By the age of about 25 years, the body systems have fully developed and the body should be at its peak. At this age young adults have total control over their health and their future - if they take that control and establish healthy lifestyle practices, they will have gone a long way to ensuring a long and healthy life.
The major health problems in the twenties tend to be a continuation of those started in late adolescence; mental problems are the major illness in young men and women. For men, substance abuse and depression are most common, while for women it is depression and anxiety.
In adults, depression generally starts to develop in the late twenties, although manic depression (bipolar disorder) tends to start in the early twenties. Depression can sometimes be managed with the help of nutritional and herbal supplements such as St John's wort, but it is a condition that always needs accurate diagnosis and management under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in young adult males, whose rate of suicide is six times greater than that of women.
Substance abuse is common during the twenties; in fact, the use of legal drugs - cigarettes and alcohol- is highest in the 18-24 years age group. One survey revealed that around 40% of 20-24 year olds smoked. Women smoke fewer cigarettes per day and choose a lower tar content. Women drink less than men and are less likely to drink alcohol to a high risk level, although the Women's Health Australia project has found that 18% of women in their early twenties binge drink at least once per week.
In adulthood there are differences in the way that men and women are at risk of disease. Some of the differences are due to biology - women's hormones offer protection against heart disease, for example. Many of the differences are due to behaviour e.g. men are more likely to smoke, to consume excess alcohol and to be obese. Men also tend to be more physically active, spend more time outdoors, take more physical risks and work in more hazardous occupations.
The density of bones continues to increase, and bones become even stronger. After the age of 25, however, muscle bulk and strength start to decline as part of the normal ageing process; the rate of decline can be slowed down by regular exercise. Similarly weight-bearing exercise, such as running, walking, yoga and tai chi, at this age and continuing through the next decades, reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis (and heart disease) in later years.
From the twenties onward, the ability to learn gradually declines - we now know that the brain actually starts to age at this time. Fortunately, however, the brain accumulates life experiences and our intellectual abilities continue to develop. In the twenties optimum intellectual function is important, as many young adults are finishing their tertiary education and starting their career paths in a competitive environment that requires peak mental performance. Cognitive function and short-term memory can be enhanced with herbs such as ginkgo and Siberian ginseng, and the brain nutrients phosphatidylserine, l-glutamine and lecithin.
The twenties are the decade of the party lifestyle, playing hard, late nights, abuse of substances- both legal and illegal - and neglect of diet. This combination of factors places a great deal of stress on the liver, the organ that has to deal with toxic overload. The liver detoxifies the effects of drugs and alcohol; the herb milk thistle helps with this detoxification process, as well as helping to repair damaged liver tissue and cells.
Bitter herbs - called "digestive bitters"- stimulate liver activity and the flow of digestive juices and can help prepare the body to cope with partying, as well as acting as a digestive tonic.
The liver breaks down fatty acids in the diet and glycogen which is converted to glucose and provides a source of energy; healthy liver function is vital for maintaining energy levels.
The reproductive system is primed for reproduction in the twenties; many women, however, are choosing to delay having children until they are ready, and elect to pursue careers and other pursuits before settling down
The most popular form of contraception remains the oral contraceptive pill. Supplementation with vitamins B1, B2, B12 and C along with the minerals zinc and magnesium is recommended for women taking "the pill".
Vitamin B6 is also of benefit for women who suffer with some of the emotional symptoms (categorised as PMS-A) of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolenic acid which can help with menstrual pain and breast tenderness associated with PMS, as well as some of the emotional symptoms.
Herbs such as black haw and dong quai have a hormone-balancing effect and can help in managing the symptoms of PMS.
EYES AND EARS
The eyes and ears stay in optimum condition during the twenties, if there is no injury or trauma. Persistent exposure to high decibel noise such as at music venues can have long-term effects on hearing. Precautionary measures include the use of ear plugs.
The skin shouldn't show any undue deterioration due to ageing during the twenties. Excessive exposure to the sun, however, can prematurely age the skin if preventive measures are not taken. The best prevention is avoidance of exposure during the hours of maximum ultraviolet radiation- 10am to 2pm - and covering up with appropriate clothing. The safest UV sunscreens are the ones that block (as opposed to absorb) UV radiation - they are based on titanium or zinc oxides.
Vitamin E can reduce the erythema caused by sunburn, and antioxidant vitamins A, C and E can protect against free radical damage caused by exposure of the skin to UV light and environmental pollutants.
Energy needs remain fairly high during the twenties, and men have slightly higher requirements, due mainly to their level of physical activity. Surveys show, however, that men and women are exercising less; not surprisingly, our weight is steadily increasing, with almost one-third of those between the ages of 18 and 34 being either overweight or obese. Adult men seem to increase rapidly in weight after the age of 25 (for women the gain is greater during menopause).
The dynamics of maintaining a healthy weight are very basic - being overweight is the result of an intake of food energy which is larger than the amount of energy expended in everyday activities, including sport.
Food choices for maintaining an ideal weight should centre around:
- A diet low in fat, especially saturated fat
- Lots of vegetables and fruit
- Wholegrain bread and cereals
- Moderation in alcohol consumption
Regular health checkups are essential for monitoring growth and development, and for the early detection of disease. Despite the fact that men are, generally, at greater risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, men tend not to seek help until a problem is really evident. Men are actually more likely to die from cancer, heart/respiratory/digestive diseases and from injury, than are women.
There are a number of screening test that can detect early signs of disease;
- Weight measurement screens for obesity and for being underweight, a problem prevalent in women in their early 20s
- Blood pressure measurement screens for hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease; should be done every 1-2 years
- Blood cholesterol should be measured every 5 years from age 18; high cholesterol is another risk factor for heart disease
- Women should have a pap smear every 2 years from age 18; the smear of cells from the cervix is screened for signs of cancer of the cervix
Adults should carry out self-examination of the skin, the testes and breasts to look for signs of diseases such as cancer.
- Complete Home Medical Guide. Dorling Kindersley, 2001
- Australia’s Health 2000. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2000
- Men’s Health. Issues in Society Vol. 111, Spinney Press
- Women’s Health. Issues in Society Vol 112, Spinney Press
- Dietary Guidelines for Australians. NHMRC, 1998
- Reavley N. Vitamins etc. Bookman, 1999
- Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, 2000