Many baby boomers spend much of their time and money trying to stay healthy, reverse the imminent signs of aging, and rid themselves of pain.
In my practice, the ones that seem to be paying the biggest price in their 40s, 50s and 60s are the ones who admit to a lifestyle of abuse in their teens and 20s.
In this article I want to describe how a reckless youth, eating carelessly, sleeping as little or as much as possible, drinking and smoking “whatever”—and the enduring stress of high school, college, making ends meet and then raising a family—will directly impact your health and quality of life in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and—if you’re lucky—in your 90s.
If you are in your teens and reading this, or if you are a parent of a teenager or young adult who may be pushing the limits, please read carefully. As millions of baby boomers will tell you, “you blink once and you are in your 40s and blink twice and you’re pushing 60s and the health issues seem to appear out of nowhere!”
Many patients have told me, “I wish I knew the long-term effects of my crazy youth—I wish someone would have warned me.”
If you are young and reading this: This is your official warning!
It’s not all bad. Keep reading to learn how you can ease the seemingly inevitable consequences of aging.
1. Poor Sleep Habits
It is so common for teenagers and young adults to get into the habit of getting to bed very late and waking up sometime in the late morning. The problem with this: staying up late is a stress for the body.
Cortisol, which is the body’s major stress hormone, naturally declines in the early evening in an attempt to prepare the body for sleep. Late nights force the cortisol to surge and, according to one study, cortisol will reactively surge the next night as well (1).
Perhaps the most common cause of insomnia is cortisol levels staying high in the evening. With each successive late night, cortisol levels rise and make it more difficult to get to bed early. So the body becomes conditioned to staying up late. But there are real risks!
The Risks of Imbalanced Sleep
With each late night, the cortisol rises, making it harder to get to sleep on time the next night.
In a recent study reported in the journal Sleep, the sleeping patterns of more than 10,000 people between the ages of 35-55 were measured over a five year period. Both the quality and the amount of hours of sleep per day were measured against cognitive function.
According to the results, when people get six to eight hours of sleep per night they seem to maintain good cognitive function and age normally.
When people get less than six or more than eight hours of sleep per night, there is an apparent accelerated decline in cognitive function. The cognitive decline in this study due to either too little or too much sleep was the equivalent of four to seven years of aging beyond the norm (2).
In addition, studies have shown that either too much sleep (greater than eight hours) or too little sleep (less than six hours) will cause the following:
- Increase risk of cardiovascular disease(3)
- Increase risk of premature death and aging(4)
- Cognitive decline(1)
- Weight Gain (5)
- Excess snacking (6)
- Hormone imbalance (7)
- Increased risk of diabetes (8)
- Increased risk of psychiatric disorders (9)
The Cortisol Surge
The problem with poor sleep habits is that they all alter the natural rhythms of cortisol. If you wake up exhausted due to a poor night sleep, your body will have to produce extra cortisol to endure the day, turning the day’s usual tasks like school, work, finances and family, into stressors.
Excess cortisol can cause the following (9):
- Suppressed immunity
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
- Insulin resistance
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
- Fat deposits on the face, neck, and belly
- Reduced libido
- Bone loss
Developing Healthy Sleeping Habits
Developing healthy sleep habits is not just about how much you sleep, but also when you get that sleep.
Staying in sync with nature’s cycles is the best rule of thumb when establishing healthy habits. Going to sleep within a few hours of the sun going down, and waking up at dawn or shortly before, is much more rejuvenating for the body and mind than getting the same amount of sleep later at night, and therefore out of sync with the natural cycles.
Make sleeping the right amount at the right time a healthy habit that you just don’t compromise on.
2. Alcohol: Did you know it’s a Carcinogen?
The fun associated with alcohol may not be worth the health risks.
In 2002, the World Health Organization had this to say about alcohol: “Alcohol was estimated to cause, worldwide, 20–30 percent of esophageal cancer, liver disease, epilepsy, motor vehicle accidents, and homicide and other intentional injuries.”
Alcohol is linked with other types of cancer, too. In its 2000 Report on carcinogens, the US Department of Health and Human Services listed alcohol as a known human carcinogen that can cause cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus.
Alcohol can also have extensive and far-reaching effects on the brain, including contributing to memory lapses and cognitive impairment.
In addition, untreated alcoholism has been estimated to reduce life expectancy by as much as 15 years.
While evidence suggests that drinking in moderation may confer modest cardiovascular benefits, make no mistake—generally speaking, alcohol is toxic to living cells.(10)
While it is common in our culture to have a casual attitude towards alcohol consumption, consider whether it is really worth these health implications.[Editor’s Note: Smoking could be in here, too]
3. What about Junk Food?
I think we all know that “junk foods” are bad for us. Most processed foods are made to last on the shelf for many months, which implies the addition of processed oils and/or preservatives. This renders them very challenging to digest. Ultimately, your liver is asked to figure out how to break down these indigestible fats.
Think about it for a second.
Cow’s milk straight from the cow will go bad after seven days in the fridge.
Bread straight out of the oven will go bad in a day or two.
Today, you can find milk that lasts a month in the fridge and breads can last weeks on the counter—no refrigeration needed!
All packaged foods have cooked and processed oils which are just impossible for the body to digest. These oils build up in your liver slowly year after year. Over time, your natural detox pathways, digestive and liver function start to break down.
Imagine if you never cleansed the grease buildup off your stove. The liver, which is in charge of breaking down fats, just cannot keep up with the digestion of these processed oils, and gets congested.
Here’s what can happen in the early stages of aging due to a congested liver:
Fat-soluble toxins that should be broken down in the liver are re-directed into the blood, where they can store in the body’s fat, skin, joints and brain.
The buildup of thick congested bile and indigestible fats causes the buildup of bad cholesterol in the blood stream, where it damages the arteries.
Poor liver function causes insufficient bile production, which is required to neutralize acids from the stomach. No bile = no digestion of hard to digest foods like wheat and dairy and soon, gas, bloating, belly fat, indigestion, heart burn and food intolerances and allergies ensue.
Surprisingly, the liver may play the most important role in regulating blood sugar.
4. Hidden Sugars
Look for the hidden sugars!
A recent CDC report stated that one-third of the American people are pre-diabetic and 90 percent of them do not know it. As you may have guessed, pre-diabetes is the precursor to diabetes, and studies have shown that high blood sugar, even within the so-called “normal range,” has been shown to increase the risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke by 40 percent, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, and neuropathy (12).
Think about the amount of sugar you ingest daily:
Sodas, juices, sports drinks, beer, wine and even store bought milk are loaded with sugar.
Breads, pastas, potato chips and popcorn are loaded with sugar.
All sweeteners—even honey and agave—are loaded with sugar.
Dried fruit, fruits, energy bars and yogurt are loaded with sugar.
So what if my sugars are a little high!?
Let me explain why you absolutely do not want this to happen. By the way, just eating the standard American Diet—not just the classic junk foods—will cause these effects.
Excess sugar in the blood causes the muscles to resist the uptake of sugar and you get tired and stiff.
Excess sugar in the blood converts directly into belly, hip and body fat.
Excess sugar quickly converts to bad cholesterol, which is linked to heart disease.
Excess sugar surges to the brain and is linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Excess sugar glycates, which means the sugars stick to proteins in the blood, causing heart disease, poor circulation, cancers, diabetes, cognitive issues, inflammation and chronic disease.
Experts believe this is going to happen to all adults in America in the next 10 years.
5. Frequent Recreational Marijuana
Medical marijuana—and now recreational marijuana—is quickly becoming a reality in more and more states. While there is plenty of sound scientific evidence to back up the medicinal use of marijuana for things like pain, anxiety and increasing appetite in those with chronic disease, frequent recreational use is a concern for many reasons.
Perhaps the major concern is the decline in cognitive function for adolescent-onset cannabis users, which has been scientifically demonstrated by the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
According to one study:
Persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education. Informants also reported noticing more cognitive problems for persistent cannabis users. Impairment was concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users, with more persistent use associated with greater decline. Further, cessation of cannabis use did not fully restore neuropsychological functioning among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents (13).
Marijuana is such a big issue that I devoting an upcoming newsletter solely to this topic. So tune in!
Bottom line: The American diet is bad, there is too much stress, lack of exercise and if that is stacked on top a body that played, drank and pushed too hard through the teens, 20s and 30s, the odds are these health issues will pack a more powerful and less reversible punch!
The Good News: If you take responsibility for your health and don’t push the limits too far while you are young, these issues can be completely reversible and preventable. Truly, your health and your future is in your hands! If you are an adult that played hard when you were young, please visit our library to learn how to restore health and vitality.
You have been warned.
1. Sleep. 1997 Oct;20(10):865-70
2. Sleep. 2011 May
3. Sleep. 2009 Mar 1;32(3):295-301
4. Sleep. 2010 May 1;33(5):585-92
5. Lancet. 1999 Oct 23;354(9188):1435-9
6. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):126-33.
7. Lancet. 1999 Oct 23;354(9188):1435-9
8. Diabetes. 2010 Sep;59(9):2126-33
9. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 1997 Jul;19(4):245-50
10. Life Ext Mag. 2011. Sept. Reducing the Risks of High Cortisol
11. Excerpted from: Life Ext Mag. 2005. Nov. A Little Known fact: Alcohol is a Carcinogen
12. Challem, Berkson, Smith. Syndrome X. Wiley Press.2000.
13. 2. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/08/22/1206820109.abstract