|Dr. Lorraine Maita, MD
Functional Medicine Doctor
Anti-aging Medicine Expert
A case study | The functional approach | Find the cause | Nutrition | Hormonal imbalances | Movement | Stress | Sleep | References
You may have heard that functional medicine can help promote healthy aging. But have you ever wondered what would happen when you combine the functional medicine approach with anti-aging medicine strategies?
In this interview, we spoke with Dr. Lorraine Maita, MD, a functional medicine physician who specializes in anti-aging medicine. Dr. Maita shared a touching case study of two of her patients and went over some of the basic principles of the combined functional – anti-aging medicine approach she often uses in her practice.
As it turns out, addressing the root causes of aging with functional medicine may be a powerful longevity strategy on its own. Combining the power of this approach with anti-aging medicine may be the best way to turn back the clock.
Feeling like my (younger) self again
A couple in their mid-forties came to me some time ago. As a former personal trainer, the woman had once been known for her excellent physical health and stamina. But by the time she came to me, she was pre-menopausal, her libido had plummeted, and she was an emotional wreck. In addition, her husband had his share of age-related issues. He was declining rapidly and appeared sickly for a man in his forties. Their sex life had taken a pretty big blow as well.
Her primary care physician blamed it all on marriage and kids…or,” getting older.” Thankfully she didn’t buy it.
Six or seven months later, they both had completely changed their aging trajectory. The husband was down 30 pounds and looked 25 years younger, his blood pressure was back into normal ranges, and many of his previous health issues were under control.
The woman shared with me the great news while sitting poolside in a bikini, which she hadn’t worn in years. She looked and felt as good as she did before children and middle age happened. The spark between them had rekindled. Finally, they felt like themselves again.
Finding your own fountain of youth
So, what was the magic pill, you might ask? I’m sorry to say, but there wasn’t one. Or at least, not one that I have discovered yet.
What we do know, is that environmental and lifestyle factors like diet, stress and nutrition play a key role in our health and how fast we age, by turning on and off certain genes. Some choices can activate “bad” genes that may increase our risk for age-related disease and accelerate the aging process. Issues like high blood sugar, or inflammation (also known as “Inflamm-aging”) can make you look and feel much older than you are.
Healthy lifestyle choices on the other hand, can turn off “bad” genes and activate protective “good” genes that are linked to longevity.
This field of study is called Epigenetics. It’s the study of how our behaviors and environment cause changes that affect the way our genes work.
Back to our couple. Through an in-depth evaluation, it became clear that their problems were related to compromised gut health, certain nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal imbalances. Once we knew the root causes behind their issues, we were able to address them with a personalized nutritional plan and bio-identical hormone therapy. Each plan was developed according to their own imbalances and needs.
Turning back the clock to health
When you restore function and balance to your body, you feel like your (younger) self again. In fact, we even see this in various lab tests. When we retest many of my patients, their results and biomarkers indicate they are much younger than their chronological age. It’s almost if they turned back the clock.
You may call it anti-aging. Or you may prefer healthy aging.
To me, what truly matters is that they got their life back.
This is very gratifying, and why I truly love this type of medicine. We are impacting people’s lives.
We’re all going to age. It’s just that we can slow down the pace of aging and that’s going to make a big difference in the quality of our lives.
The functional anti-aging medicine approach to longevity
This approach must be personalized to address the individual’s unique genetic makeup and health concerns, but here are the basics:
1 – Find the cause, personalize the treatment
As we have seen in the case of our couple, even though they experienced common signs of aging, the root causes and treatment that helped them was very specific and according to their unique situation and needs. But how did we find out what they needed?
In functional medicine, we often start with a detailed medical history assessment. We deep dive into lifestyle and environmental factors to get a complete picture of each person’s symptoms and unique circumstances.
Just like detectives looking for clues to solve a crime, this in-depth evaluation often points us towards potential imbalances, which we validate with specific lab tests. With all the data we gather, we can then tailor a plan that considers all these personal variables.
2 – Cover your nutritional basics
Are you confused about what to eat? How about what supplements to take? You are not alone, and in fact, there is really no one magical health-promoting anti-aging diet that works best for everyone.
We always work with our patients to tailor the diet according to their needs. We retest and fine tune their nutrition as we go.
With that said, there are some basics that most people can benefit from:
- Eat more colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. Imagine a plate of green leafy vegetables, vibrant red peppers, purple cabbage, orange carrots, and on the side, fresh dark berries such as blueberries and blackberries. The more colors you have on your plate, the more diverse the nutrients are. The antioxidants in colorful plants can help neutralize free radical damage, reduce inflammation, and provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals.
- Try to eat organic when possible. To avoid herbicides and pesticides found in non-organic produce, it is always best to go organic. When not possible, have a look at the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of twelve fruits and vegetables that are typically exposed to the most pesticides. For these twelve, always choose organic.
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables. Among their many benefits, these veggies are shown to help with detoxication and clearance of excess hormones. Good examples include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
- Limit inflammatory foods. Processed foods, sugars, refined carbs and saturated fats are all triggers of inflammation. Packaged foods may be convenient, but if you don’t recognize the ingredients on the label, there’s a good chance this food might not be the best choice.
3 – Test for nutritional deficiencies
Rather than taking a handful of supplements and hoping for the best, work with your doctor to test for nutrient deficiencies. Then, address these with targeted foods and supplements (if needed).
For basic nutrition support the following supplements offer a good starting point for most people:
- A high quality multi vitamin mineral
- Fish oil (EPA & DHA). Helps with inflammation, cardiovascular, cognitive function among other benefits.
- Vitamins D3 and K2. Key nutrients for immune system and bone health that many people are deficient in.
4 – Be mindful of food sensitivities
Sensitivities to certain foods are common, yet often overlooked because they don’t always cause immediate symptoms. In many cases, symptoms can occur several days from the time you eat the food you are sensitive to. Overtime, untreated food sensitivities can lead to gut imbalances, systemic inflammation, an overactive immune system, and other health conditions.
So, how do you know which foods you might be sensitive to? While certain lab tests can help identify various food sensitivities, a basic elimination diet may be all you need.
You start by eliminating the 10 most troublesome foods: Alcohol, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, corn, dairy, eggs, peanuts, sugar, soy, wheat and anything with gluten in it for just 2 weeks, enough time for most people to notice a difference.
You then reintroduce these foods, one food at a time, and see if any of the symptoms return.
5 – Test for hormones imbalances
Are you feeling fat, flabby, flaky, foggy, fatigued, or forgetful, maybe even frumpy (low libido)?
When I give talks on aging, I often start by asking the audience this question. Usually, the audience laughs…I think we can all relate to one or more of these as we age.
Jokes aside, hormone imbalances often occur with aging and can drastically affect your quality of life. Should we just accept this as a part of aging? I strongly believe we shouldn’t. We deserve more, much more.
Even more, when it comes to hormones and aging, we now know that certain hormonal imbalances may increase the risk for age-related disease. So, by doing nothing you not only suffer, but you also jeopardize your health.
Now, addressing hormonal imbalances doesn’t always require taking hormones. There are plenty of things you can do to help balance your hormones with healthy lifestyle choices. The key here is to find the root cause of the imbalances. It may be related to nutritional deficiencies, exposure to toxins, chronic stress, poor sleep quality, and many other factors.
With that said, some people may still need hormone replacement therapy to bring their hormones to optimal levels. In these cases, it is very important to work with a functional medicine provider who specializes in hormone therapy. Together, evaluate the benefits vs. risks, tailor the best options for you, and carefully monitor your levels as you go. Hormone replacement therapy is a powerful anti-aging tool that can change lives, but it is not a one size fits all that works for everyone.
6 – Adopt an active lifestyle for healthy aging
Sedentary lifestyle has been well documented as a major risk factor for age-related disease. Being active, even just daily moderate activity, has been shown to offer many health promoting benefits.
Also, when it comes to exercise for healthy aging, it is important to cover all the physical fitness essentials. Lean muscle loss is a concern with aging, but also maintaining balance and flexibility can help support healthy mobility and prevent falls. Ideally, you should cover all aspects of fitness in your routine which should include strength training, aerobic, balance, and flexibility.
7 – Know the many faces of stress
Psychological and physical stress comes in different forms and is correlated with premature aging and age-related disease. While we can’t always control stressful events, we can control our response to them. Becoming aware of the sources of stress in your life, and practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and others can make a big difference in your ability to cope with stress.
8 – Get enough sleep
The importance of sleep cannot be overemphasized. Lack of sleep has been linked to a wide range of age-related disease affecting nearly every system in the body. Healthy sleep habits, on the other hand, have been correlated with healthy aging in centenarians.
Considering that most of the body’s healing and repair processes occur while we sleep, it is one of the pillars of health and wellness we should all pay attention to. If you experience sleep issues, a functional medicine evaluation can help uncover the causes so you can enjoy a good restful sleep.
Age Can Be Just a Number
While all of us will inevitably age chronologically, losing our youthful vitality doesn’t have to be our destiny. By pairing the principles of functional medicine with an anti-aging approach, we can prevent or improve many of the common ailments we feel as we age.
To optimize your results, the diagnosis and treatments need to be personalized to your genetics, lifestyle, and current health status. The best way to do this is to work with a practitioner that focuses on pairing functional and anti-aging medicine.