The Link To Vitality, Defying the Biology of Aging – 5th in a series
By Dr. Nabil El-Hag, Phd
The “little blue pill” is a global phenomenon. It came to market in 1998, forever changing the trajectory of sexual viability for men. Because of Viagra, the decline of sexual prowess is no longer an inevitable result of aging. There is a drug fix. The $4 billion global market that has evolved, proves that sex sells!
This pharmaceutical gold mine was discovered by accident. Scientists were in search of a compound that would dilate coronary blood vessels and increase blood flow to the heart. Researchers were looking at compounds that would stimulate the release of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes smooth muscles in the body. As the muscles relax, more blood flows through them; a process that not only helps to decrease blood pressure, but also works to enable healthy erections! In the lab, the Pfizer compound didn’t do much for the heart, but it sure changed the landscape of the male domain.
Healthy circulation is, in part, reliant on the production of nitrous oxide, a chemical compound produced by arginine, an amino acid. It’s why the folks at Pfizer were looking at nitric oxide precursors, including arginine. I first observed the near miracle effect of arginine and amino acid supplementation 30 years ago. My work assignment coincided with my battle with Lyme’s disease. As a result of my illness, I was losing weight and having a tough time recovering from my workouts. I was struggling, but the mice in my research lab, who were on an amino acid regimen, all looked like Mighty Mouse. They were stronger, more muscular and decidedly more energetic than the placebo group. I wanted what they had! So at the age of 45, I began supplementing with amino acids. They are still a mainstay of my health regimen.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids in our bodies, classified into two groups. The non-essential amino acids are manufactured in the liver, which builds them from the component parts of other digested proteins and nutrients. The essential
amino acids cannot be manufactured by the body. Without them in our diet, we would slowly die.
Amino acids are neither drugs or medicine. They are food in their simplest and purest form. In their natural state, they form the basis of life itself. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you are seeing a protein package. All that muscle, skin, bone, nails, and hair are made of amino acids configured into countless protein structures. Aminos also drive the chemical interactions required for metabolism and the manufacturing of new cells. For example, our bone marrow makes 2.5 million red cells every four days, our white blood cells are replaced every 10 days, and our skin cells turnover every 24 days. This non-stop production of new cells requires a continuous supply of amino acids.
Keeping your dietary protein needs in balance with your energy expenditure is key to healthy aging. Without a plan to course correct against the natural aging process, muscle mass starts to decline in the thirties. Our growth hormone also starts to decline. On average, we lose 8% of our muscle mass with each passing decade after the age of thirty. Somewhere between 65 and 80, that rate of decline accelerates. Our ability to absorb and metabolize proteins declines. The repair process slows. We start to look and feel old. We get tired and achy. The mirror reflects the old person we have become, not the vibrant person we were in our youth.
Unless we are proactively countering this natural process, we get smaller, weaker, and less energetic. This process of attrition results in poor health and eventually death. Of course, we can’t avoid dying, but we can extend the life in our years. In order to do that, you need to work out strenuously and feed your body the right nutrients, including ample protein to build new muscle. Bolstering your protein intake with amino acids can help keep the old man out!
My goal over the last 35 years has been to maximize my capacity for work, to optimize my ability to recover from strenuous workouts and to maintain a healthy and vibrant appearance that reflects a similar inner state of being. Most importantly, I have wanted to delay the onset of muscle wasting, a natural phenomenon of the aging process In order to do that I have needed:
● A strong heart to pump nutrients and oxygen to my cells and to efficiently remove waste and toxins from my bloodstream and tissue.
● To prevent the decline of growth hormone as I am aging
● To recover from strenuous workout quickly and without injury, so that I can be consistent
in my efforts. Through trial and error, I’ve selected a few amino acids which I take religiously to meet these goals. These are my “go-to” supplements:
L-Carnitine and Co Q10: The Keys to a Healthy Heart
Carnitine, known as the heart tonic, is classified as a non-essential amino acid. It plays an important role in providing energy to all muscles, especially the hard working heart muscle. Carnitine acts by carrying fatty acids across the cell membranes to the mitochondria, the energy pump of the cell , thereby increasing the amount of available energy. Carnitine’s ability to speed
up the oxidation of fats makes it an ideal supplement for people who want to lose weight and for those who want to improve their exercise endurance. Carnitine also inhibits the build-up of lactic acid, the main cause of fatigue and impaired muscle recovery .
Carnitine works synergistically with CoQ10, which is not an amino acid, but a vitamin-like substance found throughout the body. It is found in small amounts in meats and seafood, so can be provided through our diet. It is also manufactured by the body. It is a powerful antioxidant that ensures free radicals are neutralized when cells produce energy and fuel their internal processes.
Both L-carnitine and CoQ10 are vital for existence. They work best in combination. Together, they encourage the body to use fats as fuel, sparing muscle breakdown, and encouraging the release of growth hormone. Growth hormone also helps burn fats and strengthens muscle. As we age, the production of both L-Carnitine and CoQ10 decreases. The discovery of the synergistic impact of L-Carnitine and CoQ10 supplementation is transforming our understanding of the treatment of heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, male infertility, immune function and other age-related diseases..
ARGININE AND ORNITHINE: Twin Engines of Athletic Recovery and Vitality
Arginine is considered conditionally essential, meaning that it becomes essential under certain circumstances, including pregnancy, infancy, critical illness, and trauma, meaning our dietary requirements vary with our health status. Aging, and its accompanying chronic illnesses, are reason enough to consider arginine supplementation essential.
Arginine is necessary for making proteins and is commonly used to improve circulation. A vasodilator, arginine, is converted in the body into a chemical called nitric oxide. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and address erectile dysfunction. It stimulates the release of growth hormone, insulin, and other hormones. Arginine plays an important role in cell division, wound healing, removing ammonia from the body, and supporting immune function.
Ornithine is a precursor of arginine and is very effective in simulating the production of growth hormone. In combination, added to your workout regimen, these two aminos provide the spark that fuels muscle growth.
BRANCH CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAA): High Octane Fuel for Muscle Growth
This is another important supplement for packing on muscle. BCAAs consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are considered essential and comprise 40% of the total daily requirement of essential amino acids. Uniquely, they are used as a direct energy source by skeletal muscle. They also promote protein synthesis and are involved in muscle repair and muscle building . Their role in muscle recovery makes them an ideal workout supplement, easing soreness, boosting muscle synthesis and preventing muscle wasting.
I take all of the above amino acids 45 minutes before, during and 45 minutes after my workout, in doses calibrated for my body mass. While I am working out, I also drink 48 ounces of water in which I dissolve 30 grams of glutamine. I’ve been doing this consistently for more than 3 decades. At 75, I’d like to think the results speak for themselves. I am getting stronger and bigger with time. I take no medications, am seldom sick, and have the same energy I had when I was twenty years younger.
However, as I keep reiterating, there is no magic bullet. No one supplement, and no single exercise has delivered results for me. It is the synergy of everything I do that has contributed to my vitality. I adhere to a balanced regimen of healthy living and employ all of the tools I am sharing with you in this series.
We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover. In next month’s article, we’ll explore the river of life flowing through our bodies and the body’s electric system. It is sure to jolt your thinking about the fluids you ingest and what can zap your energy or ignite your vitality.