Preventing disease, slowing aging

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For many years, it was thought that a lack of nutrients was linked only to specific deficiency diseases such as scurvy, a condition marked by soft gums and loose teeth that is caused by too little vitamin C. In the past three decades, however, thousands of scientific studies have all indicated that specific nutrients appear to play an important role in the prevention of a number of chronic, degenerative diseases common in contemporary Western societies.

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Many recent studies highlighting the disease-fighting potential of different nutrients . What most of these studies reveal is that the level of nutrients associated with disease prevention is often significantly higher than the current RDAs. And to achieve these higher levels, the participants in these studies often had to depend on supplements.

In slowing or preventing the development of disease, some experts suggest that nutrients, particularly the antioxidants, can also delay the wear and tear of aging itself by reducing the damage done to cells. This idea doesn’t mean vitamin E or coenzyme Q10, for example, are”youth potions.” But several recent studies, including work done at the Nutritional Immunological Laboratory at Tufts University, have found that supplementation with single nutrients, such as vitamin E, or with multivitamin and mineral supplements, appear to improve immune response among older people.

For example, a study of 11,178 elderly subjects, conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Aging, showed that the use of vitamin E was associated with a lowered risk of total mortality, and especially of death from heart disease. In fact, vitamin E users were only half as likely to die of heart disease as those taking no supplements. In addition, there is evidence that antioxidant supplements are effective in lowering the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, two age-related conditions in which vision slowly deteriorates.

Other supplements that serve as high-potency antioxidants against aging disorders include selenium, carotenoids, flavonoids, certain amino acids, and coenzyme Q10. Some experts also believe that the herb ginkgo biloba may improve many age-related symptoms, especially those involving reduced blood flow, such as dizziness, impotence, and short-term memory loss. Substances found in echinacea and other herbs are reported to strengthen the immune system, and phytoestrogens such as soy isoflavones are thought to help delay or prevent some of the effects of menopause, as well as to help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Too Many Beneifits: Too Good to Be True?

When you see a supplement label that lists a variety of functions and benefits for a single herb or substance, you might wonder if this is more marketing hype than facts. You can’t rely entirely on label claims, because they aren’t scrutinized for accuracy by the government or any other agency. But as you will see in reading the entries in this book, some supplements do have multiple effects that are well documented.

Consider an herb such as green tea. According to many studies, its benefits may include helping control several cancers, including colon and pancreatic cancer; protecting against heart disease; inhibiting the action of bacteria; combating tooth decay; and acting as an antioxidant to bolster the immune system. All of these benefits aren’t too surprising, given that researchers have identified various active components in green tea.

You should be aware that many common medications were initially developed for one purpose. As more people take the drugs and their effects are studied, new uses come to light. Imagine a drug that can cure headaches, relieve arthritis, help prevent heart disease, ease the pain of athletic injuries, and reduce the risk of colon cancer. It’s aspirin, of course — and its precursor came from an herbal source, the bark of the white willow tree.

Source:Your Guide to
Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs

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