Age Is Just a Number | Part 1:

Beyond Wrinkles and Gray Hair

Getting to the Root Cause of Aging

Dr. Aaron Hartman

August 15, 2023

Beyond wrinkles and gray hair

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 the next two weeks, 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.

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?


two women different age

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.

Today 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? Next week I’ll share some of my favorite interventions so that you can start using these anti-aging principles in your life right away.

Don’t Miss this New Docuseries!

Want to learn more about the aging process and how you can turn back the clock? I was recently honored to contribute to an exciting docuseries on the topic: Ageless. Check out the trailer here.

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