Age Is Just a Number

Dr. Aaron Hartman

August 15, 2023

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    Imagine the aging process in your body slowing down. Can we decelerate aging and live a vibrant life as we grow older?

    Wonder no more.

    We know that behaviors such as smoking, alcohol, and inadequate sleep can speed up the aging process. There are also many steps we can take to counteract the impact of aging. In this article, I will dive into some powerful anti-aging therapies and behaviors that can slow and potentially even reverse some of these processes involved in aging.

    Beyond wrinkles and gray hair

    Beyond Wrinkles & Gray Hair: Getting to the Root Cause of Aging

    As a Functional Medicine specialist, my focus is always on discovering and addressing the root cause. We see the signs and symptoms of aging, but to get to the heart of the matter, we need to know: What are the processes in the body that cause aging?

    Aging is associated with every chronic illness. You may have even heard of a phrase called “inflammaging”, which is aging-induced inflammation. We know that inflammation is associated with chronic diseases, so this is one way in which aging affects our bodies.

    In this section, I’d like to give you a peek into the latest science on aging and dive into the processes involved. We’re learning more and more about how and why our bodies age.

    Markers of Aging

    There are officially nine markers of aging:

    1. Genomic instability
    2. Telomere attrition
    3. Epigenetic alterations
    4. Loss of proteostasis
    5. Deregulated nutrient sensing
    6. Mitochondrial dysfunction
    7. Cellular senescence
    8. Stem cell exhaustion
    9. Altered intercellular communication

    In this article, however, I am going to focus on the six markers that we can directly impact through diet and lifestyle intervention.

    Genomic Instability

    When the human genome was first mapped in the 1990s, we did not yet understand the critical importance of the small deletions and extractions in our genes, called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). These changes in genetic material — our epigenetics — can actually be passed intergenerationally. Called transgenerational epigenetic priming, this amazing new information tells us that a pregnant woman’s genes can affect her unborn child and even future generations. So grandmother’s smoking, drinking, mold exposure, or chronic Lyme disease, for example, can change her genes and the genes of her future descendants. It is fascinating to think, that while you were an egg inside of your mother, before she was born, your grandmother was affecting your genes. This research is cutting edge, and we’re just learning how much environment, chemicals, and lifestyle impact our genes. The good news is that there are things we can do about genomic instability and we’re going to talk about that in our next posts.

    Telomere Attrition

    genes DNA

    The next marker of aging is shortened telomere length or telomere attrition. You may have heard about telomeres, the caps on our DNA that protect the DNA strands. Every time your cells replicate, or you experience environmental stressors that affect the multiplying of cells, these telomeres get shorter and shorter. We know that telomere length is directly related to cell aging. We can measure the lengths of telomeres to see how many replication cycles that cell line actually has.

    The research on telomere length is a little controversial, but we do know that there are some things we can do to help preserve telomere length.

    Nutrient Sensing

    The next important marker of aging is an altered ability of our body to sense available nutrients. You could have vitamin B12 or folic acid in your body, for example, but your body may not utilize it to function properly. This is altered nutrition sensing. One of the most well-known examples is the MTHFR gene, which is related to how your body uses folic acid. This is one of the reasons why folate is added to food and prenatal vitamins since many people can’t adequately utilize the folate in their diet.

    As we age, we can experience a similar kind of effect with all of our vitamins: vitamin D, vitamin C, our B vitamins, minerals, etc. This speeds aging and creates a feed-forward cycle. As your cells get older, they don’t sense nutrients quite as well, which causes faster aging, and the cycle continues.

    We can address the altered nutrient sensing ability through metabolic testing, which can provide a focused, targeted nutrient program and counter-balance some of this aging spiral.

    Mitochondrial Dysfunction

    mitochondria fusion

    Mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells. They’re like miniature nuclear reactors that take molecules and create heat, ATP, and energy for your body. When mitochondria become dysfunctional, chronic diseases and cancers can result. Cells become senescent, or stuck in a metabolism that uses sugar only. They don’t die, but they create inflammation and can’t appropriately make energy. In more severe cases they cause cancer.

    There are things we can do to actually help your body preferentially find these stuck cells and recycle them to make better mitochondria. One very interesting thing we’re learning about mitochondria is that they want to make more efficient mitochondria. Sometimes two unhealthy mitochondria can come together to make one healthy mitochondria in a process called Fusion. And one really big healthy mitochondria can break up and make multiple smaller, healthy mitochondria.

    Stem Cell Alterations

    Many people have heard of stem cells, which are the only cells in your body that can create other types of cells. The very first stem cell in your body was created when an egg from your mom and sperm from your dad came together and made the first fertilized egg. That was the ultimate stem cell that turned into a zygote that became your brain, your gut, your skin, your heart, your lungs, and every organ and structure in your body. As adults, we need stem cells for repair and maintenance in the body. As we age, our bodies produce fewer stem cells and the ones we do have can be less effective. Next week we’ll talk about things you can do that can improve your body’s ability to produce stem cells.

    Altered Cell Communication

    Your body has an amazing communication system in which cells exchange information with each other through the nervous system and the endocrine system. Your cells use chemical signals called cytokines, which you have probably heard about. When this communication becomes dysregulated and more inflammatory, one cell doesn’t connect with another cell quite as well. This can make the body’s processes less efficient, cause inflammation, and speed aging.

    So how can you address some of these markers of aging to slow this process? Is it really possible to slow the aging process and to add more life to our years?

    Taking Anti Aging to the Next Level

    Taking Anti-Aging To the Next Level

    Don’t Forget the Foundations!

    The foundations of functional medicine are nutrition, exercise, sleep, relationships, and stress management. These are the most important factors that you can use to improve your health and vitality. They play a direct role in slowing the aging process. Three of the markers mentioned above — genetic instability, telomere attrition, and mitochondrial dysfunction — are directly affected by the foundations just mentioned.

    Eating a nutrient-dense, clean, whole-foods diet promotes optimal gene expression and mitochondrial health. Exercise actually stimulates stem cell production and combats stem cell alterations. Did you know that stress reduction can lower cortisol levels and inflammation, which can improve your gut health and help you better absorb nutrients?

    Sleep is a major foundation of health and one that many people overlook or dismiss. But did you know that your stem cells go to work when you are asleep? Sleep is when your mitochondria clean themselves out and when the most detoxification occurs. While you sleep, your cells and your brain do a lot of hard work to clean up, repair, and get you ready for the next day.

    Once you have these foundations of quality nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, and relationships dialed in, there are other things you can do that can make these foundational elements work even better.

    Nutrient Testing

    A more advanced anti-aging strategy is the strategic use of personalized nutrition. In our practice, we do testing to determine which nutrients our patients need more of. We often use organic acid tests that can determine how the body is using the nutrients that are available to it. For example, while you might have normal blood levels of B12, folic acid, or vitamin C, your body might not be efficiently using those nutrients. We can see through an organic acid urine test that the body isn’t getting what it needs. This test actually measures a dysregulation or insensitivity to nutrients.

    Through targeted supplementation and food strategies, we can increase the availability of these nutrients to ensure that the body is getting the nutrition it needs to function optimally. This personalized nutrition is a key intervention in the altered nutrient-sensing marker of aging that we discussed last week.

    Heat Therapy

    woman in saunaSaunas are the go-to tool for heat therapy, the goal of which is to increase your core body temperature. Saunas do promote detoxification through sweating, which is very helpful. But the increase in core body temperature is what improves cell function – which is key for anti-aging.

    A sauna session can actually cause a low-grade fever, which can be a good thing! A low-grade fever is a cytokine response, which you probably remember hearing about during the pandemic. Interferons are a type of cytokine that causes low-grade temperature elevation. Interferons are even used in some medications. For example, alpha interferons are used in hepatitis C medications to cause a low-grade fever and treat the disease. Our body’s natural fever response is a powerful healing process that improves the body’s ability to fight cancer and other infected cells. So this increase in your body’s core temperature improves its ability to fight off infections and cancer.

    Heat therapies also increase something called heat shock proteins, which promote healthy mitochondrial function. Heat shock proteins show promising longevity effects in animal models and also mimic the effects of exercise, which is called an “exercise mimetic.”

    What is great about heat therapy is that almost all of us can access it, whether it’s in a gym sauna, a far infrared sauna, a hot tub, or simply a hot bath. It’s such a powerful therapy that has anti-cancer benefits, longevity effects, and can improve cell function.

    Cold Therapy

    man in ice bath
    Cold therapy, whether from a plunge in cold water or a cryotherapy service, has been all the rage lately. We know that cold activation reduces inflammation in the body.

    In the elite athlete world, cold therapy is being used to reduce recovery time after intense training. After strenuous exercise, muscles actually have many small tears, and the body is responding to stress, which causes a lot of inflammation. Generally, it takes hours to days for this inflammation to subside. However, a cold plunge for 8-10 minutes actually blocks that inflammation and allows your body to get back to healing quicker.

    Another reason that cold therapy has become so popular with elite athletes and executives is because it promotes mitochondrial function and helps the body clear senescent cells. We’ve learned in the literature that, ironically, cold exposure also increases heat shock proteins. So this type of helpful stress in the body can promote the clearing of senescent cells and help cells function more efficiently.

    It’s important to make sure that you’re healthy enough to use heat or cold exposure therapy, so clear it with your doctor before trying it.

    Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

    One intervention that has been really helpful for my daughter is hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT. This involves sessions in a pressurized chamber while breathing pure oxygen to help flood the body with higher concentrations of oxygen. It is used in conventional medicine to treat decompression sickness in scuba divers, carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries, severe wounds, and other injuries that do not respond to typical treatments. By forcing more oxygen into the blood, it speeds healing by getting more oxygen to all parts of the brain and body.

    There are over 8000 genes that are activated with hyperbaric medicine, which can also increase stem cell numbers by about 800%. HBOT also promotes the turnover of senescent or “stuck” cells. You can see how hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be incredibly healing, and is a powerful intervention for people with chronic health issues. Of course it is also a powerfully effective anti-aging therapy.

    But we can dive even deeper into advanced therapies used in our practice. Get ready to unlock the secrets to a longer, more vibrant life as we delve into the world of peptides, stem cells, and beyond!

    Biohacking Your Way to Better Health

    Biohacking Your Way to Better Health

    Peptide Therapies

    PeptidesPeptides are simply chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Your body makes these naturally, but as we age, we become less efficient in producing them. These powerful compounds play a crucial role in enhancing the body’s natural healing and rejuvenation processes. Peptides help promote healthy stem cells, aid in tissue repair, combat aging, and can increase senescent cell turnover.

    Have you ever wondered how an NFL football player can tear their hamstring and start playing again in four weeks? They’re most likely using peptide therapies like BPC-157, which is a peptide that improves the body’s ability to heal connective tissues and can also help with healing leaky gut issues.

    Other peptides that I use in my practice include CJC Ipamorelin and thymic peptides like thymosin and thymulin. I have used BPC along with another peptide, called KPV, with patients who have severe autoimmune issues and have seen significant improvement in their leaky gut-related issues.

    I’m sure you’ve also heard of semaglutides like Ozempic or Wegovy, which are very popular right now. In addition to promoting weight loss, these peptides can be used to increase the turnover of those senescent or “stuck” cells to improve functionality and efficiency.

    Peptides can be very effective in turning back the clock at the cellular level.

    Stem Cell Therapies

    Stem CellsStem cells are your cells of replication; they are the “raw materials” that your body uses to create other, more specialized cells. The efficiency and function of stem cells in your body are critical in order to heal and repair.

    Stem cell therapies, sometimes called regenerative medicine, introduce new stem cells into the body to allow it to make more healthy, efficient cells. These therapies sometimes use your own stem cells from fat tissue or other stem cells from embryos or umbilical cord blood.

    In addition to ethical concerns, one issue with stem cells is that they are transient in the body and are cleared out within six to 12 months. Also, if there is significant inflammation present in the body prior to the therapy, stem cell therapy can sometimes make it worse. It’s best to use your own personal stem cells, however this treatment can be extremely costly – sometimes as much as $12,000. That’s a lot of money for an effect that is cleared from your system in six months to a year.

    Since stem cell treatments actually give your body the cells that secrete peptides, the benefits are very similar to peptides. However, peptides cost significantly less and they don’t come with the ethical concerns of stem cells. At  $120 to $150 a vial, peptides are a much more affordable option.

    Fasting As an Anti-Aging Therapy

    FastingYou might wonder why I would include fasting in this post alongside other state-of-the-art treatments like peptides and stem cells. After all, I’ve talked about fasting many times on this blog already.

    Did you know that fasting accomplishes what ALL of these other interventions are trying to achieve? Fasting is a powerfully effective anti-aging therapy.

    How does fasting move the needle in dialing back those markers of aging we talked about?

    We mentioned nutrient testing as an anti-aging intervention last week. Fasting can help in the realm of nutrition by resetting the bacteria in the gut microbiome, which reduces chronic inflammation and improves how food is digested. This in turn actually improves the absorption and assimilation of nutrients after a fast, improving the body’s nutrient sensing ability.

    Fasting helps make detoxification more efficient, cleaning out and rejuvenating the brain as well as the liver. Fasting decreases stress on the body by reducing toxic burden and improves cell efficiency. If you have dysfunctional mitochondria and cell function, fasting promotes self-healing and repair.

    When your body is stressed through fasting, your stem cells become more regenerative! Your body starves out the senescent cells and then replaces them with new, healthier cells, combating that mitochondrial dysfunction we talked about last week.

    All of the other interventions I’ve mentioned in this series – nutrient testing, heat therapy, cold therapy, peptides, and stem cell therapies – work by replicating what fasting already does.

    These are some of the reasons that I’m personally a fan of either a calorie restricted diet or some kind of fasting — for the right people. For myself, I choose to do a water fast once a week for 24 hours. I do also drink herbal teas during the fast, but I just don’t eat calories for a 24 hour period once a week. This is a simple way to reduce stress in my body and replenish healthy cells.

    Using Leading-Edge Science to Reverse the Effects of Aging

    What is so powerful about these interventions is that most of them are available to the average person. You could try some cryotherapy with ice in your bathtub. You might do a little hydrotherapy in a hot bath, hot tub, or use the sauna at the gym. Layering in some fasting can combine with these techniques to have a massive impact.

    Of course, these advanced techniques are best used in addition to the functional medicine principles of real food, adequate sleep, adequate exercise, stress management, and having a supportive community. These lifestyle medicine aspects of functional medicine are the foundation of health. So more advanced interventions should be used in addition to these basic tenets and do not eliminate the need to focus on those foundations first.

    There is a saying that he who has his health has a thousand dreams, but he who does not has but one dream. Our goal here at RIFM is to help you keep or restore your health so that you have what you need to dream your biggest dreams.


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