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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.

  • As individuals age, they have an increased risk of developing many diseases and serious health problems, which may be fatal. Older individuals have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, and eye diseases, such as cataracts or glaucoma.

Integrative therapies
  • Good scientific evidence:
  • Art therapy: Art therapy involves many forms of art to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems. Art therapy became a mental health profession in the 1930s. Art therapy may help improve quality of life in aging. Research suggests that using non-directed visual art, such as pictures, to encourage communication among elderly nursing home residents may increase their well-being, happiness, peacefulness, satisfaction, and calmness. Art therapy may also reduce blood pressure and improve medical health status with regard to reported dizziness, fatigue, pain, and use of laxatives.
  • Art therapy may evoke distressing thoughts or feelings. Use under the guidance of a qualified art therapist or other mental health professional. Some forms of art therapy may use potentially harmful materials. Only materials known to be safe should be used. Related clean-up materials (such as turpentine or mineral spirits) that release potentially toxic fumes should only be used with good ventilation.
  • Meditation: Meditation may help to improve cognitive function and blood pressure in the elderly, which may in turn promote overall health and longevity. More research is needed to identify the specific effects of meditation on aging. However, based on the available evidence, meditation may be recommended as a health-promoting activity for the elderly.
  • Use cautiously with underlying mental illnesses. People with psychiatric disorders should consult with their primary mental healthcare professional(s) before starting a program of meditation, and should explore how meditation may or may not fit in with their current treatment plan. Avoid with risk of seizures. The practice of meditation should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole approach to illnesses.
  • Tai chi: Tai chi is a system of movements and positions believed to have developed in 12th Century China. Tai chi techniques aim to address the body and mind as an interconnected system and are traditionally believed to have mental and physical health benefits to improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. There is good evidence from several studies indicating that tai chi, if practiced regularly, may help improve quality of life in the elderly. Beyond improved balance and the preventive effects against falls, it appears that the practice may be beneficial for aging by improving overall physical functioning and sense of well-being.
  • Avoid with severe osteoporosis or joint problems, acute back pain, sprains, or fractures. Avoid during active infections, right after a meal, or when very tired. Some believe that visualization of energy flow below the waist during menstruation may increase menstrual bleeding. Straining downwards or holding low postures should be avoided during pregnancy, and by people with inguinal hernias. Some tai chi practitioners believe that practicing for too long or using too much intention may direct the flow of chi (qi) inappropriately, possibly resulting in physical or emotional illness. Tai chi should not be used as a substitute for more proven therapies for potentially serious conditions. Advancing too quickly while studying tai chi may increase the risk of injury.
  • Unclear or conflicting scientific evidence:
  • Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an evergreen shrub with small flowers and fruits. Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for many centuries to help the body resist physical and emotional stress. The use of ashwagandha as an agent for aging is based on traditional use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to promote physical and mental health, improve resistance to disease, and promote longevity. Human research is lacking in this area and currently there is insufficient evidence to draw a firm conclusion.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to ashwagandha products or any of their ingredients. Dermatitis (allergic skin rash) was reported in three of 42 patients in one ashwagandha trial.There are few reports of adverse effects associated with ashwagandha, but there are few human trials using ashwagandha and most do not report the doses or standardization/preparation used.Avoid with peptic ulcer disease. Ashwagandha may have caused abortions based on anecdotal reports. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Bitter orange: Limited available study indicates that a combination product including immature bitter orange may improve symptoms of aging. However, more, higher-quality studies are needed.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to bitter orange or any members of the Rutaceae family. Avoid with heart disease, narrow-angle glaucoma, intestinal colic, or long QT interval syndrome. Avoid if taking anti-adrenergic agents, beta-blockers, QT-interval prolonging drugs, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), stimulants, or honey. Use cautiously with headache, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), or if fair-skinned. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Cordyceps: A fungi called cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is widely used as a dietary supplement. It has also been used as a tonic food and beverage in China and Tibet. It is also an ingredient in soups and other foods used traditionally in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, helping debilitated patients recover from illness. Cordyceps may improve various symptoms related to aging. However, higher quality studies testing specific symptoms of aging are needed before the effects of cordyceps can be fully understood.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to cordyceps, mold, or fungi. Use cautiously with diabetes, bleeding disorders, or prostate conditions. Use cautiously if taking anticoagulants, immunosuppressants, hormone replacement therapy, or oral contraceptives. Avoid with myelogenous type cancers. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Healing touch: Healing touch (HT) is a combination of hands-on and off-body techniques to influence the flow of energy through a person's biofield. Preliminary data suggests that HT treatments may help improve quality of life in aging, but limitations of the available studies preclude clear findings. More studies are needed before recommendations can be made.
  • HT should not be regarded as a substitute for established medical treatments. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Prayer, distant healing: Preliminary study suggests that older adults who participate in private religious activity before the onset of impairment in activities of daily living appear to have a survival advantage over those who do not. Further research is needed to confirm the effects of prayer on longevity.
  • Prayer is not recommended as the sole treatment approach for potentially serious medical conditions and should not delay the time it takes to consult with a healthcare professional or receive established therapies.
  • Resveratrol: Resveratrol has been included in herbal products that are marketed to increase lifespan and prevent aging. Limited evidence shows a possible benefit for this use, but more studies are needed to better understand the role of resveratrol in longevity.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to resveratrol, grapes, red wine, or polyphenols. Resveratrol is generally considered safe and is commonly found in food and beverages. Use cautiously with bleeding disorders or abnormal blood pressure. Use cautiously with drugs that are broken down by the body's cytochrome P450 system or digoxin (or digoxin-like drugs). Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Selenium: Selenium is a trace mineral found in soil, water, and some foods. It is an essential element in several metabolic pathways. Because antioxidant supplements are thought to slow aging and prevent disease, selenium supplementation may increase longevity. However, results from clinical trials are mixed, and it is still unclear whether selenium supplementation can affect mortality in healthy individuals.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to products containing selenium. Avoid with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer. Selenium is generally regarded as safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, animal research reports that large doses of selenium may lead to birth defects.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is found in many foods, including fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. Intake of vitamin D may be associated with mortality reduction. Additional evidence is needed to confirm this association.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to vitamin D or any of its components. Vitamin D is generally well-tolerated in recommended doses. Doses higher than recommended may cause toxic effects. Individuals with overactive thyroid, kidney disease, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, or histoplasmosis have a higher risk of experiencing toxic effects. Vitamin D is generally considered safe for pregnant women. It may be necessary to give infants vitamin D supplements along with breast milk in order to prevent vitamin deficiencies.
  • Fair negative scientific evidence:
  • Beta-carotene: Patients given beta-carotene supplements show no reduction in relative mortality rates from all causes based on available data. Additional research may be needed to better understand the effects of beta-carotene on mortality reduction.
  • There is some concern that beta-carotene metabolites with pharmacological activity can accumulate and potentially have cancer-causing (carcinogenic) effects. Beta-carotene/vitamin A supplements may have an adverse effect on the incidence of lung cancer and on the risk of death in smokers and asbestos exposed people or in those who ingest significant amounts of alcohol. In addition, high-dose antioxidants theoretically may interfere with the activity of some chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy. Therefore, individuals undergoing cancer treatment should speak with their oncologist if they are taking or considering the use of high dose antioxidants. Beta-carotene in the amounts normally found in food does not appear to have this adverse effect. Avoid if sensitive to beta-carotene, vitamin A or any other ingredients in beta-carotene products.
  • Traditional or theoretical uses lacking sufficient evidence:
  • Apricot: Apricot is a natural fruit that grows in the northern Himalayas. It has been suggested that apricots may help delay or slow aging. However, human research is lacking.
  • Avoid if allergic to apricot, its constituents, or members of the Rosaceae family, especially the Prunoideae subfamily of plants. Avoid eating excessive amounts of apricot kernels (about seven grams daily or more than 10 kernels daily). Avoid using LaetrileT because multiple cases of cyanide poisonings, some of which were fatal, have been associated with its use. Use cautiously with diabetes. Use cautiously if taking supplements containing beta-carotene, iron, niacin, potassium, thiamine, or vitamin C. Use cautiously if taking products that may lower blood pressure. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • DHEA: DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone that is naturally produced by the adrenal glands, has been suggested, but not proven, as a possible anti-aging remedy. Some research suggests that it may improve memory, the immune system, muscle mass, sexual libido, and it may have beneficial effects on the skin. However, further research is needed in order to determine whether or not this treatment is safe and effective for aging in humans.
  • Avoid if allergic to DHEA. Avoid with a history of seizures. Use cautiously with adrenal or thyroid disorders. Use cautiously if taking anticoagulants, or drugs, herbs, or supplements for diabetes, heart disease, seizure, or stroke. Stop use two weeks before and immediately after surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Folate (folic acid): Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Although it has been suggested that folate may help in preventing signs of aging, further research is needed to confirm these claims.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to folate or any of the product ingredients. It is recommended that pregnant women consume 400 micrograms daily in order to reduce the risk of the fetus developing a defect. Folate is likely safe if breastfeeding.
  • Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo biloba has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today, it is one of the top selling herbs in the United States. Traditionally, Ginkgo biloba has been used to reduce signs and symptoms of aging. However, human studies have not tested the safety and effectiveness of this treatment. Further research is warranted.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to members of the Ginkgoaceaefamily. If allergic to mango rind, sumac, poison ivy. poison oak, or cashews, then allergy to ginkgo is possible. Avoid with blood-thinners (like aspirin or warfarin) due to an increased risk of bleeding. Ginkgo biloba should be stopped two weeks before surgical procedures. Ginkgo biloba seeds are dangerous and should be avoided. Skin irritation and itching may also occur due to ginkgo allergies. Do not use Ginkgo biloba in supplemental doses if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Ginseng: The term ginseng refers to several species of the genus Panax. For more than 2,000 years, the roots of this slow-growing plant have been valued in Chinese medicine. Proponents of ginseng claim that it may improve long-term debility in elderly patients. However, human studies are needed to better understand the effects of ginseng on aging.
  • Avoid ginseng with a known allergy to plants in the Araliaceae family. There has been a report of a serious life-threatening skin reaction, possibly caused by contaminants in the ginseng formulation.

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

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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