You Can Reverse Your Biological Ageby Amylee Amos MS, RDN, IFMCPNews
Ever wish that you could stay younger for longer? If you have, you’re not alone. The anti-aging industry is worth billions of dollars because people around the world are searching for the fountain of youth. Commercials, magazines, and other ads berate us with the allure of covering up the many physical signs of aging. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with aging gracefully- becoming wiser and developing the deeper sense of purpose that can come with age. But the health, energy, and vitality of youth staying with us well into our 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond? That would be incredible.
Can we reverse aging?
Of course, there is no way to “turn back the clock” in terms of our chronological aging. Each birthday comes and we get another year older. But our chronological age is literally just a number. Research into the field of biogerontology shows us that aging is not a static progression overtime. In fact, aging is quite dynamic and can move forward or backward. We have written before about the difference between chronological and biological age. Biological age is our state of physical and physiological functioning and researchers have known for some time that this definition of aging is highly dynamic and is greatly influenced by our environment, including our diet and lifestyle. Our epigenome, meaning the expression of our genes as dictated by our environment, is what determines our biological age. Through modifications to our diet and lifestyle, we can actually turn back the clock on our biological age. You can actually get younger and you can do it without the expensive creams and injections sold by the anti-aging industry.
Research on reversing biological age
It definitely sounds too good to be true, but new research shows that we can in fact reverse biological aging with diet and lifestyle. In 2021, researchers published the results of a pilot randomized clinical trial which demonstrated that the reversal of biological age is possible and was verified by objective results. The study sample included healthy men aged 50-72 who underwent an 8 week program that included interventions in nutrition, exercise, sleep, and relaxation, as well as certain phytonutrient and probiotic supplements. They measured biological age using an instrument called the Horvath DNAmAge Clock. The group that underwent the nutrition and lifestyle program reversed their biological age by 3.23 years (1).
Here is a basic breakdown of what the participants on the 8 week program did. For a full description, read the journal article listed in the references (1).
Nutrition: Participants ate a mostly plant based diet, high in non starchy vegetables. They were instructed to include foods rich in compounds that support optimal DNA methylation including rosemary, turmeric, beets, green tea, and eggs among others. The diet was high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates other than the many servings of non-starchy vegetables. Participants practiced regular intermittent fasting.
Exercise: Participants were instructed to complete at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times per week at 60-80% exertion.
Sleep: Participants were instructed to sleep for at least 7 hours per night.
Relaxation: Participants were prescribed breathing exercises two times per day as a means of stress reduction.
The future of reversing biological age
These results are absolutely incredible. Just within 8 weeks, participants reversed aging by over 3 years. And they did it with basic and relatively affordable interventions. This inspires so many more questions. If you followed a structured program such as this for a longer period of time, would you further reduce biological age? How far can we turn back the clock? Will the same hold true for women (since this study was just in men)? Is this scalable for the general public? Luckily, these researchers and others are actively working to answer these questions with new and larger studies.
Kara Fitzgerald, naturopathic doctor and first author of the publication, recently authored a book called Younger You where she highlights the complexity of biological age and the impact that our diet and lifestyle have on the expression of our genes. She discusses the study and the future studies that her and her team are conducting. This type of research is so inspiring. It means that you can start making small, actionable changes that can have a massive impact on your life- not just preventing disease, but reversing your age and restoring the vitality of youth. Often, when functional medicine practitioners talk about making changes to nutrition and lifestyle, they get written off as being too simple to make a robust impact on health. But in fact these small changes add up to make a monumental impact on our health. The fact that we now know that you can get objectively younger while doing them is just the icing on the proverbial cake.
- Fitzgerald, K. N. et al. (2021). https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.202913