Renowned hormone expert Dr Sara Gottfried knows a thing or two about ageing well – the Harvard-graduate has 20 years of experience as a gynaecologist, and several years ago took her health into her own hands after her hormones went haywire. Frustrated that anti-depressants and contraception were the only treatments at the time, Dr Gottfried bio-hacked her own health and delved deeper into the topic of hormones.
Fast-forward four years and her third book, Younger, a programme to reset genes and reverse ageing, is already set to be a bestseller. We caught up with her to talk hormones, genes and the best ways to promote anti-ageing...
Firstly, how much of ageing is down to genes?
Believe it or not, only 10% of ageing is caused by genes, while 90% is caused by environmental factors, including lifestyle choices. I call this the 90/10 rule: genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger. This gives you an incredible opportunity to change the course of disease and ageing in your body. The goal is to upgrade that 90% to affect the 10% and thus age better.
What about hormones – is there anything you can do to protect these as you age?
Regarding hormones and the ageing process, the most important hormone to be aware of is insulin. Unfortunately, you get more insulin resistant as you age, leading to a significant increase in blood sugar by the time we reach 50 – this can manifest itself in increased carb cravings and a foggy brain. A simple way to control blood sugar is to drink a glass of water with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before meals. Another way to reset insulin levels is to fast intermittently for 14-18 hours; try to eat your dinner early, say by 6pm, and then eat your next meal around noon the following day. Do this twice per week for weight loss and once per week to boost your longevity genes.
While myriad other hormones come into play when it comes to ageing, just remember the right food, sleep and exercise can reverse many hormonal problems.
So, what should you be eating?
First and foremost, remove processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars and sugar substitutes from your diet. Avoid anything that could lead to inflammation, (i.e. food intolerances, so avoid gluten and dairy) or heavy metals, such as tuna. Make an effort to increase your intake of healthy oils, such as coconut oil; clean proteins, like grass-fed beef and venison; wild-caught, cold-water fish, like halibut and salmon; slow-release carbs, like sweet potatoes and quinoa (although avoid these if you have weight to lose); and try to consume 900g of vegetables daily. Ensure you’re eating a variety of colours and aim for a plate that is 80% vegetables – think of animal-based food as a condiment.
Increasing research also shows carotenoids – the orangey-red pigments found in carrots, butternut squash and yellow peppers – can significantly boost skin tone, so try to incorporate these on a regular basis.
Any top tips to prevent skin ageing?
It’s widely known that as we age, we lose collagen. It might sound bizarre, but I recommend drinking a collagen latte daily – it’s easy to digest and drinkable collagen has been shown to be far more effective than oral supplements. Simply mix one to two tablespoons of collagen powder into your coffee; add a tablespoon of coconut oil and up to six drops of stevia for extra richness.
As well as taking vitamins C and E (they are rich antioxidants) and alpha lipoic acid, my other tip is to increase myokines, which are proteins released by exercising muscles that keep your skin young and can reverse ageing-related changes. What’s been shown to be most effective in releasing myokines is just thirty minutes of jogging or cycling twice per week at a moderate-to-vigorous pace.
How can you maintain a healthy weight as you age?
Avoid chronic cardio or marathon running as these popular regimes put too much stress on the body by raising our stress hormone cortisol. Aim for one to two hours of moderate exercise daily – walk, hike, practice yoga or go to a barre class. Also, add HIIT into your regime.
Do you recommend any supplements?
Typically, I recommend a “food first” philosophy, meaning get what you can from what you eat and only if you can’t, rely on supplements. That said, one of the biggest issues when it comes to ageing is problems with blood sugar so take berberine, a herb proven to reset insulin and blood sugar, and pair with milk thistle for maximum effectiveness.
It’s also important to control the stress hormone, cortisol, levels of which can soar over time, leading to sleep issues, weight gain and sugar cravings. To control cortisol – an issue which affects the majority of busy women – take 500mg vitamin B5 daily as well as 1,000mg vitamin C and 4,000mg omega-3. Although not a supplement, yoga is ideal for stress relief and keeping cortisol in check.
Do you believe gut health is linked to ageing?
Absolutely. The microbiome in our gut actually outnumber our DNA a hundred to one, and imbalances can affect our hormones and unsettle everything from our immune to nervous system. Don’t get lost in the scientific detail (of which there is plenty!), just remember that your gut has serious potential to accelerate or decelerate ageing.
Coffee and alcohol – yes or no?
Coffee is a tricky one, as it’s all down to genes – some people are genetically tuned to metabolise it better than others. Those who struggle to digest it (feeling wired or jittery are common signs) would benefit from swapping their morning coffee to organic green tea or yerba mate, otherwise it could be taking its toll on cortisol levels as well as sleep.
When it comes to alcohol, try to stick to red wine. One glass of organic red wine (made from biodynamic grapes) twice per week delivers optimal health benefits – studies have shown red wine can reduce an early death by more than 30%. Be wary of exceeding two glasses per week, however, as this will put unnecessary strain on the liver – as we age, our liver struggles to do its job if you’re keeping it busy with alcohol, explaining why hangovers hit harder with age.
Lastly, what’s the one thing all women concerned with ageing should make a priority?
Track your blood sugar – in my experience, there are millions of women who have no idea they are insulin resistant, and that’s the main reason for their sugar cravings, weight gain, brain fog, wrinkles, hair loss and fast ageing. You can easily check at home with a glucometer (available on Amazon) – aim to keep your glucose in the fasting zone, which is around 70 to 80 mg/dL.
Secondly, keep flossing, which fosters longevity. Research shows that if you don’t floss, your risk of mortality is 30% higher and if you see the dentist only once per year, you raise mortality by 30-50%.
Dr. Sara Gottfried MD is a New York Times bestselling author. To find out more, check out her latest book Younger (Vermillon, £10.49).