7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice
Why take a Holistic Approach?
Whether you’re 25 or 55, it’s never too early to begin an anti-aging regime. Though creams and serums are all the rage, their approach is mostly superficial. Do you just want to look good when you’re 75 or do you want to feel good, too? A more holistic approach to aging provides support for the entire body, with specific attention to energy and vitality, brain health, and heart health. Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, herbs have an important role to play in healthy aging. Modern research has shown us that many medicinal herbs long revered for their ability to promote longevity do in fact support healthy aging. Adding some or all of these herbs for holistic anti-aging to your daily self-care routine is key.
These seven vital herbs have some things in common. All are antioxidants. Most are adaptogens, and many possess anti-inflammatory properties. Understanding these properties is important to choosing an herbal approach to anti-aging best for you. Antioxidants inhibit free-radical damage, which is responsible for aging at a cellular level. Free-radicals are also responsible for the onset of many diseases, including two major killers—heart disease and cancer. In short, antioxidants are thought to slow the aging process. In addition to a diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables, using antioxidant-rich herbs is a good way to boost your antioxidant intake. Herbal adaptogens have a strengthening and energizing effect on the body, promote immune function, and help alleviate the effects of stress. When it comes to aging, adaptogens promote energy and vitality, and help ward off disease. Herbal anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation in the body, including chronic inflammation sometimes referred to as the “silent killer.” Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor in the onset of many common and deadly conditions from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to cancer and dementia. Herbs, along with diet and lifestyle, can reduce chronic inflammation and decrease the risk of these life-limiting ailments.
A healthy aging approach that includes a combination of antioxidant, adaptogenic, and anti-inflammatory herbs is best and considers your body’s specific needs. Among the many herbal options discussed here, you’ll notice that some herbs are especially effective at inhibiting certain age-related conditions. Let that be your inspiration. For example, if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or certain cancers, design your herbal protocol to optimize resistance to these conditions. Finally, while the herbs on this list are generally safe for long term use, if you are on medication or being treated for a specific condition, be sure to discuss taking them with your healthcare practitioner first.
Holistic Anti-Aging Herb List
Astragalus | Astragalus membranaceus
Astragalus is a superstar in the anti-aging field. Like many of the herbs on this list, it is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Astragalus is also considered a heart and lung tonic and is used to prevent immune suppression caused by chemotherapy.
Esteemed in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, Astragalus’s superstar status was cemented by modern scientific research. Among other things, this research has demonstrated that Astragalus contains compounds that boost production of an enzyme, telomerase, that plays a critical role in cellular health and anti-aging at the level of our DNA, the genetic material that contains the instructions all organisms need to develop, live, and reproduce. Specifically, telomerase controls the short bits of DNA known as telomeres, which ensure accurate cell division and replication. Telomeres are sometimes likened to the plastic tips that protect the ends of shoelaces to prevent them from unraveling. As telomeres shorten, errors in cell replication accumulate, causing a wide range of age-related conditions including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease including stroke and vascular dementia, osteoporosis, and diabetes
As part of your holistic anti-aging protocol, combine Astragalus with a plant-based diet, regular exercise, stress-reduction techniques like yoga or meditation, and a supportive social network. Why? A 2013 pilot study published in a distinguished medical journal, The Lancet Oncology, showed that these diet and lifestyle practices may also result in longer, anti-aging telomeres.
Ginseng | Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius
One of the most heavily researched herbs, Ginseng’s legendary status as a longevity tonic has been validated by modern scientific research and clinical studies. Like Astragalus, Ginseng is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Considered the most stimulating of adpatogens, Panax ginseng can be used at any age to promote stamina and endurance and improve cognitive function and memory. Ginseng helps relieve adrenal burnout and exhaustion and reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress. Like Astragalus, it is also used to support the immune system during chemotherapy treatment. Ginseng also supports blood sugar balance and healthy cholesterol levels, helping to combat two common age and diet related conditions. Ginseng is considered a fertility and sexual tonic for both men and women, and provides relief for women experiencing menopause related symptoms. For more about Ginseng’s role in menopause visit my blog, Three Herbs to Unleash Your Feminine Power. Panax ginseng sometimes called Asian, Koran, or Chinese Ginseng is and Panax quinefolius, or American Ginseng, possess similar properties, but Panax Ginesng is considered more stimulating. Individuals sensitive to stimulants may prefer American Ginseng.
Green Tea | Camellia sinensis
Drinking two or three cups of organic green tea every day is a great way to practice healthy aging. Green tea helps combat a wide range of age-related conditions from cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure to osteoporosis, memory loss, and cancer. You can read more about the benefits of green tea here.
Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, green tea’s wide range of benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system make it a top choice for those who want to age well. Its ability to promote cardiovascular health is derived from important compounds known as catechins. Tea catechins exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-thrombotic, and hypo-cholesterolemic effects. In other words, these compounds in green tea help protect and maintain the health of our blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. They have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, help lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of abnormal blood clots.
Green tea also helps improve memory and parts of the brain that shrink as we age. Compounds in green tea increase a protein in the body called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a critical role in brain health and brain growth, or neurogenesis. Research also shows that green tea enhances memory by improving connectivity within the brain and increasing brain cell production.
Like many of the other herbs for healthy aging on this list, green tea is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. While antioxidants help us maintain healthy skin as we age, their importance is more significant. Antioxidants like green tea also help protect us from cancer. When it comes to specific cancers, research shows that green tea has a positive effect on breast, cervical, prostate, and stomach cancer. Population studies suggest that green tea consumption may be one of the reasons cancer rates are lower in Japan where people typically drink about three cups of green tea per day.
Drinking green tea may also offer significant protection against osteoporosis. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone” and is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures and falls. This danger is significant given that fractures due to osteoporosis are associated with premature death in people 45 and older and hip fracture in the elderly increases the risk of dying within one or two years. Women are most at risk for osteoporosis after menopause. Tea catechins as well as vitamin K1 in green tea may account for this protective effect. Vitamin K1 assists the transport of calcium through the body, improves bone density, reduces bone loss, and decreases the risk of fractures.
Hawthorn | Crataegus spp.
The dark red berries of the Hawthorn tree are sometimes referred to as “food for the heart.” They are used along with the leaves and flowers of Hawthorn as a cardiovascular tonic, hypotensive, and antioxidant. Hawthorn is particularly rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, in particular a group of flavonoids known as proanthocyanidins. These powerful antioxidants are responsible for the dark red and blue colors found in blueberries, blackberries, and of course, Hawthorn berries and are especially useful in protecting against heart disease. Hawthorn has also been shown to inhibit the build up of plague in the arteries and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is considered a nervous system relaxant and is used energetically to open and protect the heart, and for recovery from grief, loss, and sadness.
Milk Thistle | Silybum marianum
Milk Thistle seed is another potent antioxidant, but possesses a unique ability to protect the liver and enhance detoxification. The fact is, we live in a toxic world. From heavy metals in our air and drinking water, to chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides in our food, our bodies–especially the liver–can become overwhelmed and damaged by this toxic load. Warning signals may include skin problems, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Heavy metal toxicity is also associated with impaired brain function, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer, among other things. Milk Thistle, used regularly and in conjunction with periodic cleansing, improves liver function and helps eliminate this toxic load.
Rhodiola | Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola has been used for centuries in northern Europe and Russia, where it has been subjected to more than 180 published pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies. As these studies have been translated into other languages, Rhodiola has gained popularity with practitioners across North America and elsewhere. Rhodiola is an antioxidant and adaptogen that promotes memory and brain function and has also been shown to possess anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties. As a stimulating adaptogen, Rhodiola is used to relieve mental and physical fatigue, increase endurance, and decrease recovery time after intense exercise. It also helps reduce depressive syndromes and ameliorate memory loss and cognitive dysfunction from a variety of causes, including brain injuries. It has been shown to have a positive effect on parts of the brain responsible for memory, perception and information processing, especially in healthy individuals working long hours in fields requiring complex analysis and critical decision making.
Turmeric | Curcuma longa
This spicy member of the ginger family has been used as a culinary spice for thousands of years. However, in modern times its well-deserved reputation as a potent anti-inflammatory has outpaced its reputation in the kitchen. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, Turmeric is also an oxidant that contains compounds showing therapeutic potential in a wide range of conditions commonly associated with aging including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical studies show that compounds in Turmeric may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of many types of cancer, including breast, colon, gastrointestinal, urinary tract, lung, leukemia, lymphoma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancers.
Curcumin, one of over 24 unique anti-inflammatory compounds in Turmeric is being studied for its ability to block the formation of beta-amyloid, the substance responsible for the plaque characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease that forms in the brain and obstructs cerebral function. Parts of India where people eat Turmeric at almost every meal have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Among people 70-79 years old, the rate is less than one-quarter the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Epidemiologists hypothesize that the daily ingestion of Turmeric as part of the Indian diet may be partly responsible for this result.
As for its role in cardiovascular health, in addition to its effects as an anti-inflammatory, Turmeric acts as a blood thinner, reducing blood platelet aggregation, which is linked to an increased risk for atherosclerosis and stroke. It also helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels (elevated cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease) and is considered cardioprotective.
We all hear the cultural drum beat that seems to value youthful appearance over a more holistic approach to aging. Herbs can help us look more youthful (more about that here), but I encourage you to look beyond the surface. I hope this list of herbs for holistic anti-aging inspires you to focus on the things that will help you maintain vibrant energy, a healthy heart, and an active mind. Have you discovered ways to navigate the cultural miasma of aging with grace or grit? Are you proactive when it comes to your approach to anti-aging? I’d love to hear your insights, wisdom, or worries in the comments section below.
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