Has Everything We’ve Been Taught About Aging Wrong?

It’s an undeniable truth that aging is inevitable. Or is it? What if almost everything we have been taught about aging is wrong? What if we could change how long we live? In other words, could we choose our lifespan? David Sinclair, a Harvard professor, medical researcher and author of Lifespan, was recently a guest on the Aspen Brain Lab “expert” series. He explained to host Dr. Marc Hodosh why he believes we can really influence our longevity.

Live longer, but better

Sinclair explained that aging is a disease. “Aging should be redefined as a medical condition and approached as a disease – both causing fragility and often death.”

The reality is aging is the root cause of most of the planet’s suffering and kills 100,000 people every day.  Sinclair believes that when we come to this realization, then we will be able to address aging more productively.

gene and immune

Yes, we’re living in an aging world

The statistics show that the age of our community is rising, especially in the developed world. In 2017, one in eight people worldwide was aged 60 or over. In 2050, older people are projected to account for one in five people globally. So by 2050, this group will be around two billion.

The most rapid increase in the 60+ population is occurring in the developing world, which will show a 225% jump between 2010 and 2050.

An individual’s lifespan is linked to lifestyle factors, more than genetics. In fact, science reveals that your lifespan will be determined by your lifestyle accounting for up to 70% Genetics will determine only 30%.

Disease and aging

Sinclair told Hadosh that individual diseases occur in the minority, and aging to the majority. “So why aren’t we taking aging far more seriously than we are currently?” he questions.

He believes there is a need for more international attention to social, economic and political risks as well as the benefits of a world in which billions of people can live much longer and much healthier lives.

9 Hallmarks of aging

Sinclair explained that one’s chronological age (the number of times we’ve travelled around the sun) is not the same as our biological age (how our cells have changed over that same period of time). He defines the “nine different hallmarks of aging” :

diabetes volunteers

  1. Genomic instability caused by DNA damage;
  2. Telomere attrition;
  3. Alterations to the epigenome;
  4. Proteostasis;
  5. Loss of healthy protein maintenance;
  6. Mitochondrial dysfunction;
  7. Accumulation of senescent cells;
  8. Altered intercellular communication and;
  9. The production of inflammatory molecules.

Live Healthier

Like many other scientists involved in the study of aging, Sinclair believes we need to approach aging from a preventative health perspective over one’s lifespan. “This is a more cost-effective approach than addressing acute symptoms of the disease later on in life,” he told Hadosh.

Aging with David Sinclair | Longevity Live

And he’s pretty optimistic that science may soon have the tools to put this “disease” into remission. 

The relevance of hormesis to aging

During the discussion Sinclair spoke about the importance of hormesis and its role in lifespan and the aging process.  The application of hormesis in aging research and interventions is becoming increasingly attractive and successful. The reason for this is that the research conducted over many years, is showing that mild stress-induced activation of one or more stress response (SR) pathways, and its consequent stimulation of repair mechanisms, is effective in reducing the age-related accumulation of molecular damage.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Hormesis is the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” type of stress. Stress is the disruption of homeostasis, or your body’s state of equilibrium. In fact, your body thrives on occasional stress or toxin exposure, and responds by ramping up growth and repair to bring you back to balance. That’s hormesis — your body’s positive response to minor stressors. Over time, you can use hormesis to build an adaptive stress response, where you learn to benefit from sources of stress.

How?

With exercise, for example, you need to exert your muscles, otherwise your body won’t build them back stronger.  Also your brain needs to be challenged. You can do this by learning a new language, or doing something creative. It’s important to continually build new connections between brain cells. You can even stimulate new collagen growth in your skin with lasers and microneedling — both of which cause micro-injuries.  Sitting in a sauna, followed by a cold shower is also another simple way to practice hormesis.

Your youthfulness can be reset

Sinclair believes youthfulness can also be “reset” in the body using epigenetic reprogramming.  “Soon we will be able to tweak cells in a particular way that the central nervous system behaves as if it were young again.”

The central nervous system is one of the first body tissues to lose regenerative capacity. His research group was able to show that the expression of 3 specific genes in mice was able to reset youthful gene expression patterns. Promoting regeneration following optic nerve crash injury also restored vision in a mouse model of glaucoma.

Research on mice

The group also concluded that old tissues retain a faithful record of youthful information that can be accessed for functional age reversal.

“This is an exciting moment in time for the science of longevity. Researchers are on the verge of understanding the process of aging and how to create drugs that promote extended healthy longevity.”

Some may argue that humans and mice are not the same, so we shouldn’t get overly optimistic about these studies. However,  without a doubt the work being done in their laboratory at Harvard Medical School is forward thinking and may well be lifechanging. As Sinclair attests, “This is the golden era of genetics. Anything is possible. We are only limited by our imagination.”

Read more about David Sinclair’s own personal aging interventions

Here are David Sinclair’s 4 lifestyle interventions to improve your aging

We took a look at how Sinclair is approaching his own lifespan?   While he’s written a lot on the subject, these 4 lifestyle interventions to improve the way we age offer a good summary from the scientist. 

Sinclair says if there is one lesson we’ve learned this past decade it is this: aging is malleable. He has made certain changes in his  own life  to give himself a decent shot at having a long, healthy life.

1. Exercise

We all need to be pushing ourselves, physically, especially as we get older — and yet, Sinclair says,  “only 10 percent of people over the age of 65 do.”  The good news is that we don’t have to exercise for hours on end. “People who run four to five miles a week (for most people, that’s an amount of exercise that can be done in less than 30 minutes every other day) reduce their chance of death from a heart attack by 40 percent and all-cause mortality by 45 percent. That’s a massive effect.”

How do you know it is working?

exercise and muscle movement

“You’ll know you are doing vigorous activity when it feels challenging. Your breathing should be deep and rapid, you should sweat and be unable to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. This is the hypoxic response, and it’s great for inducing just enough stress to activate your body’s defenses against aging without doing permanent harm.”

2. Eat Less Often

David Sinclair believes there’s nothing revolutionary about fasting. “As far back as Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, doctors have been espousing the benefits of limiting what we eat. This is not the same thing as malnutrition. This is when the systems of our bodies begin to prey upon one another. But allowing our bodies to exist in a state of want is unquestionably good for our health and longevity.”

Increasingly, research is showing through studies that reducing food availability over a lifetime has remarkable effects on aging and lifespan of animals, so most likely will on humans too.

Health studies

Sinclair is a firm believer in the benefits of intermittent fasting, citing numerous studies pointing to the health benefits of intermittent fasting. In one such study, participants ate a normal diet most of the time, but five days a month ate a restricted diet. “In three months, those who maintained the “fasting mimicking” diet lost weight, reduced their body fat and lowered their blood pressure, too. Participants also had lower levels of a hormone primarily made in the liver called insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1. Mutations in the IGF-1 and IGF-1 receptor genes are associated with lower rates of death and disease.”

How does David Sinclair fast?

So how does Sinclair do it?  “My blood sugar rises in the morning and I am not hungry. So I skip breakfast, except for two tablespoons of  homemade yogurt. I try to skip lunch or eat a late lunch of a small soup or salad. At dinner I eat a “normal” dinner, with a focus on plant-based foods. I do not overeat. My downfall is alcohol. I often have a glass of wine for dinner a few times a week.”

According to this aging specialist,  the bottom line is that there is no “best diet.”  “What works for someone may not work for another. We are all different. With different ages, circadian rhythms, jobs, body compositions, microbiomes, stresses, and wants. No matter what you do, a little fasting goes a long way.”

3. Eat stressed plants for better aging

Even eating certain plants will make a difference, suggests Sinclair. Health-promoting molecules are produced in abundance by stressed plants. Sinclair explains that we get resveratrol from grapes, aspirin from willow bark, metformin from lilacs. We obtain epigallocatechin gallate from green tea, quercetin from fruits, and allicin from garlic.

“This may be evidence of xenohormesis—the idea that plants respond to stress by producing chemicals that tell their cells to hunker down and survive.”

organic | LONGEVITY LIVE

In 2008, together with Konrad Howitz they penned the term “xenohormesis”   Their theory is that animals evolved to sense certain chemicals in stressed plants as an early-warning system, of sorts. . “Over the long-term, this provides humans with health and longevity.  In the same way intermittent fasting and exercise are thought to. “In fact,” he says,  “they activate the same hormetic pathways.”

Eat organic farm raised food

Sinclair says we should be eating plants and foods raised under less-than-ideal conditions, organic, small farm-raised, or from our own backyard. When plants are stressed, they often add extra color to their stems or leaves.

“For example, when a plant or a fruit is exposed to too much light, you may have noticed it produces extra red, blue or purple pigments. These are anthocyanins and they are produced not only by radiation damage, but drought, adverse temperatures, nutrient restriction, pathogens, and wounding. Xenohormetic molecules are typically produced alongside anthocyanidins. I look for leafy vegetables that are bright in color, not light green. I don’t mind if they have holes eaten in them or are limp.”

And if you’re wondering which wine grapes have the highest resveratrol content?  Sinclair says it’s pinot noir, “because they are so stress-sensitive.”

4. Use cold therapy

Sinclair suggests cold therapy is another way to better your lifespan chances. Cold therapy helps activate the mitochondria in your brown fat. He writes that his interest in the potential health benefits of cold therapy began in 2008 with a chance meeting at TEDMED with Ray Cronis  – former NASA scientist turned expert in nutrition and bioenergetics. The two began working together and they published a paper together with Andrew Bremmer at the NIH, titled “The ‘‘Metabolic Winter’’ Hypothesis: A Cause of the Current Epidemics of Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease.”

Cold Water

Calorie scarcity and mild cold stress are a good combination

Writes Sinclair: “We propose that our 7-million-year evolutionary history, which was dominated by two seasonal challenges, lead to calorie scarcity and mild cold stress. But in the “last 0.9 inches of our evolutionary mile, we solved them both.” Put another way, we may be in evolutionary discordance between our biology that evolved to counter seasonal calorie scarcity and mild cold stress and our modern world of ubiquitous calories and excess warmth. Very few of us experience the outdoor cold of winter, and even fewer of us sleep at cool temperatures.”

Sinclair practices what he preaches

Yes, you guessed it. Sinclair takes a colder view of life. He leaves a window slightly open at night and avoids heavy blankets while he sleeps.  He says he also turns the thermostat down to 67 at night.  At the gym, he plunges into a cold pool –  up to his neck –   for at least 20 seconds. The scientist says doing this leaves him feeling refreshed and energized for the rest of the day. He expects his healthy brown fat to be turning even browner.

What supplements does David Sinclair take?

This is a controversial area for anyone in the scientific world to venture into. Perhaps more so for an academic specializing in aging.  Realistically though, who wouldn’t want to  know what he is personally taking to age better?  David Sinclair definitely looks a lot younger than his 51 years.  According to multiple reports and broadcast material on the subject, he regularly tracks his biomarkers and takes vitamin D, vitamin K2, and aspirin.

aging supplements | Longevity LIVE

Longevity solution?

Sinclair also uses three other longevity-specific substances each morning. These include resveratrol, NMN, and metformin, a diabetes drug currently being studied for its potential anti-aging effects.  The researcher is always quick to point out to the media that he’s not a medical doctor and that he’s not recommending anyone do what he does.  This is purely what he does personally, based on what he is learning.

Bottom Line

While the natural human inclination is to seek the fountain of youth,  there’s never a shortage of naysayers.  The stakes are particularly high in this area of health. David Sinclair may well be conducting his own real-time personal longevity experiment alongside his lab.  However, whatever your viewpoint, I think we can all agree, the best advice is not to wait until the science is proven. You can already adopt many of these strategies without any risk.  Be proactive about improving your lifespan now.

Who is David Sinclair?

David SinclairDavid A. Sinclair, Ph.D. A.O. is a professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School. He obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from the University of New South Wales, Sydney in 1995. Dr. Sinclair is co-founder of several biotechnology companies (Sirtris, Ovascience, Genocea, Cohbar, MetroBiotech, ArcBio, Liberty Biosecurity) and is on the boards of several others. He is also co-founder and co-chief editor of the journal Aging.

Commendations

His work is featured in five books, two documentary movies, 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman’s “Through the Wormhole” and other media. He is the inventor of 35 patents.

Awards

Sinclair and has received more than 25 awards and honors. These include  the CSL Prize, The Australian Commonwealth Prize, Thompson Prize, Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Award. As well as the Charles Hood Fellowship, Leukemia Society Fellowship, Ludwig Scholarship, Harvard-Armenise Fellowship, American Association for Aging Research Fellowship. Included are the Nathan Rodriguez Award from the National Institutes of Health, Ellison Medical Foundation Junior and Senior Scholar Awards. Merck Prize and the Genzyme Outstanding Achievement in Biomedical Science Award.

Innovation

Sinclair was also awarded the Bio-Innovator Award, David Murdock-Dole Lectureship, Fisher Honorary Lectureship, Les Lazarus Lectureship and the Australian Medical Research Medal. His work has been recognized with The Frontiers in Aging and Regeneration Award, Top 100 Australian Innovators, and TIME magazine’s list of the “100 most influential people in the world”.

David Sinclair is the author  of the book Lifespan.  A must-read for anyone interested in aging. 

References

Population and Aging https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/ageing/WPA2017_Highlights.pdf
Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., and Mark P. Mattson, Ph.D. https://www.gwern.net/docs/longevity/2019-decabo.pdf
Xenohormesis: Sensing the Chemical Cues of Other Species Konrad T Howitz 1David A Sinclair https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18455976/
The “Metabolic Winter” Hypothesis: A Cause of the Current Epidemics of Obesity and Cardiometabolic DiseaseRaymond J. Cronise, BS,1 David A. Sinclair, PhD,2,,3 and Andrew A. Bremer, MD, PhDcorresponding author4,* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209489/
Lifespan Book: Everything we think we know about aging is about to change.  David Sinclair with Matthew D. LaPlante, https://lifespanbook.com/

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