Aging Gracefully and Naturally

A look at how - and if - we can delay aging, naturally.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
6 min read

Throughout the ages, people have been searching for the elusive "Fountain of Youth." And this desire for a magical place, pill, or tonic that can prevent or reverse the effects of aging has sired a new, and growing, field of medicine -- antiaging medicine.

These days, there is a plethora of alternative treatments touted as antiaging remedies from "magical" fruits, wrinkle-erasers, memory enhancers, and other supplements to transcendental meditation, special diets, and physiologic purification to remove toxins from the body.

But can you really turn back the hands -- or crow's feet -- of time? Here's what the experts have to say.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 1.6 million botulinum toxin (commonly referred to as Botox) procedures were performed in 2002, making it the most popular nonsurgical procedure. By temporarily paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles, Botox has been shown to dramatically reduce the appearance of moderate to severe frown lines, or furrows, between the eyebrows. In fact, women with frown lines and crows' feet are gathering in living rooms across the nation to get the shots that smooth facial wrinkles as Botox parties become the Tupperware parties of new millennium.

However, some research suggests that having people over for blueberry pie may be as effective.

"Blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries are all loaded with antioxidants, which save cells from premature aging," says dermatologist Nicholas V. Perricone, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., and the author of The Perricone Prescription and The Wrinkle Cure: Unlock the Power of Cosmeceuticals for Supple, Youthful Skin.

What's more, a diet rich in blueberry extract improved short-term memory loss and reversed some loss of balance and coordination in aging rats, according to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Though rats that consumed an extract of blueberries, strawberries, and spinach every day showed improvements in short-term memory, only the blueberry extract improved balance and coordination.

A previous study done earlier this year by the same Tufts University researchers showed that when compared with other fruits or vegetables, blueberries have the highest amount of antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent cancer and other diseases.

"This mineral is so important for our energy system, nervous system, heart, and blood sugar control and all diagnoses and symptoms we get as we get older that it should be an integral part of a longevity program," says alternative medicine expert Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of several books including The Miracle of Magnesium.

The recommended daily allowance is about 300 to 400 mg for men and women, but Dean says we may even need more since magnesium is difficult to absorb. Absorption also tends to decrease with age.

Boost your magnesium and here's what you can expect:

"Within a couple of days, your energy picks up, your bowel movements are better, and your skin and libido will improve," she says. "When I look at all the different conditions that magnesium can be involved with treating, I am not surprised at the amazing results. Vitamins and minerals are absolutely required to run the body."

Magnesium-rich foods include brown rice, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and peanuts. If you choose supplements, follow dosing instructions on label.

The fountain of youth may be located in the deep sea, says Perricone.

"Certain ways of eating cause a subclinical inflammation that leads to all types of problems from accelerated wrinkling and heart disease to Alzheimer's disease and certain cancers," he tells WebMD. But "fruits, vegetables, and lots of cold-water fish like salmon reduce inflammation on a cellular level."

What's more, "we know that if we eat anything that causes rapid rise in blood sugar, you get a burst of inflammation on a cellular level," he says.

Try the three-day nutritional facelift, Perricone suggests. Here's how:

For lunch and dinner, eat a green salad (making a dressing out of olive oil and lemon juice), 3 oz of broiled salmon or another cold-water fish such as tuna and mackerel, and strawberries, raspberries, and/or blueberries for dessert.

Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and a deficiency of omega-3 has been linked to an array of diseases as well as premature aging of the skin, he says.

Also, drink 8-10 glasses of water a day to keep skin hydrated and supple, he says.

"You will see a difference in as little as three days," he says, starting with "a radiant glow, puffiness diminished, and your skin will look more toned. You will see changes in cholesterol levels as your good cholesterol goes up and your blood pressure returns to a normal level. [And] you will have more energy and elevated moods."

Too fishy for you? Take fish oil capsules instead.

Transcendental meditation is becoming so mainstream in the U.S. these days that it is popping up in schools, hospitals, law firms, government and corporate offices, and prisons. In fact, one study done with researchers from the Orentreich Foundation for the Advancement of Science in Cold Spring-on-Hudson, N.Y,suggests people who meditate regularly have levels of an age-related hormone that is comparable to their nonmeditating counterparts who are five to 10 years younger. And a growing body of evidence suggests that transcendental meditation also helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Transcendental meditation involves sitting with eyes closed and thinking of "a meaningless sound" (mantra) for 20 minutes a day.

Nope, it doesn't involve a vacuum or a broom. Body-cleansing systems are touted everywhere as a way to detoxify the body and get rid of what ails us.

One such program, the Body Rejuvenation Cleanse Program, takes place over six weeks. Participants use organic herbal tinctures to support the liver, detoxify poisons, and help the body remove the layers of infection. "They also cut back on simple sugars and foods known to spike blood sugar," says Dean, who developed the program. "By slowly changing the way they eat, you are able to renew your energy and strengthen your immune system and lose unwanted weight."

Other cleansing fasts may involve only drinking juice or water.

Not all health-care professionals are sold on antiaging medicine, including Nir Barzilai, MD, director of the Institute of Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

"If there really was a good antiaging drug, companies would be doing huge studies," he says, adding that "there are statements and no data."

Though vitamins and minerals may not be harmful, some supplements may be, he warns WebMD.

Growth hormone, for example. "Companies are quoting studies that suggest it may have benefits, which led to [government]-funded studies to see if it's true, and they have shown some benefits but also some risks," he says. "The benefits may be skin tightness, but the risk is cancer.

"Vitamins are not dangerous, but that's not how they are being marketed," he says. "Some say that vitamins will decrease aging, and the answer is that there is no evidence for that -- it might, but nobody has shown it yet."

The best thing you can do to delay aging, he says, is to keep your body weight at a normal level.

"We are trying to look at two models of longevity, and one is a caloric-restricted model, and mice, rats, or monkeys who eat 60% of calories of their brothers live up to twice as long," he says.

"The basic thing we know is that if you are lean or obese, you have totally different risks of all different causes of death," he says.