Yes, it is possible to slow down aging.
Even better, in the future aging may even be reversed. That would mean it would be possible to make old people younger again. But for that, we will need cutting-edge biotechnology.
To address aging, there are two approaches: the low-tech approach and the high-tech approach.
The low-tech approach mainly involves lifestyle. These are things like healthy nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, happiness, and supplements.
The high-tech approach involves new kinds of biotechnologies that are currently being developed. These biotechnologies, for example, aim to rejuvenate aged mitochondria, clear up protein accumulation in our cells, or epigenetically rejuvenate cells.
Currently, the best approach to living longer is our lifestyle. New biotechnologies to tackle aging will come into being in the next decades.
Let’s first dive deeper into the low-tech approach. What are the best things we can do now to live longer?
A. The low-tech approach to living longer
1. Follow a longevity diet
What, when, and how much we eat impacts the rate of aging. Nutrition is the most powerful lifestyle intervention to live longer. Yes, it’s even more important than exercise. Learn more about different diets here. Some general tips:
- Shy away from sugary foods, like sodas, sweets, candy, cake, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, candy bars, and chocolates. Be also wary of seemingly healthy products that contain lots of sugar, like low-fat yogurt, vitamin waters, sports drinks, health drinks (e.g., flavored green tea), granola and health bars, ketchup, fruit juices, breakfast cereals, salad dressings, and vegetable milks (choose the low-sugar varieties).
- Reduce your intake of starchy, empty-calorie foods like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. These foods cause high and protracted glucose peaks in the blood, leading to crosslinking and the overstimulation of aging mechanisms (e.g., insulin and IGF receptors). This also includes whole-grain products.
- Don’t consume too much animal protein (especially red processed meat). Too much animal protein accelerates aging. If you do eat animal protein, eat white meat (poultry) and fish. Some scientists even advise to only eat fish and vegetable protein (e.g., nuts and legumes). If you consume fish, opt for species that have low mercury content, and don’t eat too much high-mercury fish like tuna, swordfish, mackerel, and halibut.
- Avoid unhealthy fats such as trans fats and omega 6 fats. In general, try to avoid fried foods, fast food, and bakery products. More specifically, reduce your intake of crackers, cookies, cakes, and other baked foods, refrigerated dough products (e.g., cinnamon rolls, biscuits, etc.), snack foods (e.g., microwave popcorn), fast-food (e.g., frozen pizza), ready-to-eat meals, various vegetable shortenings (made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil), french fries, and omega-6-rich oils and fats, like sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, margarine, sesame oil, mayonnaise, and many salad dressings.
- Don’t drink milk. Milk accelerates aging in many ways, as we will explain in future blog posts (for example, milk stimulates pro-aging mechanisms and pathways, such as mTOR, IGF, and insulin and contains substances like galactose, which researchers actually use to accelerate aging in animals for studying the aging process).
- Consume lots of vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, fruits, nuts, seeds, white meat, and fatty fish.
- Consume foods that have been processed as little as possible, e.g., foods your great grandmother would recognize.
- Eat specific foods that improve longevity, like blueberries, pomegranate, broccoli, kale, salmon, chia seeds, dark chocolate, and many others.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol: that means maximum one glass per day, ideally with alcohol-free days.
- Drink lots of water. Drink green tea or coffee (yes, coffee can reduce the risk of various aging-related diseases).
- Eat less. Try to eat two meals a day, with breakfast being the most important meal of the day. Eat within a 12-hour period, so your body can fast for 12 hours. Fast for ideally three days a few times per year, like at the start of every new season. If you are up to it, practice caloric restriction. We will discuss fasting and various longevity diets in upcoming blog posts.
So in a nutshell, consume lots of vegetables, legumes, and mushrooms – instead of bread, pasta, and potatoes. Eat little animal-based food, and if you do, try to eat white meat (poultry) and fatty fish instead of red meat. Consume healthy fats from olives, olive oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, or avocados. Don’t drink soda and animal milk. Be mindful of drinking too much alcohol.
Specific longevity foods are green, leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts), fatty fish, mushrooms, dark chocolate, blueberries, pomegranate, green tea, strawberries, and walnuts.
Learn more about our longevity diet here.
2. Take supplements
Even if you eat very healthily, it is not easy to take in adequate amounts of nutrients.
Many people (and governments) believe that if you eat healthy, you don’t need supplements.
Also, the official recommended daily intake of many nutrients is often too low. In most cases, these recommendation are based on the minimum amount you need to take in order not die or become seriously ill in the short term (e.g., months). But they are therefore not always the ideal amount for optimal longevity and health.
In short, despite following a healthy, balanced diet, most people don’t get ideal amounts of magnesium, vitamin D or iodine (which are also higher than what most governments recommend).
Therefore, we believe supplements are necessary.
Some important supplements for optimal health are vitamin D3, vitamin K2, iodine, selenium, magnesium malate, B vitamins, and minimally oxidized (low TOTOX) omega-3 fatty acids. We call them “health supplements” (there are also “longevity supplements,” see further down below). Find out more here about the best health supplements to take.
Many people are deficient in these or do not take in sufficient amounts for optimal health.
However, many of these supplements do not really seem to extend maximum lifespan. But they can be very useful to improve health span and to solve deficiencies that can accelerate aging. We go deeper into supplements here.
Nonetheless, there are also supplements that can extend lifespan and slow down aging in various animal models. We call these “longevity supplements.” These are supplements include fisetin, alpha-ketoglutarate, lithium, glycine, nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), and glucosamine.
Unfortunately, many supplements claim to be “anti-aging” but contain substances that have shown not to extend lifespan in animals.
An example are antioxidant supplements. Most antioxidants do not extend lifespan according to well-conducted scientific studies, and some may even shorten lifespan! We dig into specific anti-aging and longevity supplements — those that work and those that don’t — in this post.
Engage in both anaerobic exercise (like weightlifting) and aerobic exercise (like running or swimming). High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially good to improve metabolism, leading to increased mitochondrial biosynthesis (Mitochondrial Health is one of the 12 mechanisms of aging), among other things.
Even a 20-minute walk on a daily basis can reduce your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and many other aging-related diseases.
4. Take care of your sleep
Sleep is very important for your health. During sleep, the body repairs itself. Sleep deficiency leads to accelerated aging and a higher risk of aging-related diseases, like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Get sufficient sleep (on average, eight hours per day), and make it high-quality.
Besides the amount and quality of sleep, regularity is also important. Always try to get to bed at the same time.
We provide dozens of tips to improve your sleep here.
5. Cultivate a positive mindset
Happiness, stress reduction, and having a purpose and goals in life (feeling useful) all contribute to longer lifespans. Studies show that people who are happy, meditate or have goals (even as simple as taking care of a pet) live longer.
6. Be social
Humans are social animals. We need each other. When we are among friends and family, we feel good because the body produces all kinds of substances that have beneficial effects, such as endorphins and serotonin.
Loneliness induces inflammation and activates stress hormones like cortisol that damage the body (R). Studies show that people who are social live longer, healthier lives.
7. Don’t smoke
8. Challenge your mind every day
Your brain is like a muscle, the less you use it, the more it languishes. Train your brain daily to keep it healthy.
Explore new neighborhoods, museums, cities, or countries. Learn a new language, or follow a cooking, programming, or gardening course. Play chess, bridge, mastermind, or any other game that requires some brainpower.
Download brain-training apps on your phone. Be open to new experiences and challenges. Take on challenging tasks;, they are great learning experiences and train your brain.
We provide tips to keep your mind in optimal health here.
9. Participate in preventive medicine
It’s so much better to prevent than to cure when it’s too late. Get regular health checkups so problems can be detected early, like high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, or nutrient deficiencies (however, don’t over-rely on your blood check-ups: many vitamins and mineral deficiencies can appear normal in a blood-work test).
Find an MD experienced in preventive medicine and lifestyles. Participate in programs screening for colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or HPV-induced cancers.
10. Brush and floss your teeth
People with healthy teeth live longer.
If you do not take good care of your teeth, bacteria in your mouth and the substances they secrete get into the bloodstream and cause inflammation and other damage everywhere in the body, which increases the risk of a heart attack, dementia or type 2 diabetes.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss every day. Regarding mouthwash, opinions are divided. Mouthwash can kill off the resident bacteria in your mouth, which is also not a good thing (R).
11. Use medication sparingly
Many people greatly underestimate the side effects of medication.
Even medication known for its low side-effect profile can be unhealthy, especially in the long term.
Gastric acid inhibitors (proton pump inhibitors/PPIs) hinder the uptake of important minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium and disturb the gut microbiome.
Painkillers such as ibuprofen and diclofenac are highly stressful for the kidneys and other organs, and even the mild painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be very toxic to the liver (four tablets of 1 gram combined with alcohol can lead to liver failure and death).
Try to take as little medication as possible, but always consult your doctor for your individual medical decisions.
12. Be an empowered health advocate for your own body
Don’t just rely on the healthcare system to keep you healthy.
The traditional healthcare system focuses primarily on treating symptoms of diseases and not tackling the causes.
Currently, our healthcare system is more of a sickcare system that kicks into gear when it’s already too late: when you already have cancer growing in your body, or when you are having a heart attack and being rushed in an ambulance to the hospital.
If you want to stay healthy, you have to take action yourself and be your own health advocate.
B. The high-tech approach to living longer
Besides the low-tech approaches we just discussed that involve healthy nutrition, exercise, and many other lifestyle changes, many researchers around the world are working on new therapies that can slow down aging considerably and that could even partially reverse aging.
More and more, the idea is gaining ground that aging is the root cause of all aging-related diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and macular degeneration. People increasingly realize — and science continually demonstrates — that by tackling aging, the root cause of all these diseases is addressed. Trying to treat aging would enable far more effective and better treatments to prevent, slow down, or even reverse aging-related diseases.
Take heart disease for example. Imagine we could cure all heart disease so nobody gets a heart attack anymore. How much longer do you think people would live on average? Only about 2.9 years (R).
That is not much. People wouldn’t die of heart disease anymore, but they would die a few years later from another aging-related disease. Therefore, it’s so important to target aging itself, instead of individual diseases (R,R).
Heart disease is a good example to show why it is so much better to treat the causes of aging than the actual disease itself.
Many physicians will tell you that heart disease is caused by the accumulation of cholesterol and inflammation in the blood vessel walls. More specially, they will say that white blood cells stuffed with cholesterol accumulate in the blood vessel walls, leading to the narrowing of the arteries.
However, these processes happen because of underlying aging mechanisms. Cholesterol accumulates in the white blood cells because their lysosomes cannot break down the cholesterol properly. Lysosomal dysfunction is one of the hallmarks of aging.
Atherosclerosis also happens because of many other mechanisms, such as cells in the blood vessel walls becoming senescent, stem cells in the blood vessel walls becoming dysfunctional, and other cells incurring damage caused by mitochondrial dysfunction, protein accumulation, crosslinking, epigenetic dysregulation, and so on. And all of these are aging mechanisms, leading to atherosclerosis and many other aging-related diseases.
So what are some technologies that aim to extend and even reverse aging?
1. Mitochondrial rejuvenation
Mitochondria are the powerplants of our cells. The older we get, the more dysfunctional they become, which contributes to the aging process.
One important driver of mitochondrial dysfunction is mitochondrial DNA becoming more and more damaged. This is a problem, given the mitochondrial DNA contains blueprints to build and maintain the mitochondria.
There are many ways in which mitochondria can be rejuvenated. One way is to introduce new, undamaged mitochondrial DNA into the mitochondria that contains the building instructions to make mitochondrial proteins. This is possible by intravenously injecting mitochondrial DNA that is tagged so that it travels to the mitochondria automatically.
Other ways involve administering specific peptides that improve mitochondrial health (R,R), or moving mitochondrial genes from the mitochondria into the cell nucleus, where they are better protected against damage (R), or administering new and safer mitochondrial decoupling agents (R), or even injecting whole young and healthy mitochondria in animals, which is called mitotherapy (R).
It will take a while for all these therapies to be further developed. In the meantime, there are various natural substances that can improve mitochondrial health, like fisetin, glycine, calcium alpha-ketoglutarate, nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) and pterostilbene.
Learn more about mitochondria and aging here.
2. Epigenetic reprogramming
The epigenome is the complex molecular machinery that surrounds the DNA and decides which genes are switched on and which genes are switched off. You can look at the epigenome as an on-off switch for our genes.
The older we get, the more the epigenome becomes dysregulated: some genes are switched on while they should be switched off, and vice versa. For example, cancer and inflammation-promoting genes are switched on, increasing our risk of cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Scientists succeeded in partially reversing aging in mice by reprogramming their epigenome to a more youthful state. They made old mice younger again by increasing Yamanaka factors in the cells of the mice during short periods of time (R,R). Many scientists are now looking into epigenetic reprogramming to rejuvenate cells and organisms.
Learn more about the epigenome and aging here.
3. Clearing up the protein mess
When we get older, more and more proteins accumulate inside and outside our cells.
Protein accumulation in the brain plays an important role in Alzheimer’s disease. Protein accumulation in the heart is involved in aging-related heart dysfunction. Protein accumulation in the blood vessel walls makes them more prone to tearing or clogging.
Protein accumulation can be slowed down or reversed in several ways. The immune system can be induced to clear up specific proteins with the aid of a protein vaccine or by infusing antibodies that latch onto and clear up specific proteins that accumulate during aging (R).
Another approach involves infusing lysosomal enzymes. The lysosomes are the incinerators of the cell that break down protein and other cellular waste. The older we get, the less well the lysosomes work (R). Lysosomal enzymes, injected into the bloodstream, can travel to the aged lysosomes and help them to break down protein. This already works for successfully treating previously lethal lysosomal storage diseases (R). Some scientists try to improve lysosomal function by making the lysosomes more acidic so they can better “digest” cellular waste (R).
Another approach to tackle protein accumulation is by improving autophagy, which is the process in which the cell digests or breaks down its own protein waste. During aging, autophagy decreases, so kickstarting this system again could prove beneficial to tackle aging (R,R).
Learn more about protein accumulation and aging here.
4. Stem cell therapy
Stem cells are cells that generate new cells and maintain our tissues and organs. When we get older, stem cells in our bodies become dysfunctional or die off.
Stem cells can be infused into the body to replace dwindling stem cell pools or to reboot existing stem cell populations (R).
There are, however, various problems to overcome for stem cell therapy. For example, stem cells are rejected by the immune system (this is the case for “allogeneic” stem cells that come from other people), or they are already aged and damaged (this is the case for autologous stem cells, which come from your own, aged body).
Also, most stem cells get trapped in the lungs when injected in the bloodstream, and even the ones that reach the tissues do not graft well.
There are many companies that offer stem cell therapies to treat aging and aging-related diseases, but almost all of them tout treatments that have not been approved. These stem cell therapies are not effective and can be even dangerous. For example, injected stem cells can cause clots in the lungs, or the stem cell infusion is contaminated by bacteria.
Also, more and more scientists believe that the health effects brought about by infusing stem cells are not caused by the stem cells grafting and creating new cells, but by stem cells briefly secreting substances that can rejuvenate the body before they die off or are eliminated.
Substances like calcium alpha-ketoglutarate can improve stem cell health.
Learn more about stem cells and aging here.
Read the remaining article on Novo’s Labs.