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Promoting Healthy Aging: Understanding and Preventing Common Chronic Diseases

functional medicine functional nutrition information Sep 06, 2023

By Jennifer Engels, MD

Our bodies undergo various changes as we journey through life, especially as we reach our golden years. Recognizing and addressing the most common chronic diseases affecting individuals over 65 is important. In this article, I will explore these conditions and explain how functional medicine can be pivotal in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

The 10 Most Common Chronic Diseases in Seniors

According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of adults 65 and older have at least one chronic condition, while 68% have two or more. The CDC broadly defines a chronic condition as one lasting one year or more, requiring medical attention or limiting daily activities, or both.

The ten most common of these affecting our seniors include the following.

  • Heart Disease: As people age, the risk of heart-related conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary artery disease, and heart failure increases. Lifestyle factors like poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and stress contribute to these issues.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: This condition becomes more prevalent with age. High blood sugar levels and insulin resistance characterize it. Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor dietary habits contribute to its development.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are common among seniors, leading to joint pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Wear and tear on joints, inflammation, and genetic predisposition play roles in arthritis.
  • Osteoporosis: Seniors, especially women, are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition where bones become fragile and prone to fractures. Hormonal changes and inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake influence decreased bone density.
  • Cancer: The risk of various cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal, increases with age. Genetics, exposure to carcinogens, and lifestyle choices contribute to cancer development.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema, often caused by long-term exposure to tobacco smoke or other irritants. COPD leads to breathing difficulties and reduced lung function.
  • Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia: Cognitive decline and memory loss are concerns for seniors. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is characterized by the gradual deterioration of brain cells, leading to memory loss, confusion, and changes in behavior.
  • Depression: Seniors are at risk of depression due to factors like isolation, loss of loved ones, and health issues. It's crucial to address mental health concerns and seek support.
  • Visual and Hearing Impairments: Age-related changes in vision (e.g., cataracts, macular degeneration) and hearing (e.g., presbycusis) are common. Regular check-ups and preventive measures can help manage these impairments.
  • Chronic Kidney Disease: Kidney function declines with age, leading to chronic kidney disease. Factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain medications contribute to its development.

Prevention and Management 

While none of us can alter our age, gender, or family genetics, there are steps that everyone can take to help prevent the most common health issues related to aging.

  • Lifestyle: Adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial. This includes a balanced diet of organic fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. (See my list below.) Regular exercise, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, sleeping 7-9 hours a night, and managing stress are essential.
  • Regular Check-ups: Routine medical check-ups and screenings can help detect and manage health issues early.
  • Social Engagement: Staying socially active and connected can reduce the risk of depression and cognitive decline.
  • Fall Prevention: Measures like home modifications, balance exercises, and using assistive devices can prevent falls and fractures.
  • Mindfulness and Mental Health Support: Practices like mindfulness, meditation, and seeking counseling can help manage stress and mental health.
  • Staying Informed: Educate yourself about common health issues and their symptoms to facilitate early detection and intervention.

Foods for Good Health in Your Senior Years

Here are ten types of foods that can be beneficial for seniors to promote good health in their golden years:

  • Leafy Greens: Vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support bone health, cognitive function, and overall immunity.
  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants and fiber, which can help improve brain function and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease.
  • Fatty Fish: Salmon, trout, and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart health, reducing inflammation, and supporting cognitive function.
  • Lean Proteins: Skinless organic poultry, lean cuts of grass-fed, grass-finished meat, and legumes offer important protein for muscle maintenance, immune function, and tissue repair.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds provide healthy fats, protein, and micronutrients, supporting heart health and providing a satisfying snack option.
  • Dairy or Dairy Alternatives: Low-fat milk, yogurt, and fortified plant-based milk offer calcium and vitamin D, crucial for maintaining bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Colorful Vegetables: Carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes provide a variety of vitamins, antioxidants, and dietary fiber that contribute to a strong immune system and overall well-being.
  • Beans and Legumes: Kidney beans, lentils, and chickpeas are rich in fiber, protein, and minerals, aiding digestion, stabilizing blood sugar, and supporting heart health.
  • Healthy Fats: Olive oil, avocados, and nuts contain monounsaturated fats that can help lower bad cholesterol levels, supporting cardiovascular health and cognitive function. Staying away from unhealthy seed oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, soy, etc…), which are in nearly everything, from packaged snacks to fast food, is also very important.

It's important for senior adults to have a balanced and varied diet that includes a mix of these nutrient-rich foods to support their health and well-being as they age. Consulting with a trained healthcare professional can provide personalized guidance based on individual health needs and dietary preferences.

Functional Medicine’s Approach to Healthy Aging

Functional medicine is a patient-centered approach that addresses the root causes of chronic diseases rather than just treating symptoms. As a practitioner, I aim to work with you to create personalized strategies to optimize your health and prevent the onset of these conditions with the following procedures.

  • Diagnosis: Functional medicine involves in-depth assessments of your medical history, genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Advanced testing may be used to detect imbalances or potential risks.
  • Treatment: Treatment focuses on individualized plans that may include dietary adjustments, targeted supplements, stress management techniques, physical activity plans, and mind-body interventions.
  • Prevention: The functional medicine approach emphasizes proactive steps to prevent chronic diseases. This includes creating a customized plan that aligns with your unique needs and goals, helping you make informed choices about your health.

To sum up, we must proactively safeguard our health as we age. By understanding the most common chronic diseases that affect individuals over 65 and adopting a functional medicine approach, we can work together to reduce the likelihood of developing these conditions and promote a vibrant and fulfilling life. 

At WeCare Frisco, new patients are always welcome, and I urge you to contact our clinic and schedule a free Discovery Call. 

Remember, you have the power to take control of your health and well-being, and I'm here to support you every step of the way.


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“I was absolutely fascinated,” Engels says, “by this new style of medicine that saw the patient as a whole biological system rather focusing on only one organ system at a time, such as Cardiology. This was a complete paradigm shift from conventional medicine and how I was trained.”