What a year 2021 has been! Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen our lives adapting to a prolonged global pandemic, with profound changes in the way we work and interact with others. We’ve also become more creative, empathetic, and experts in self-care and personal growth. This worldwide health crisis does come with a silver lining – an increasing interest in supporting better health, both from the general public and scientists across the world. There has been an explosion of research in many fields, including a topic that’s close to my heart – biological aging. This April marked an important milestone for me and my team with the publication of our groundbreaking clinical trial on reversing biological age through diet and lifestyle. And since then, quite a number of research articles have been published on this very same topic.
With that in mind, we’ve curated a mini library with the latest science on epigenetics and biological aging. In this collection of recent and noteworthy publications, we’ll touch upon key topics such as:
- Biological embedding
- Bio age reversal
- Dietary patterns
- Exercise and lifestyle
- Epigenetics in health and disease
I hope you’ll find this collection of research handy. If you want to dive deeper into the world of biological aging, you can pre-order my Younger You book here (and as a bonus, you’ll get a fantastic collection of holiday recipes and a few other goodies).
Want to take it a step further and experience biological age reversal yourself? Then check out my new, fully-supported digital program here, and if you’re so inclined, you can join in the research study also running through the app.
~ Dr KF
Our groundbreaking research
Of course, we had to start this list with our own, first-of-its-kind, study in the journal Aging and conducted at Helfgot Research Institute with scientists, clinicians, and nutritionists from McGill University, UC San Diego, the Institute for Functional Medicine, and the American Nutrition Association. In this trial, we were able to reverse biological age in healthy older adult men by a whopping 3.24 years compared to men who did not participate in our program. And we did it in just eight short weeks! Best of all, the only interventions were straightforward dietary changes and simple lifestyle practices. You can learn more about the Younger You program here: https://join.youngeryouprogram.com
On our platforms
This article addresses an aspect of PTSD prevention that particularly interests me – limiting negative “biological embedding” of traumatic experiences. I explore how biological embedding, i.e., the epigenetic marking of our DNA for deep memory of trauma, makes us more likely to experience a PTSD response and later illness, as well as transmit trauma biochemistry to our offspring. And, of course, I discuss practical solutions on what we can do to overcome trauma and support resilience.
This blog discusses why biological age is a better measure of your health than your chronological age. Since it measures the health of your DNA, reversing biological age may hold the key to longer, happier, healthier lives. There’s a lot unpack on the connection between DNA methylation and biological aging, and this article breaks it down into very digestible bits of information (pun intended).
This podcast with talented researcher and Stanford lecturer Dr. Lucia Aronica dives into the world of longevity science. Drawing on her own epigenetics research experience, Dr. Aronica talks to us about the mechanics of epigenetics and epigenetic aging, the importance of hormesis, and the powerful epigenetic language of lifestyle interventions, including epinutrients.
In this episode of New Frontiers in Functional Medicine, I chat with best-selling author and former journalist Judith Finlayson about the fascinating history that led to our current understanding of epigenetic expression. Together we explore the connections between generational experiences and the development of health and disease and dietary and lifestyle choices for optimal genetic expression.
Key research on epigenetics and aging
An extraordinary new preprint from David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard demonstrates how aging can be pushed forward by inducing pro-aging changes to the epigenome of mice and then reversed by flipping the epigenetic information around, thus restoring youth. WOW. They caused aging, then reversed aging, all via epigenetic changes. These findings are validating for all of us in this field, and they could offer us clues on the underlying molecular mechanisms behind the impressive bio age reversal participants achieved in our study.
This first-of-its-kind mouse study shows that rapid aging can also be handed down to offspring. Researchers found that maternal diabetes leads to premature aging of neural tissue in the fetus and pups, leading to neural tube defects. This premature aging, or senescence, is initiated by epigenetic changes in neurogenesis and may be the mechanism behind the increased incidence of congenital disabilities in mothers with diabetes. The good news is that diet and lifestyle interventions can significantly impact blood sugar regulation and epigenetic aging. In fact, this study gives us yet another reason to lean on the power of personalized nutrition for longer, healthier lives.
In this new study, researchers showed that in germ-free flies, around 70 percent of known changes associated with aging simply failed to occur. Germ-free flies don’t age! This stunning research suggests that the microbiome may play a phenomenally important role in the aging process. But striving for germ-free humans isn’t the antiaging elixir. This paper suggests tending to our gut and nurturing a healthy microbiome.
Anti-aging nutrition & epinutrients
Yet another biological age study confirms that diet quality really matters when it comes to aging.
And although this retrospective population study used well-researched dietary patterns which are healthier than the Standard American Diet (SAD), they are not exactly what we would consider high-quality diets in functional nutrition. That said, we’re thrilled to see that they are good enough to support slowing the aging journey even a little bit. In fact, this study found that dietary patterns such as the DASH and Alternative Mediterranean Diet were associated with slightly younger biological ages in over 2000 pre- and postmenopausal women.
The eating patterns in this study were higher in carbs and included dairy and gluten. This was not the case in our biological age trial, where the diet was specifically designed to modulate DNA methylation and resulted in a much more significant reversal of epigenetic age in a much shorter time period (over 3 years younger in 8 weeks, to be precise).
Another study similar to ours (and the one above) adds more proof that diet changes epigenetic age – this time in postmenopausal women! This study focused on a generally healthy diet, which had an impact over a longer time frame, while we think ours was able to have a bigger impact in a smaller window because it was specifically designed to optimize DNA methylation and bio age. It’s a good result and provides more evidence for the effectiveness of reversing bio age with diet!
Methylation deficits on a particular region of T cells (specialized white blood cells) are a known potential issue in lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE). In this study, data collected on 61 female lupus patients, including foods and micronutrient intakes, found that dietary factors may have direct impacts on epigenetic methylation patterns: the more methyl donor rich foods consumed, with higher levels of the methyl donor nutrients methionine, choline, and cysteine, the fewer lupus-associated methylation deficits observed. Fewer symptoms were also reported.
The program I’ve developed and now studied in a clinical pilot trial provides natural sources of methyl donor nutrients as well as methylation adaptogens, helping the body make the wisest decisions about how to use those methyl donors on your DNA.
This study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition monitored 2,240 people, age 65 and over, for eleven years and found that a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood was associated with an almost five-year increase in life expectancy. A 1% increase is associated with a change in mortality risk similar to quitting smoking!
This in vivo study investigated the anti-cancer effects of curcumin. Researchers identified curcumin-induced epigenetic regulation of mTOR expression in cancer cells, with results showing tumor inhibition due to mTOR downregulation. How did curcumin achieve these impressive results? By upregulating the expression of DNA methyltransferases, curcumin leads to promoter DNA hypermethylation, thus inhibiting genetic expression of mTOR – the main regulatory molecule of cell death.
The ELOVL2 gene, which regulates omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid metabolism, becomes hypermethylated as we age, a change associated with diseases of aging, including macular degeneration, high blood sugar, cognitive decline, and more. Some scientists consider ELOVL2 to be one of the most robust biomarkers (and causes) of the aging process. For one BioAge clock, ELOVL2 even accounts for 70% of the EpiAge calculation! 70%! Methyl donors, like DHA provided in salmon, may stop these diseases of aging by modifying ELOVL2 expression. Indeed, in mice omega 3s helped to restore ELOLV2 function.
Epigenetics, lifestyle, and health conditions
We all know that exercise has many benefits for our health, but did you know that those benefits could likely be due to changes in DNA methylation? Multiple studies now point towards epigenetic modification as the underlying mechanism of the health benefits of exercise. By acting through various pathways such as DNA methylation, histone modification, and non-coding RNA expression, exercise may prevent inflammation, mitigate disease risk, and lead to healthy metabolic remodeling.
This mouse PCOS model shows that significant DNA hypomethylation activates genes involved in the inflammatory response, insulin signaling, and glucose and energy homeostasis, all of which drive this (often) inherited condition. Amazingly, this pattern was transmitted through three generations of offspring (think of this going all the way to great-grandbabies). And, very exciting: The universal methyl donor SAM corrected the DNA methylation, neuroendocrine and metabolic defects. Wow!
A recent study found that administration of the psychedelic drug 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI) resulted in increased numbers of new brain connections in mice, particularly relating to serotonin receptor 5-HT2A. These positive shifts were driven by changes to the neuronal epigenome. Authors conclude: “these data support that epigenomic-driven changes in synaptic plasticity sustain psychedelics’ long-lasting antidepressant action but also warn about potential substrate overlap with genetic risks for certain psychiatric conditions.” Thus, while there is much reason to be excited about the possibility of psychedelics, caution is also warranted.