Dr Libby Talks Ageing & How To Rise To The Change
In an extract from her new book, Dr Libby shares her advice for supporting your body as it ages
I could have picked any age really: 30, 40 or 50 and beyond. We notice changes at all ages, but it is often the zero years that have us honing in on what is different from years gone by. So, what happens around the age of 40 and what steps can we take to counteract some of what could unfold? Here are some of them.
The collagen and elastic fibres that keep skin smooth and youthful in appearance start to regenerate at a slower rate. This means more visible signs of ageing start to appear on the surface. This is partly due to the cumulative impact of damage done by free radicals, single oxygen units that damage tissues.
It is also due to the repetition of facial expressions — you can see in the lines on people’s faces if they have had decades of struggle and hardship or a more peaceful life. Regardless of which pattern predominates for you, seeing those lines as even more evidence of the extraordinary human you are helps you to accept them. In those lines you might see resilience, courage, resourcefulness, wisdom or happiness — or a whole plethora of other character traits.
Or it might be stretch marks. You may have had a child or children and now have stretch marks as a result of your miraculous body being able to grow and birth a child. In other words, your stretch marks are a visible sign of the miracle you are and that your baby is. Or you may have once had a bigger body size than you do now and stretch marks are evidence of a time gone by. Or a desire to overeat that you still find challenging. So, you see your stretch marks as a sign of your strength and determination and ongoing self-care.
The more uplifting meanings you attribute to these things, the more peace you will have and the more fuel you will have to take care of yourself, those you love, and also to be able to share your gifts with the world. Your 40s can also be a time in your life when your menstrual cycle starts to change. The menstrual blood may become heavier, contain more clots and you may notice your mood becomes darker or harder to handle in the lead-up to your period. Perhaps your cycle shortens and where it was once 28 days, it’s now more like 21. For others, their period becomes scarcer or scanty, less regular, the bleeding more infrequent. Perhaps you are starting to overheat easily or notice that your sleep has become more erratic and not refreshing.
As hormone levels change, it can also be a time when you notice changes in your body fat that can’t be explained through how you eat and move, and perhaps this frustrates you. Some (not all) women notice a thickening of the torso around this time and there are a number of hormonal mechanisms behind this. It can be cortisol-related or due to oestrogen levels dropping. As the ovaries cease to make sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone), the adrenal glands are supposed to continue to make a small amount of them.
When they do, you suffer much less through the transition into menopause. But for many women, their adrenals haven’t made sex hormones for years or decades due to the constant, relentless output of stress hormones. Body fat also makes oestrogen, so to compensate for poor adrenal health, the body responds (remembering your body always has your back!) by increasing your body fat so you can have some oestrogen.
There are two body systems in particular that typically need support in these scenarios: the liver and the adrenals, remembering that behind that is the “am I safe?” scenario with the pituitary and the hypothalamus.
At any age, a big life change can occur that we relish or find challenging. The longer you live, the more likely you are to have experienced these and suffered (though hopefully also grown) as a result. It might be the passing of someone close to you. A parent perhaps, or a dear friend. It might be the end of a major relationship or a pile of things all happening at once, such as moving house, a sick child, too much work on your plate and an unrelenting sense of being overwhelmed because you feel like you have to deal with everything by yourself.
Your mantra may have become “if I don’t do it, it won’t get done”. And if you tune in to how your body feels when you recite this, it hardens you, right when you need more softness and fluidity for the health of your body, mind and soul.
This can also be a time when you feel a heavy burden of responsibility in many areas of your life and you start to wonder: “When is it going to be my turn? When will I get to do more of what I want to do?” Feeling like this is a guide for you to start to identify what those things are and to begin to work out ways to bring more of them into your life. Regardless of your age, here are some suggestions that can help to address some of the things discussed above and help you to transition through the years with ease and grace.
CHANGES TO YOUR SKIN
To address lines in your skin and reduce the appearance of stretch marks, minimise free radical damage by consuming a diet rich in coloured plant foods, which are high in antioxidants. You may like to take additional vitamin C. Don’t smoke and do what you can to avoid exposure to pollutants and other problematic substances. Support your body to eliminate the pollutants that you do ingest via what you eat, drink, inhale or put on your skin. Reframe how you see the lines on your face or the stretch marks on your tummy and hips to view them in a more positive light. See the gift in them!
You may also like to try an antioxidant-rich oil to nourish your skin from the inside out. Some plant oils have been shown to help boost collagen regeneration.
Apply what you’ve learned to support the liver — fewer liver loaders going in, plenty of vegetables being consumed as well as additional liver support in the form of herbal medicine. If you are starting to overheat, taking a break from alcohol will likely prove highly beneficial. Support the adrenals by consuming less or no caffeine, exploring your perception of pressure and urgency, and embracing a breath-focused practice.
Also examine your requirements for safety to help your endocrine and nervous systems to receive the message that you are safe. Additional medicinal herbs that can be highly beneficial across the peri-menopause and menopause years include rhodiola, saffron, skullcap and shatavari.
WHAT CAN YOU DELEGATE?
I know when I first started to ask this question, my brain gave me an emphatic “nothing!”. Yet when you dig a little deeper, the tasks to delegate and the people to support you are there. Consider that when you say you don’t have time for something, what you are really staying is: that is just not a priority for me at the moment. Try it on for size and see if you are comfortable with that.
The truth of this statement can help you let some things go that are less important to you, so you can embrace more of what is truly important to you. Also remember that the opposite of stress is trust and this alone helps us all to experience less tension, to relax and soften.
From the age of 30 onwards, you lose muscle mass unless you actively do something to prevent this. The less muscle mass we have the slower our metabolic rate. The lower your muscle mass, the less storage capacity you have for glycogen, the storage form of glucose, so the more likely you are to store excess carbohydrates as body fat. Or the more likely you are to experience blood glucose highs and lows and the sugar cravings that go with that. Prioritise building muscle mass across your whole life.
This means resistance training, yoga, Pilates, carrying your luggage instead of wheeling it (as was the case up until relatively recently), carrying your groceries and children. Garden, do farm work. Use your body. Don’t avoid movement.
• Dr Libby will be speaking around NZ & Australia during September & October for her new live event, The Hormone Factor.