While there's no stopping Father Time, there are steps you can take to delay some of the less desirable effects he has on your appearance and your health. While on some mornings you may feel every one of your years, our growing understanding of the importance of healthy living, diet and nutrition means you don't necessarily have to look every one of your years.
Your appearance is a pretty fair indicator of the state of your health, and it's a way to maintain good health. Your skin keeps viruses and bacteria out of your body -- dry skin can literally develop into a crack in your body's defenses.
But even when it's healthy, your skin wrinkles, discolors and sags as it ages. Fortunately, there are ways to repair and firm up your skin, improve its color, and reduce some of those age-related wrinkles. Certain vitamins have anti-aging qualities that improve not only your appearance, but your health in a number of ways.
Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) is a fat-soluble compound that repairs dry, cracked skin when used as a cream or lotion. This vitamin helps skin retain moisture and is often added to sunscreens because it protects the skin against UVB damage.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects your body from the harmful effects of free radicals, which are molecules that have an unpaired electron. Because of this unpaired electron, free radicals seek out electrons from other cells, oxidizing them and damaging them and the tissues they form. Proper intake of vitamin E helps prevent and limit the damage caused by free radicals and oxidation. Vitamin E also improves the functioning of your immune system and assists in the expression of your genes.
Vitamin E prevents blood from clotting unnecessarily, lowering the risk of stroke or heart attack. It also helps to prevent LDL cholesterol from contributing to atherosclerosis. Vitamin E might also protect against cancer, since free radicals and their damaging effects may play a role in cancer development. However, studies into the effects of vitamin E on cancer rates are still inconclusive. Some studies even suggest vitamin E intake may put off or prevent cognitive delay or decline in the elderly due to the antioxidant effect on the brain's neurons.
You can get vitamin E through nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and vegetable oils (such as soybean, canola, and corn). Vitamin E is also available in a variety of supplements and topical applications.
Over time, no matter how careful you are, your skin is going to take on some sun damage and wear and tear. Free radicals, which are produced when you digest food or are exposed to pollution, cigarette smoke or radiation, also cause damage. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps prevent that damage. Not only is vitamin C an antioxidant, it helps to regenerate other antioxidants in the body, including vitamin E. When applied topically, vitamin C also helps protect your skin against the damaging effects of UV rays.
Your skin is like a blanket draped over a statue -- the appearance of the outer "shell" largely depends on the shape and firmness of the structure beneath it. Collagen is the structural element of your skin that provides for shape and firmness. Vitamin C intake improves the firmness and production of collagen, giving your skin a more firm and youthful appearance. This connective tissue is also important for healing wounds.
Vitamin C has cancer-preventing qualities and appears to reduce the odds of developing cardiovascular disease. Additionally, some studies have suggested that vitamin C delays or even prevents the formation of age-related cataracts and macular degeneration.
Fruits and veggies (especially citrus and potatoes) are excellent natural sources of vitamin C.
As you get older, dark circles may start appearing under your eyes. While they make you look tired or older than you are, these dark circles are caused by a number of factors, not just age or lack of sleep. Heredity, hormones and allergies may also be the cause (and your doctor can help you determine which).
Vitamin K helps with one common cause: the leaking of capillaries around the eyes, which results in the pooling and clotting of blood. Researchers believe that vitamin K aids in the constriction of capillaries, breaking up the tiny blood clots that form the circles. Vitamin K likely won't be a cure-all for under-eye circles, but getting your fair share of this vitamin should be part of your treatment plan.
Your body produces small amounts of vitamin K on its own, but you can use more than your body can provide. Vitamin K can be consumed as a supplement, as part of a multi-vitamin, in the form of topical creams or (ideally) through your diet. Kale, lettuce, spinach and broccoli are all excellent sources of vitamin K, as are non-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
As we age, our bones begin to lose structural strength, due to reduced levels of ossification (an ongoing process through which bone replaces itself). Vitamin K has been shown to help aging seniors maintain bone strength.
Niacin, one of the B vitamins (specifically B-3), has several anti-aging properties. One visible way it helps you as you age is by increasing your skin's ability to retain moisture -- an ability it loses over time. Moist skin not only looks healthier, it actually helps you stay healthier by providing a strong, unbroken barrier against viruses, bacteria and other antigens.
Dry skin not only can be sensitive, itchy and scaly looking, but it can also lead to further problems as the cracks between "scales" become chinks in your aging body's armor. In addition to restoring moisture to your skin, niacin also acts like an exfoliant, helping your skin in sloughing off dead cells as newer cells move toward the surface. Dry skin can also be a result of niacin deficiency.
Niacin counteracts the effects of aging inside your skin as well. It raises your "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins, or HDL) and also lowers triglycerides (fats in your blood that contribute to your overall cholesterol count). In doing so, niacin lowers your risk and rate of atherosclerosis, the hardening of your artery walls that leads to heart attack and stroke. Niacin also plays a major role in converting food into energy.
One study showed that one-fourth of all seniors don't get enough niacin, and that number doubles for minorities and people living at or below poverty levels [source: Chernoff].
Vitamin A helps you as you age in several ways. Importantly, it's an antioxidant that helps neutralize the damaging effects of oxidation caused by free radicals. Oxidation caused by free radicals is believed to be a primary cause of age-related degeneration and disease.
Topical solutions with vitamin A (such as retinol creams) have been shown to reduce signs of sun damage and skin aging by working as an exfoliator and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin A intake can also help with circles under the eyes, much as vitamin K does.
Vitamin A -- in proper amounts -- is important for your overall bone health, helping to offset the effects of osteoporosis as you get older. However, there is a danger for seniors of taking too much vitamin A, which can lead to osteoporosis and bone brittleness. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to obtain the amount of vitamin A you need.
While vitamins aren't going to stop you from aging, the right ones can help slow the process down, keep you healthy late into life, and keep you looking younger than your years.