Growing Younger: Longevity Strategies that Help Reverse the Aging ProcessSep 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Marlaina Donato
Longevity, a human quest through the ages, is now a hot topic among scientific researchers that assert there has never been a better time to maximize our potential for metabolic renewal. Biological age—the state of our health at the cellular level—is in the spotlight, as are the anti-aging benefits of science-supported phytonutrients, cell-rejuvenating foods and safe, non-surgical, stem cell procedures. Functional medicine, with its focus on the biology-based root causes of disease, is also a rising star in the arena of age reversal.
No matter which path we follow to aging vibrantly, the most inspiring takeaway is that lifestyle, not genes, determines destiny. “On average in the United States, the last 16 years of life are spent with multiple diagnoses and on multiple medications. We are giving our hard-earned money to pharmacies, hospitals and nursing facilities,” says Kara Fitzgerald, a naturopathic doctor in Newtown, Connecticut, and the author of Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better. She and other researchers contrast “lifespan”, the years from birth to death, to “healthspan”, the years spent in good health free of age-related disease and disability. “Lifespan is not necessarily healthspan, and we can change that,” she says.
Age Is Not Just a Number
Until recently, age was determined by the year on our birth certificate, but “bio age” is the new number to pay attention to. It might not only predict health outcomes down the road, but also add years to our lives. In groundbreaking work in 2017, anti-aging researcher Steven Horvath at the University of California, Los Angeles, used algorithms to calculate biological age on the basis of how extensively our genome is modified by a process called DNA methylation. Researchers are now understanding what factors can turn on positive gene expressions and turn off those that may activate life-threatening diseases.
“Bio age is how fast our bodies are aging, and aging is the main risk factor for all diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and neurodegenerative disorders,” says Fitzgerald, noting that only 10 to 20 percent of longevity outcomes are genetic.
Fitzgerald and her team drove this point home with the first randomized, controlled study on the power of lifestyle and diet to turn back the biological age clock. Based upon functional medicine, the program enrolled 18 healthy men between ages 50 and 72 in a target group and 20 in a control group. Those in the target group ate a nutrient-rich diet, slept seven hours a night, practiced relaxation techniques and took supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients. They ate only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., exercised for at least 30 minutes five days a week, avoided sweets and consumed two cups of dark, leafy, greens and three cups each of cruciferous vegetables and colorful vegetables daily, as well as six ounces of animal protein.
The results, published last year in the journal Aging, showed that three years of bio age were reduced in the target group in just eight weeks compared to the control group. “What we eat, our stress load and our response to it, the quality of the air we breathe and if we exercise are all drivers or reducers of our bio age. Knowing this, we absolutely need to take responsibility for our lives,” says Fitzgerald.
This bio age reversal is good news when we look at the grim statistics. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society, approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease in this country each year and more than 600,000 Americans are predicted to succumb to cancer this year alone.
Harvard genetics professor David Sinclair, author of the seminal Lifespan: Why We Age—And Why We Don’t Have To, discovered antioxidant-rich resveratrol in grapes in 2003. Since then, he and other researchers have found additional compounds with the ability to activate longevity pathways. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD, or B3), a coenzyme involved in many metabolic processes essential to life, has been shown to rejuvenate aging mice, increasing energy-producing mitochondria in the cells and fortifying muscle mass. The body makes less NAD as we age, but research suggests that intermittent fasting, exercise and heat saunas can stimulate this youth-preserving molecule. NAD-boosting supplements are also on the market, but consuming foods like naturally fermented sauerkraut, raw milk, nutritional yeast and pumpkin seeds is also a good strategy.
SIRT6, an enzyme in close relationship with NAD and responsible for many molecular anti-aging processes, including DNA repair, is abundant in seaweeds, especially the strain Fucus vesiculosus, commonly known as bladder wrack. Research published in the journal Marine Drugs in 2017 indicates bladder wrack’s anti-inflammatory and anti-tumoral properties, as well as its potential to protect the liver and normalize high blood sugar and blood pressure.
Fisetin, a powerful flavonoid found in certain foods like strawberries, peaches, apples, persimmons, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, rivals ever-beneficial quercetin. Research published last year in the European Journal of Pharmacology cites fisetin’s numerous potential benefits for neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and vascular dementia.
The Trifecta of Acid, Inflammation and Stress
Chronic systemic inflammation is now understood to be the physiological springboard for most diseases ranging from cancer to depression, but its connection to uric acid is critical in producing free radicals that accelerate aging. “Unfortunately, most doctors look upon uric acid solely as a risk marker for gout. We now recognize that uric acid serves as a powerful signal in the body to prepare for food and water scarcity,” says neurologist David Perlmutter, author of The New York Times bestseller Grain Brain and the recent Drop Acid, a guide to lowering uric acid in the body. “Uric acid levels above 5.5 milligrams per decilitre trigger the body to raise the blood pressure, increase the blood sugar, become insulin-resistant and increase the formation and storage of body fat,” he says. “Central to regaining metabolic health and reducing risk for metabolic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease and Type 2 diabetes is reining in uric acid.”
Chronic, unmanaged stress is a major factor in physical and mental decline due to elevated levels of cortisol. “Stress threatens the health and diversity of our gut bacteria, leading to increased gut permeability, a central mechanism underlying widespread inflammation, which is the cornerstone of all chronic degenerative conditions,” says Perlmutter. “Those conditions as a category are ranked by the World Health Organization as the number one cause of death on our planet today.”
Fitzgerald concurs, “Excessive inflammation—an imbalanced immune response—accelerates the aging process, and it increases with stress. Stress is the gasoline on the fire of aging.”
Eating to reduce inflammation is key, and there is power on our plates when we add some of Fitzgerald’s longevity boosters like turmeric, green tea, shitake mushrooms, wild-caught salmon, eggs, liver and sunflower seeds. A study last year in Experimental Gerontology reported that the amino acid L-theanine, found particularly in green tea, reduced oxidative stress, liver degeneration and inflammatory responses in aging rats.
Radical Renewal Without Surgery
In the daily survival game, the body’s stem cells generate specialized cells to replace those throughout the body that are damaged and dying. This ongoing repair process slows down as we advance in years, but cutting-edge procedures offer new hope for conditions ranging from arthritis to age-related brain fog.
“Stem cells improve DNA methylation and telomere length, and result in a reduced physiologic age compared to your chronologic age,” says Chadwick Prodromos, a Chicago-based, board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of the Prodromos Stem Cell Institute, in Antigua. “Joint replacements are offered quite liberally nowadays, but most of our patients with severe arthritis who were offered joint replacements do well in our care without them for virtually any joint in the body.” Prodromos and his team combine umbilical cord-derived stem cell treatment (non-embryonic/fetal) with specially selected nutritional supplements and in some patients, platelet-rich plasma and hyaluronic acid injections.
Even with exciting advances in the promotion of long life, experts are unanimous in stressing that going into our golden years disease-free begins and ends with individual lifestyle choices, starting with what we put in our mouths. “Diet is the most critical variable in terms of our metabolic destiny. It’s been said that a person can’t exercise away a poor diet, and there’s great wisdom in this statement,” says Perlmutter.
“While stem cell treatment has been quite effective, it is important to remember that avoiding chemicals in the environment, exercising vigorously and maintaining a low BMI [body mass index] are clearly the most important factors in good health,” advises Prodromos. ❧
Marlaina Donato is an author, composer and painter.