The Truth About Melatonin Supplements
Plus why some people are feeling older than they are, and diet changes that can extend your life
Welcome back to Age Wise, your weekly update on the science of aging and longevity, emphasizing physical health and mental wellness at every stage of life. Here’s what’s new and interesting:
My wife (that is not her in the photo) is a night owl but generally sleeps well once she gets to bed, usually hours after I’m sound asleep. To find out if either of us could benefit from melatonin supplements—and whether you should try the hormone—I spoke with Suzanne Bertisch, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and director of behavioral sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The upshot:
Melatonin can be helpful in certain cases, such as time-zone transitions, for people who stay up late on weekends but need to get back on track for Monday morning, or for individuals whose internal clocks are otherwise out of sync with the demands of modern society, Bertisch explains. It is not recommended for chronic insomnia, however.
In my latest article on Medium, you’ll learn how melatonin works, whether it might be more helpful as we get older, but also multiple reasons why you should be cautious and “strategic” about using it. Bertisch also offers an approach to dosing, for which there are no formal guidelines.
Pandemic Has Some Feeling Older Than They Are
Times have been tough for just about everyone. No surprise that the pandemic and all its accompanying stress might age us all a little more than usual. And yes, there’s a study on that.
An article published last month in the scientific journal Nature suggested that the pandemic has accelerated the aging process, not only for the millions who have contracted the virus, but also for those affected by the upheaval and isolation of remote life.
Simply put, many people are feeling older than they are these days, The New York Times reports. For some, the feeling may be largely a mental construct, but the reality is that stress accelerates aging of the body and brain (here’s how to reduce stress, strategically).
While the pandemic has beat me up some, too, I still have this odd mental sensation that I’m younger than my years would tell. It’s actually a common phenomenon that I wrote about recently:
After about age 25, most people think of themselves as younger than their chronological age. And the gap in “subjective age,” as it’s called, widens with time.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is messing with this otherwise delightful trick of the mind.
These Diet Changes Can Extend Your Life
We all get tired of diet advice, me more than most. In fact, I agree with the experts: Diets that promote certain schemes for weight loss or Caveman-style consumption or other narrow schemes are generally not good for us. Instead, we can all benefit from healthier patterns of eating, which can improve our health and give us the best chance of living longer.
But how long? New research actually puts some numbers to it. A sustained, wholesale shift away from typical Western diets, heavy in red meat and processed food, and into a more Mediterranean style rich in beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can add as much as 10 years to the life of a 20-something and 8 or 9 years even if you don’t get started until age 60.
These are all averages, of course, and you’re not average. Nor are you perfect, so check out my new article on Medium to learn how many years you stand to gain by making any single change, adding or dropping one food type.
Dangerous Trend: People Skipping Medical Appointments
Since the early days of the pandemic, people have been avoiding or skipping doctor appointments for everything from routine checkups to vitally necessary medical tests, screenings and even surgeries.
A new survey finds about 30% of Americans 50 and older still have not caught up on such appointments that they avoided last year.
“Whether they chose to postpone or their provider did, these patients missed opportunities for preventive care and for early detection and effective management of chronic conditions, not to mention operations and procedures to address a pressing health need,” says Jeffrey Kullgren, MD, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan’s academic medical center.
If you do need a medical appointment, expect a wait, as health professionals around the country have been stretched thin by the pandemic. In Vermont, wait times to see a medical specialist have been as high as two months, AP reports. Anecdotally, my wife has experienced similar wait times in Arizona.
Reader comments on my article Anti-Aging Secret Revealed: Embrace Getting Older:
I always laugh that at 69 I felt old. But hey, not so bad for 70. It really made a difference.
— Herb Cochley
I like to say that while aging is a fact of life, being “old” is a choice. When I turned 60 I embraced the word “sexagenarian” as a funny but also technically accurate word to describe this new decade. Humor is an important key to aging well and having fun along the way.
— John-Manuel Andriote
I always tell people the funny thing is, in general, as you get older, you keep getting uglier and happier. I’m ok with that!
— Leslie Righter
Growing old is a privilege. I choose to be grateful every day.