Turning Back the Clock on Aging

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I’ve been thinking about longevity and anti-aging. New research shows we can extend healthy lifespans in mammals – and even reverse aging to bring people back to youth.

In this post I’ll review the latest efforts to unlock anti-aging secrets on the cellular level. I’ll cover the rise of anti-aging apps and personalized health technology.

Finally, I’ll share medical research on what you can do today to slow the aging process and extend your health span.


Investors today are pouring money into new approaches to slow or even reverse aging. These technologies could extend the average human life span to 100 or longer.

A big bet on cellular reprogramming

Can science find a way to reprogram human cells and make them “younger”? That’s the mission of anti-aging startup Altos Labs, which has raised $270 million to reprogram and rejuvenate somatic cells, with the ultimate aim of extending human life.

Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School has published extensively on the notion of cellular reprogramming:

“We introduce a combination of genes into the animal, or the cell, and we see that the tissue is rejuvenated as though it was young again. So it can heal, it can start new growth, like it was young. And if we can figure out how to deliver that to patients in a safe way, then it’s quite possible that aging is a reversible disease.”

The Holy Grail of aging research is to find a biomarker for aging—some protein or DNA mark that correlates directly with enhanced longevity.

Researchers are working to develop medicines that will treat aging at its source and thereby have a much greater impact on health and lifespan than drugs that target a single disease.

The rise of anti-aging apps

In August, a new app called Humanity that promises to slow your aging raised $2.5 million. The app uses algorithms based on real-world outcomes from longitudinal biobanks with data about the factors that affect a population’s lifespan. It connects with sensors in your smartphone and wearables to track heart rate, step count, and sleep, and gives personalized guidance on how to slow aging.

Then there’s the Young.AI app, which uses a variety of deep aging clocks to calculate the user’s biological age, including blood test data, medical history, biomarkers, selfies and metrics from wearable fitness trackers like FitBit and Apple Watch.

Investors are funding “longevity clinics” like Fountain Life. These clinics use diagnostics to identify key elements that accelerate your aging based on lifestyle and family history. They create a personalized treatment plan to help optimize your healthspan potential, using stem cells to boost your body’s regenerative capabilities.

From Sick Care to Personalized and Preventive Health

The future of health is personalized & preventive. It’ll be driven by research on longevity genes and advances in wearables and diagnostics.

In his new book The Science and Technology of Growing Young, Sergey Young discusses how wearable, portable, embeddable and ingestible tech will deliver early diagnoses, reducing disease and death:

“As you sit down for breakfast, a tiny chip embedded at the tip of a blood vessel just beneath the surface of your skin tracks nutrients, immune cells, vitamins, minerals, foreign substances, and disease indicators. After breakfast, you begin your workday, your phone silently analyzing your voice for signs of cognitive and neurological decline, while also inspecting tiny particles in your breath to pick up the first indicators of respiratory disease and viral infection. And finally, when you lie down to sleep at night, your bed monitors your movement, temperature, breathing, and other signals that might indicate the onset of ill health.”

I’ve worked with biotech companies developing tools to assess the aging impact of cigarette smoking. Someday we’ll have a “carcinogen exposure meter” that uses biomarkers of cellular health to show smokers how each cigarette increases their cancer risk.

We’ll have virtual health coaches that quantify diet, sleep and fitness. We’ll use a software dashboard that gives personalized recommendations and a trainer to help us improve our health.

More people will use continuous glucose monitors (CGM) to provide real-time feedback on how our diet impacts our blood-sugar levels. Health researchers believe insulin sensitivity—a measure of metabolic health—is one of the strongest predictors of health span.

How to activate longevity genes

As Dr. Sinclair explains in his book Lifespan, there are natural ways to activate our bodies’ longevity genes: High intensity exercise, intermittent fasting, low-protein diets, and exposure to hot and cold temperatures. These stressors, or hormesis, turn on genes that prompt the rest of the system to survive a little longer.

I wrote a recap of Lifespan, which you can read here.


Dr. Sinclair recommends a variety of ways to activate longevity genes and slow aging.

Fasting

A study of intermittent fasting showed health benefits of restricting your feeding window to 4 to 8 hours per day. Subjects saw improvement in liver enzymes and glucose sensitivity, an important measure of metabolic health.

There is a strong correlation between fasting and longevity in so-called Blue Zones such as Ikaria, Greece, where one-third of the population lives past the age of 90.

Fasting makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. We evolved to be hungry part of the time. Being hungry turns on our body’s defenses against disease and aging.

I’ve been incorporating intermittent fasting into my health routine. I restrict my feeding window to 8 hours each day, so I fast for 16 hours between meals. Once a week I try to fast for 24-36 hours.

It took some getting used to, but when I fast now, I feel great. My sleep efficiency and recovery scores are higher the next day. Some friends have had success using the Zero app to track their fasts each day.

Heat Exposure

Dr. Rhonda Patrick has co-written a paper on the science behind the health benefits of saunas. Sauna use has emerged as a probable means to increase lifespan and extend healthspan. The study suggests frequent sauna use may protect against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease like dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Exercise

We all know exercise is good for us. Not just for weight loss: A study showed high-intensity interval exercise can reverse declines in brain function and improve memory in older adults.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) engages the greatest number of health-promoting genes. This means reaching 70–85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Exercise turns on the genes to make us young again at a cellular level, extending telomeres and boosting the activity of mitochondria.

Sleep

Sleep duration and quality are correlated with enhanced longevity, according to Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and author of Why We Sleep.

More people are using sleep trackers (Whoop, Oura Ring) and smart mattresses (Eight Sleep) to optimize their sleep.

Lack of sleep can shorten life. It’s not just the amount of sleep we get, but the quality. The amount of REM sleep we get is directly correlated with life span.


In summary, the best ways to activate your longevity genes:
Be hungry more often — skip breakfast, fast periodically for longer periods, get lean
Avoid excessive carbs (sugar, pasta, breads) and processed oils and foods in general
Do high-intensity resistance training — lift weights, build muscle
Expose your body to hot, cold, and other stressors regularly

[Important note: I am not a doctor. None of this is to be misconstrued as medical advice.]


Finally, I’d like to share this visualization of your life: past, present and future. A reminder of the long, winding road that led us to this moment today, and the infinite possibilities that await us.

Thank you for reading. Until next week,


By Daniel Zahler

Every week I write an email newsletter with perspectives on health and wellness trends, and strategies & tactics on how to optimize cognitive, physical and emotional health. I hold a JD and BA from Harvard, have worked at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, and advise global business leaders as a GLG council member.

Check out my articles in Thrive Global here.


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