Aged Garlic Extract (AGE) – Part II: Human Aging and Successful Aging
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition
In his essay On Old Age, Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher and rhetorician, commented on why he believed people thought of old as being an unhappy experience. He said: The fact is that when I come to think it over, I find that there are four reasons for old age being thought unhappy: First, that it withdraws us from active employments; second, that it enfeebles the body; third, that it deprives us of nearly all physical pleasures; fourth, that it is the next step to death (Cicero, 44 BC).
Although he lived over two thousands year ago, Cicero seemed to capture how laypeople and many experts alike have over the centuries and still to this day think and feel about old age. Such of view old age implies that aging is a pathogenic process, leaving people in the depths of dread, despair, depression and dysfunction, culminating in death.
Many researchers focus on senescence (i.e., the process of growing older and showing the effects of advancing age) and select out only those dimensions of aging which demonstrate decline, degeneration and decrepitude (Gergen & Gergen, 2001). The dominant narrative of aging in the culture is one that sees senescence and aging as inextricably linked, celebrates youth and laments aging and old age.
However, there is another narrative of aging, which is far more optimistic and is, in fact, achievable. That narrative is about aging in a healthy way deep into the life cycle or otherwise to age successfully with a minimum of morbidity (i.e., disease).
Of course, there is the question of how to accomplish successful aging. As it turns out, there are many facets to aging successfully, one of which is nutrition, which itself is rife with complexity. Nevertheless, there are certain nutrients and supplements which can make an important contribution in the effort to age successfully. One of them is Aged Garlic Extract (AGE), the Kyolic brand.
As part of series on Aged Garlic Extract (AGE), the March 2008, edition of Healthful Hints offers a definition of aging and successful aging. In order to recognize fully the importance and use of AGE in successful aging, it is necessary to understand what aging and successful aging mean.
What Is Aging?
The issue of aging strikes fear into the hearts of many people, a fear often created and promulgated by misconceptions and false beliefs about aging. When the topic of aging is discussed, more often than not images of an old person ridden with decrepitude are conjured up.
How we conceive of and approach aging influences our thoughts, feelings and actions about it, not only from a scholarly or clinical point of view but also from a day-to-day life perspective. Thus, the attention devoted here to offering a definition of aging.
Defining aging is a difficult challenge because as a process it is implicated and intertwined with biological, medical, philosophical, social, religious, political and cultural issues, among other aspects and processes of existence and living.
It is probably more common than not to associate aging with a stage of the life cycle preceding the end of life. While pervasive, this notion of aging does not represent what happens during the entire process and tends to promote a pessimistic, pathogenic-driven perspective. Aging is not a disease process confined to a fixed period of life or old age characterized by either a precipitous or slow tortuous decline into frailty, senility and mortality. It is not being argued that aging is a damage-free process divorced from death.
On the contrary, aging is “the accumulation of random damage in the building blocks of life – especially to DNA, certain proteins, carbohydrates and lipids – that begins early in life and eventually exceeds the bodies’ self-repair capabilities” (Olshansky, Hayflick & Carnes, 2002). Aging is a gradual and dynamic process beginning at birth and extending over the life span and involving a series of progressive changes increasing the risk of mortality (Moody, 2010).
What is being argued against is the view that aging is inextricably and invariably linked to predetermined, disease-ridden senescence. It is possible to age successfully such that the process does not become defined solely by disease, decrepitude and depression.
What Is Successful Aging?
Successful aging may appear to be a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, aging is often thought of as representing loss, defeat, and weakness, with death as an impending end point. On the other hand, success connotes gains, victory and strength, with the possibility of continuing achievement. Consequently, putting success and aging together seems to be paradoxical (see Baltes & Baltes, 1990).
However, according to Baltes and Baltes (1990), the seemingly apparent contradiction of successful aging serves “to provoke a probing analysis of the nature of old age as it exists today,” that it challenges us “to participate in the creation of aging, instead of passively experiencing it as a given reality that is ‘natural’ only for the reason that it exists” (p. 4).
Beyond it raising our consciousness about what aging is, successful aging is achievable. It is possible to increase the likelihood of living to average life expectancy and beyond with minimum morbidity (disease) and quality of life or otherwise achieve successful aging by putting into practice proven lifestyle and nutritional principles which can help de-accelerate aging, delay disease and defer death to a later period in the life cycle.
Rowe and Kahn (1997) offer a useful definition of successful aging. They “define successful aging as the ability to maintain three key behaviors or characteristics: low risk of disease and disease-related disability; high mental and physical function; and active engagement in life” (Rowe & Kahn, 1997, p. 38).
Aging need not remove us from living an active life, enfeeble us, deprive us of a pleasurable existence and be the impending step of doom before death. In other terms, aging is not inherently a disease ridden process occurring during a predetermined period of life (usually later life) and promising only a decline into decrepitude and death.
While it is true that the body is unable to repair itself as quickly in later life as it does in its earlier stages and mortality is a certainty, this does not mean that the aging process cannot be de-accelerated and death can be deferred until a later time in a person’s life cycle. It is indeed possible to age successfully such that it is possible to lower significantly and for the greater part of the life span the risk of suffering from disease and disability, cognitive dysfunction and an inactive existence.
In the next issue of Healthful Hints, mechanisms of aging (in particular free radicals) and the importance and use of AGE in successful aging will be discussed.
Baltes, P.B. & Baltes, M.M. (1990). Psychological perspectives on successful aging: The model of selective optimization with compensation. In P.B. Baltes & M.M. Blates (Eds.), Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences (pp. 1-34). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cicero, M. Tullius, & Powell, J. G. F. (1988). Cato maior de senectute. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press.
Gergen, M. & Gergen, K. (2001). Positive aging. New images for a new age. Aging International, 27, 2-23.
Moody (2010). Aging: Concepts and controversies (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Olshansky, S.J., Hayflick, L., & Carnes, B. (2002). Position statement of human aging, Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, 57A(8), B292-B297.
Rowe, J., & Kahn, R. (1997). Successful aging. New York: Pantheon Books.