If we accept aging as a fact of life and inevitable, then there is nothing we can do to slow or even stop the process. However, considering the possibility that aging has a cause means there is the potential to identify the cause(s) and reverse or at least mitigate its effects.
Aging is the sum of all the bodily changes that occur throughout your lifespan. How fast these changes occur and how they present themselves differs from person to person.1 Healthy lifestyle choices can slow the progress of these inevitable changes. Age management is the sum of the choices you make to support your body’s physiology as you age. It treats the symptoms of aging.
Changes you see in your body are a result of your genetic predisposition interacting with external factors such as your diet and environment. As your body systems age, they lose their ability to adapt to your environment.2 As cellular byproducts of metabolism and genetic changes accumulate, muscles weaken, vision loses clarity, breathing becomes more labored with easier insults, bones become more fragile, and brain function slows. Understanding the cellular and molecular processes that characterize aging opens the door to slowing or even reversing the aging process in humans. Potentially, in the future, you will be able to reverse the aging process, not just treat the symptoms.
Worldwide, life expectancy has increased due to better disease treatment. However, healthspan, not lifespan, is the goal of anti-aging treatments. A longer healthspan means a longer, healthier, more productive, and active life. Living a longer life riddled with disease and pain is not the same.3
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Age reversal is the return to a more youthful state with increased energy and vitality. It is the use of technology to reprogram cells to an embryonic-like state. Embryonic cells can differentiate into a wide range of mature cells and are free of the accumulated metabolic byproducts and epigenetic noise that characterize aging cells. Japanese biomedical researcher Dr. Shinya Yamanaka has achieved the first step by reprogramming human adult skin cells to behave like embryonic cells that can differentiate into any cell type in the body.
Successfully using this technology would reverse cellular aging. But there is more to age reversal than turning back the cellular clock. Cells interact with each other on a local level and globally, using chemical messages and nerve impulses. Age reversal has been achieved in less complex organisms, such as worms. Scientists are making progress in understanding how humans age. However, in a complex organism like a human, making molecular changes that reverse the aging process is likely to trigger unwanted changes, such as the growth of cancerous tumors.
Age reversal means restoring cells to a more youthful state. It sounds impossible, but scientists worldwide are making advances in understanding the aging process on a cellular level and then developing technology that reverses aging in cells. Each of your body cells has a full copy of your DNA, the genetic code that directs cells on how to produce proteins and how much to produce. For example, the difference between a liver and a heart cell is determined by the genes that are turned on and off.
Once a cell differentiates into a liver cell, it cannot turn back time and begin producing the proteins that would make it a heart cell. The epigenome is all the chemical compounds in a cell that tell the genome (DNA) what to do. They turn on and turn off genes, controlling the proteins that are produced in individual cells. The epigenome can even be passed from cell to cell as they divide.
Scientists are devising ways to turn adult cells back into embryonic-like stem cells where they will have the potential to differentiate into any type of adult cell.
Scientists at Harvard University have inserted four genes (Sox2, Oct4, Klf4, and cMyc) into adult cells to reprogram their DNA so they return to embryonic-like cells. These induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have the potential to act as embryonic-like stem cells. Once these cells can differentiate into any type of adult cell, they can be used to treat diseases. For example, iPSCs can be transplanted into the brain to replace brain cells damaged during a stroke or into the heart to replace heart cells damaged by a heart attack.
Another option is to treat iPSC with OKSM (Yamanaka) factors, which have the potential to turn back a cell’s epigenetic clock to an earlier point in time. As cells transition to embryonic-like cells, they show a steady decline in cellular age.4
However, embryonic stem cells are not yet ready to be used for age-reversal. These cells are difficult to propagate. Cells often experience damage, and they have the potential to cause cancer. Senescence (cellular aging) and pluripotency are interconnected and are sometimes regulated by the same genes.4
Gene therapy is used to modify a gene to treat or cure a disease. Genes are sequences of DNA that code for a protein. When a mutation (sequence change or mistake) in a gene sequence makes the gene nonfunctional, gene therapy can be used to replace the gene sequence. Similarly, if a gene is malfunctioning, gene therapy can be used to turn the gene “off” so it no longer produces abnormal proteins that cause disease.
More recent research has shown the potential to use gene therapy to treat polygenic complex diseases, including aging-related diseases, instead of being limited to monogenic (single gene) diseases. CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing system technology makes it possible to edit genes. Small pieces of nonfunctional or mutant DNA can be cut from the genetic code and replaced with correct sequences.3
Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes. Each time a cell divides, a short sequence of the 8,000 to 10,000 nucleotides (letters in the DNA sequence) is lost. As each cell cycle shortens the telomeres, eventually they will reach a critical length, and the cell can no longer divide. Once telomeres get too short, the cell activates a DNA damage response, and the cell dies.
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have found a way to lengthen telomeres. Skin cells with lengthened telomeres could divide 40 more times than typical skin cells.5
Since telomeres are lengthened, cell division can continue longer, which is an anti-aging benefit. However, with each cell division, the telomeres continue to shorten. The cells cannot divide indefinitely, which lessens the risk that they will become cancer cells.
Until these exciting new technologies are available, the best we can do is to live a healthy, active life, reduce environmental pollutants that may age or damage cells, and treat the symptoms of aging with the medications and supplements we have available.3
Americans have a shorter life expectancy than people living in almost all other high-income countries. Why? Lifestyle factors.
Researchers looked at five lifestyle factors:
When people adhered to these five healthy lifestyle factors, they could prolong their life expectancy at age 50 by 14 years for women and 12.2 years for men.6
While you wait for technologies that can reverse cellular aging, slow the aging process in your body by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, including:7-9
Orthomolecular medicine practitioners believe that health can be restored and maintained by administering adequate amounts of supplements and vitamins that are normally present in the body. Many of the changes associated with aging are due to oxidative stress from free radicals (unpaired electrons that are byproducts of metabolism), chronic inflammation, and toxic exposures.10-13
Anti-aging is possible, but at this point, age reversal is not. Anti-aging uses lifestyle factors, supplements, and vitamins to mitigate cellular damage and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function efficiently and effectively. You can add years to your healthspan by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
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12. Johnson S, Imai SI. NAD (+) biosynthesis, aging, and disease. F1000Res. 2018;7:132. doi:10.12688/f1000research.12120.113. Kerksick C, Willoughby D. The Antioxidant Role of Glutathione and N-Acetyl-Cysteine Supplements and Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2005/12/01 2005;2(2):38. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-38