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Related Terms
  • Alzheimer's disease, andropause, antioxidants, arthritis, audiogram, calorie restrictive diet, cross-linking theory, diabetes, diabetes mellitus, ED, erectile dysfunction, exercise, eye disease, free radical damage, free radicals, genetics, glaucoma, growing, hearing aids, heart disease, hormone replacement therapy, HRT, life expectancy, low-calorie diet, incontinence, infertility, hormone replacement therapy, mature, maturing, menopause, Parkinson's disease, presbyopia, resveratrol, retinol, stress, stroke, telomerase, telomeres, vitamin A, wear and tear theory.

  • Aging is the process of growing old or maturing. Humans reach their peak in growth and development when they are in their mid 20s. After this point, the body gradually becomes less functional over time.
  • Aging typically causes weakness, increased susceptibility to disease and infection, loss of mobility and agility, and age-related physiological changes, such as wrinkled skin and gray hair. In the United States, about two-thirds of people age 65 and over take medications for various conditions.
  • Currently, the average life expectancy in the United States is about 75 years for males and 80 for females. Although genetic makeup has been shown to influence an individual's life expectancy, individuals are more likely to live long and healthy lives without disabilities if they take care of their bodies with proper diets, lifestyles, and medications.

  • General: Many treatments, medications, and surgeries are available to help people live longer, healthier lives. They may also help reduce signs and symptoms of aging.
  • Assisted mobility devices: Some individuals may require assisted mobility devices to help them walk. This may include a cane, walker, wheelchair, or mobilized chair. Individuals should talk to their healthcare providers to determine the best options for them.
  • Erectile dysfunctiondrugs: Several drugs, including sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), and vardenafil (Levitra®), have been used treat males who experience erectile dysfunction as a result of aging. These drugs are taken by mouth a few hours before sexual activity. These drugs should not be taken more than once every 24 hours. In general, side effects may include headache, upset stomach, diarrhea, dizziness, flushing, or stuffy nose. Serious side effects may include sudden severe loss of vision, blurred vision, changes in color vision, painful erection, priaprism (prolonged erection lasting longer than four hours), fainting, chest pain, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, itching or burning during urination, and rash. Patients should seek immediate medical treatment if any of these serious side effects develop.
  • Bisphosphonates: Patients with osteoporosis may receive medications called bisphosphonates. These drugs are similar to estrogen in that they prevent the breakdown of bones, preserve bone mass, and increase bone density in the hip and spine. These drugs are taken for the rest of the patient's life.
  • Side effects may include nausea and abdominal pain. Some patients may develop an inflamed esophagus or esophageal ulcers, especially if they have histories of such conditions. Patients who take bisphosphonates once a week or once a month may experience fewer side effects.
  • Hearing aids: Individuals who experience hearing loss due to aging may benefit from hearing aids. These battery-operated devices are available in three basic styles: behind-the-ear aids, in-the-ear aids, and canal hearing aids. Patients should talk to their healthcare providers to determine the type of hearing aid that is best for them.
  • A behind-the-ear device is used for mild to profound hearing loss. The device has a hard plastic case that is worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic ear mold that fits inside the outer ear.
  • In-the-ear hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear, and are they used for mild to severe hearing loss.
  • Canal hearing aids are smaller hearing aids that fit inside the patient's hearing canal. They are used for mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
  • Hormone replacement therapy: Patients experiencing menopause may benefit from hormone therapy with estrogen to help alleviate symptoms. However, according to research, patients who receive estrogen have an increased risk of stroke. Patients should consult their healthcare providers to determine the potential health benefits and risks associated with hormone therapy.
  • Plastic surgery: Plastic surgery has been gaining popularity as a way to reduce physical signs of aging. For instance, a facelift is one of the most common anti-aging surgical procedures that is used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. During the surgery, an incision is made near the patient's hairline. The skin is then pulled back and the extra tissue is removed. As a result, the appearance of wrinkles is reduced and the skin appears smoother. However, there are health risks associated with surgical procedures, including infection, bleeding, and reactions to anesthesia. Older individuals have an increased risk of experiencing complications from surgery. Patients should discuss the potential risks and benefits of surgical procedures with their healthcare providers.
  • Botox® injections have been used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Botox is a drug made from a toxin produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It is the same toxin that causes a life-threatening type of food poisoning called botulism. However, the doses used for medical reasons are too low to cause illness in patients. Botox® injections weaken certain muscles or nerves, which temporarily reduces the appearance of wrinkles for about three to four months. Side effects include pain at the injection site, flu-like symptoms, headache, and upset stomachs. Injections in the face may also cause the eyelids to temporarily appear droopy. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Retinol: Retinol lotions, gels, serums, peels, creams, and make-up removal products may reduce the appearance of wrinkles in the elderly. Vitamin A is the active ingredient in retinol. Vitamin a has been shown to increase collagen and elastin formation in the skin. This helps minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Many products containing retinol are available over-the-counter at local pharmacies, beauty care stores, and department stores. Examples include Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream®, Olay Beauty Fluid®, and Repairwear Lift Firming Night Cream®. Products that contain higher amounts of retinol are available by prescription.

Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons. .
  2. Barkan AL. Growth hormone as an anti-aging therapy-do the benefits outweigh the risks? Nat Clin Pract Endocrinol Metab. 2007 May 29; [Epub ahead of print.] .
  3. Flora SJ.Role of free radicals and antioxidants in health and disease.Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2007 Apr 15;53(1):1-2. .
  4. Holloszy JO, Fontana L. Caloric restriction in humans. Exp Gerontol. 2007 Mar 31; [Epub ahead of print.] .
  5. Kafi R, Kwak HS, Schumacher WE, et al. Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin a (retinol). Arch Dermatol. 2007 May;143(5):606-12. .
  6. National Council on Aging. .
  7. National Institute on Aging. .
  8. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. .
  9. Pines A. Postmenopausal hormone therapy: The way ahead. Maturitas. 2007 May 20;57(1):3-5. Epub 2007 Mar 21. .
  10. The U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA). .
  11. Vina J, Borras C, Miquel J. Theories of ageing. UBMB Life. 2007 Apr;59(4):249-54. .

  • General: There are several theories as to why the body loses functioning as it ages. Researchers believe that several factors may be involved.
  • Cross-linking theory: The cross-linking theory of aging is based on the observation that as individuals age, the proteins, DNA, and other molecules in the body develop inappropriate attachments, or cross-links, to one another. These unnecessary links decrease the mobility of protein and other important molecules in the body. When proteins become damaged or are no longer needed, an enzyme called protease destroys them. However, cross-linkages prevent protease from doing its job. As a result, dysfunctional and unneeded proteins remain in the body and can cause damage.
  • For instance, cross-linking of the skin protein called collagen has been show to be partly responsible for wrinkled skin. Cross-linking proteins in the lens of the eye has also been shown to cause age-related cataracts. In addition, it has been suggested, but not proven, that cross-linking of proteins in the walls of arteries or the kidneys may be partly responsible for hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and age-related kidney dysfunction.
  • Although many scientists agree that cross-linking plays a role in aging, there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm that this process is a primary cause of aging.
  • Free radical theory: The most common theory of aging is called the free radical theory. Many researchers believe that molecules, called free radicals, damage the body's tissues. Free radicals are produced when the body fights against infections. Although free radicals are needed for the body to produce energy, maintain immunity, transmit nerve signals, produce hormones, and contract muscles, they may also contribute to the process of aging.
  • Free radical damage begins at birth and continues through adulthood. However, when individuals are young, the effects are minimal because the body has many different ways to repair and replace cells to maintain proper functioning. As individuals age, the damage caused by free radicals increases.
  • Studies have shown that free radicals attack the structures of the body cells and create substances called lipofuscins. When lipofuscins build up in the body, they show up as darks spots on the skin, which are commonly called age spots. Lipofuscins also interfere with the body's ability to repair damage cells and reproduce new ones. As a result, lipofuscins lead to decreased energy levels and they prevent the body from building muscle mass. They also destroy enzymes that are needed for daily functioning.
  • Studies have also shown that free radicals attack substances in the body called elastin and collagen. These substances help keep the skin smooth, moist, and flexible. As a result, free radicals may cause changes in the appearance of the skin, such as folds or wrinkles.
  • Genetic theory: It has been suggested that an individual's genetic makeup regulates the rate at which he/she ages. This is called the telomerase theory of aging. However, it does not necessarily mean that patients will live to be the same age as their parents. This is because many other factors, including diet and lifestyle, may influence a person's internal biological clock.
  • Telomeres are proteins on the ends chromosomes that carry genetic information. Every time a cell divides in the body the telomeres shorten. The shortening of telomeres is believed to cause cellular damage because the cell is unable to make a correct copy of itself. Over time, this process leads to cellular dysfunction, aging, and death.
  • Wear and tear theory: According to the wear and tear theory of aging, tissues and organs eventually die after years of damage. An individual's genetic makeup (DNA) sustains repeated damage from toxins, radiation, and ultraviolet light throughout the course of a lifetime. Although the body can repair DNA damage, not all of those repairs are accurate or complete. As a result, damage slowly accumulates over time.
  • For instance, one study evaluated the effect of a lifetime of exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol. The body produces cortisol in response to physical and emotional stress. Researchers found that the amount of cortisol in the body rises with age. Although cortisol levels decline at night in younger adults, the levels do not fall as far in older adults. The researchers concluded that the increased levels of cortisol might be the result of wear and tear of lifelong exposures to stress.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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