Did you know that the life expectancy the United States is lower than 49 other countries? (We’re ranked number 50 out of 195 countries in the CIA World Factbook, 2009!)
Or worse, that the vast majority of our medical expenses occur in the last three to five years of life, and that those years are frequently plagued by memory loss, disability and general ill health?
Enter “The Four Horsemen of Aging”.
When I was doing research for my latest book, “The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer”, I looked at all the ways our bodies break down. Specifically, I investigated what the research showed about the heart, the brain, the muscles, the joints, the bones, the hormone system and the immune system.
What I found was fascinating.
No matter what organ or system in the body that I looked at, the same four processes kept showing up.
I named these “The Four Horsemen of Aging” because their effects on the body were so systemic, so profound and so far-reaching that they literally were at the bottom of the iceberg of individual diseases. Conquer these four horsemen and you might literally wipe out- or at least significantly diminish- most of the disease we now associate with “aging”.
My good friend Mark Hyman, MD, explains it very well. He says:
“The way we think about disease, mental illness, and our brain aging, actually has nothing, nothing to do with how our body actually works … The way we think about disease is all wrong … the name of the disease tells us nothing about the real reason or the causes of them. Diseases don’t exist.“
Now Mark might be using a bit of poetic license here; certainly “diseases” exist as diagnostic categories. But what he means- and what I talk about in “The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer”—is that what we call “diseases” are actually just specific manifestations of systemic problems, the same basic problems I call the “Four Horsemen of Aging”.
What are those “Four Horsemen of Aging”?
Glad you asked.
They are: Inflammation, Glycation, Oxidative Damage and Stress.
- Inflammation is associated with every major degenerative disease on earth, from Alzheimer’s to diabetes, from obesity to cancer. It’s also a big factor in less “life-threatening” diseases like asthma, acne, migraines and arthritis.
- Glycation is the process by which excess sugar (from the diet) “gums up the works”, causing circulation problems that- in extreme cases- are the cause of so many diabetes-related issues including amputations. The “thickened” blood can’t get through small blood vessels in the eye and foot, not to mention the kidneys.
- Oxidative damage is what happens when nasty rogue molecules called “free radicals” attack your cells and DNA, damaging the body and aging you from within.
- Stress hormones wreck havoc on the body and its systems. They cause extra weight around the abdominal region, and shrink an important part of the brain called the hippocampus that’s central to thinking and memory. (No wonder you can’t remember anything when you’re under stress!)
There is not a disease on earth that doesn’t involve one or more (usually all four) of these issues.
Getting at the heart of how to prevent them can go a long way towards helping us age in the most healthful, robust way possible, so that we can live a life of vibrant good health, optimism, joy, well-being and vitality.