medications that can interfere with your body’s natural state of health
…… supplementing your diet with crucial nutrients
…… reconnecting to your sense of meaning, purpose, and community

I am a perfect example of what I recommend in the book. I am 61 years old, on no medications and feel terrific, despite a strong family history of heart disease.

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