Unlocking the secrets of healthy ageing

Published: 7-May-2021

Ageing is a complex process that’s characterised by a progressive loss of physiological integrity, impaired function and an increased likelihood of dying, explains nutritionist Dr Adam Carey

These changes drive the primary risk factors for major human pathologies, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, osteoarthritis and neurodegenerative diseases.

Ageing research has exploded in recent years, particularly with the discovery that the rate of ageing is controlled by genetic pathways and biochemical processes that are evolutionarily conserved.

There have been nine tentative hallmarks that have been identified, which represent common denominators of ageing; four have a genetic basis, three have a cellular one and two occur within tissues.

Work continues to better understand these processes and what might be done to impact them.

Today, the loss of physiological function results in a lower quality of life and a gradual increase in fragility. This loss in function, mobility and quality of life is mirrored in the body by a reduction in lean body mass.

Although some of this loss in lean mass is because of a loss in bone mass, the major driver for the change that is derived from a reduction in muscle mass. The question being asked is whether this is all inevitable.

Three stages of life

When we consider the ageing process, we can divide life into three phases. First, there is childhood, which can extend until approximately 30 years of age. It is about this time that we start developing our careers and taking on major responsibilities such as paying mortgages, getting married and raising children.

The second phase of life is adulthood and lasts from about 30 years of age to 60. During this time, we look to discharge these responsibilities. We hope to pay off the mortgage, see our children grow, leave home and become independent … and we have hopefully saved enough to retire comfortably.

The final phase of life, old age, begins at 60. During this time, the impacts of the ageing process are experienced with a gradual loss of function, mobility and quality of life. The good news is that this loss of function is not inevitable.

We are now seeing data that suggests that those who are able to look after themselves during a traditional adulthood are better able to manage this third phase of life.

Unlocking the secrets of healthy ageing

They are stronger, more active and have a better quality of life. The ideal must be that this final phase of life should be as active and fulfilling as the previous two, albeit without the same responsibilities. Perhaps the three phases should be renamed: happy, happier and happiest?

How do we ensure that we continue to live an active life? It is important to prevent the loss of muscle mass and, therefore, delay functional ageing, which is directly associated with a loss in muscle mass.

This may occur because of a lack of drivers involved in the maintenance of muscle mass or because of joint injury or disease that inhibits the normal physical activities that are important for the maintenance of muscle mass.

Developing and supporting lean body mass requires four things to be in place:

  • weight bearing exercise, which is the primary driver to develop and maintain muscle mass
  • sufficient building blocks for muscle mass that come from amino acids derived from the protein containing foods we eat
  • an appropriate energy intake to support maintenance and growth
  • enough sleep and recovery to allow the repair and building to occur.

The exercise corollary

As people get older, they commonly stop taking part in regular exercise. This removes a primary driver for maintaining and developing lean body mass. Weight-bearing exercise is critical to staying strong and vital as we age.

Instigating a weight training activity in your 80s is still beneficial. An adequate protein intake is essential as you get older and this requirement is now thought to be higher than in a younger population.

The current recommended daily intake for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight, and it has been proposed that those older than 50 should consider consuming 1 g/kg body weight.

Although a lack of calories in the Western world is rarely the reason for a failure to maintain muscle mass, poor quality and duration of sleep is increasingly common in older individuals. All these areas need to be addressed to maintain lean body mass with age.

When put in place, it is possible to be fitter and more active as individuals age than previously perceived, which may help individuals maintain physiological function and quality of life as they age.

Injury or joint degeneration leading to inactivity is another major reason for a loss of lean body mass. Joint pain and discomfort increase with age, which may be the primary reason for not exercising.

While exercising, 36% of younger individuals experience some muscular skeletal conditions, this rises to 68% of those older than 65. Joint pain and discomfort are the most common ailments for those younger than 65 and the second most common in those older than this age, with 25% of adults experiencing knee discomfort.1

Historically, people have tried to address joint pain using anti-inflammatory drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or nutritional products such as curcumin, Boswellia, omega-3 essential fatty acids, antioxidants including vitamin C, and building blocks such as glucosamine and chondroitin.

Although NSAIDs do have a place in managing joint pain, these drugs have significant side-effects and are the most common cause of a GI bleed. What is often forgotten in daily routine is the considerable hypertensive effect of NSAIDs in everyday life.

More recently, UC-II undenatured type II collagen has been identified as a possible contender for the management of joint discomfort. It is a food supplement sourced from chicken sternum using a special patented low-temperature, non-enzymatic manufacturing process to preserve the efficacy of the collagen’s critical undenatured form and is marketed in a number of oral forms.

Its mechanism of action is interesting and different from other joint health supplements on the market. Other supplement ingredients require large amounts of a joint building block.

UC-II undenatured type II collagen is thought to work through oral tolerance owing to an interaction between UC-II undenatured type II collagen and the immune cells in Peyer’s patches in the small intestine.

The regulator T cells formed during this interaction produce anti-inflammatory cytokines in the joints, which in turn have a symptom-modulating and repair effect on the joints.

Clinical trials

Several clinical trials have demonstrated that UC-II undenatured type II collagen not only offers joint health benefits for people with osteoarthritis (OA), but also for healthy adults. In 2002, Bagchi et al. successfully showed that women with joint-health problems were able to achieve clinically meaningful joint health benefits.

Subsequently, two clinical trials confirmed similar benefits in people with knee OA.2–4 In these controlled trials, UC-II undenatured type II collagen was statistically significantly more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin as measured by the WOMAC score.

In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, UC-II undenatured type II collagen was found to significantly improve post-exercise recovery, when compared with baseline, in healthy adults who experience joint pain after climbing steps.3

A once-a-day, efficacious dose of UC-II makes it easier for older consumers to swallow and remember to take. Capsules are a preferred dosage form as they offer some key advantages in terms of consumer compliance. They enable the safe and secure containment and preservation of the undenatured type II collagen.

Ageing remains a complex and evolving area. Although science will undoubtedly, in time, unlock some new secrets, it is important to recognise that there is a lot we can currently manage.

Maintaining an active lifestyle, eating a healthy diet with the proper balance of macronutrients, getting an adequate amount of sleep and taking dietary supplements such as UC-II undenatured type II collagen may allow us to age gracefully.


  1. C.W. Bunt, et al., Am. Fam. Physician. 98, 576–585 (2018).
  2. D. Bagchi, et al., Int. J. Clin. Pharm. Res. 22, 101–110 (2002).
  3. D.C. Crowley, et al., Int. J. Med. Sci. 6, 312–321 (2009).
  4. J.P. Lugo, et al., J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 10, 48 (2013).

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