What if you could turn back the clock to become three years younger in just eight weeks?
Sounds too good to be true, right?
In today’s Try This newsletter we’re going to be walking you through a groundbreaking study published in The Journal of Aging that was conducted by my friend Dr. Kara Fitzgerald and show you exactly what her study participants did to reverse their biological age by over three years!
Here’s a preview of what we’ll be covering in today’s newsletter:
- What DNA methylation is and the role it plays in turning your “good genes” on and your “bad genes” off.
- The exact diet, supplement, and lifestyle prescription that Dr. Fitzgerald had her study participants follow, and the science behind how they promote longevity.
Why This Study Is a Big Deal
If you’ve dipped your toes into the longevity space, you probably know that a healthy diet and lifestyle are important for long-term health, but there haven’t been any interventional trials to back this claim up—until now.
Dr. Fitzgerald’s study is the first of its kind to take the concept of epigenetics and apply it to a randomized controlled trial, and it shows that some of the best ways to lengthen our health span are free, practical, and available to everybody.
This week, we’re diving deep into the diet and lifestyle interventions of her study and discussing all the details so you can see why they reverse aging and how you can integrate them into your life to start reaping the antiaging and longevity benefits.
For anyone who wants to continue the conversation beyond this newsletter, we highly recommend picking up a copy of Dr. Fitzgerald’s newly published book, Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better.
Genetics Load the Gun, but Lifestyle Pulls the Trigger
There are about 20,000 genes that make up the human genome (1). Every protein, cell, and molecule that makes us who we are comes from the genes that are given to us by our parents—and those genes never change.
The expression of those genes, however, can change. Through the power of epigenetics, we can change how our genes are expressed by altering the environment we expose them to internally—for better or worse. Yes, some genetic variants make us more susceptible to chronic disease than others.
The APOE4 gene, for example, is linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease (2), but that doesn’t mean it’s a life sentence. In his book, The End of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Dale Bredesen describes the risks associated with the APOE4 gene and provides strategies for preventing and reversing Alzheimer’s.
Even though you can’t change your genes, they are not your fate. They are only part of the story. If we eat a high-quality diet, incorporate daily movement, get plenty of rest and sunshine, manage our stress, and limit our exposure to toxins, our genes (and the expression of those genes) will be more likely to promote health and longevity.
If we’re chronically stressed, eating junk, drinking alcohol, not exercising, or not getting enough sleep, that puts a lot of stress on our bodies, damages our DNA, and expresses genes that are consistent with disease.
To a certain extent, our bodies are equipped to handle stress. We have detoxification and antioxidant systems built inside of us that work hard to keep inflammation at bay. But our world is toxic. We are constantly being exposed to stressors, even if we live a healthy lifestyle, so it’s inevitable that we accumulate damage as we age. I know this sounds a little bleak, but I promise there’s a silver lining here.
Epigenetics can also help us repair the wear and tear that happens as we age. Using tools like nutrition, exercise, sleep, and relaxation, we can inundate our genes in an environment that will modulate gene expression to promote health. How? This is where DNA methylation comes in.
Methylation is a biochemical process that occurs in our bodies billions of times every second. Cell division, DNA repair, detoxification, development, and so much more depend on methylation. But how does this fundamental-for-life process work? And how does it relate to epigenetics and gene expression?
For methylation to occur, a methyl group (-CH3)—that’s a carbon element attached to three hydrogen atoms—is added to or removed from our DNA, hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune cells. When a gene is methylated, that usually means the gene is turned off. When a gene has little-to-no methyl groups, that means the gene is turned on (3). Whether we want a gene turned on or off depends on the methylation of that specific gene.
For example, we want our tumor suppressor genes turned on all the time to prevent the cataclysmic differentiation of cells. If tumor suppressor genes are turned off, cancer cells can proliferate and tumors can develop (4)(5). DNA methylation is responsible for how our genes express themselves at any given moment and can shift our biology to either have a positive or negative effect.
What I really admire about Dr. Fitzgerald’s study is that it’s the first of its kind to show you don’t need expensive biohacking tools or supplements to reverse the aging process. You can intercept aging at the intersection between gene and gene expression using DNA methylation simply by making changes to your diet and lifestyle—something anybody can do.
Next, let’s go over the step-by-step breakdown of her study so you can see why these interventions were selected, understand how they affect gene expression, and learn exactly what the participants were doing to knock three years off their biological age!
Study Design: the Who, What, and Why
Goal: To see if diet and lifestyle changes could be enough to reverse biological aging.
Study Group: Study participants included 43 healthy adult men between the ages of 50 and 72 without a history of chronic disease. Twenty-one men were randomly assigned to the treatment group; the remaining were in the control group and received no intervention.
Note: Women were excluded from the study to avoid confounding factors associated with sex-hormone changes that affect DNA methylation in the pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal age ranges. In our conversation, Dr. Fitzgerald shared that they plan on conducting a larger study that includes women in the future.
Intervention and Duration: Participants were given a diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, and supplement protocol to follow for eight weeks and regular coaching sessions to ensure program adherence. The science behind why certain components were included in the intervention are explained below, as well as how they relate to aging and longevity.
For my protocol this week, we summarized the interventions included in Dr. Fitzgerald’s study in an easy-to-read table based on the one included in the research article. We even made it into a pdf, so you can easily print it out, hang it up on your refrigerator, or share it with a friend.
Diet and Lifestyle Prescription
Diet Overview: Participants were assigned a plant-rich, keto-leaning diet (very similar to a Pegan diet) with emphasis on foods that contain nutrients that promote longevity and target methylation pathways. Food quality can significantly impact nutrient density and composition, so participants were asked to purchase organic, free-range, and grass-fed sources wherever possible.
- Targeted Methylation Nutrients: Betaine and folate are two important nutrient cofactors involved in DNA methylation. Beets were included for being a good source of betaine, as were dark, leafy, green vegetables, eggs, and liver for their folate content. The study included grass-fed liver for its high bioavailability of nutrients that are otherwise challenging to get enough of from diet alone, like vitamin A.Additionally, eggs and liver are amazing sources of vitamin B6, B12 (also important for methylation), and B3 (aka niacin), the precursor to NAD+, which is well known for its antiaging benefits. NAD+ keeps DNA healthy, regulates our circadian rhythm, and is a requirement for mitochondrial health and energy production. Additionally, NAD+ is a cofactor for several enzymes, including sirtuins, which play a crucial role in healthy aging and longevity (6).
- Vegetables and Fruits: Cruciferous vegetables were a featured class of vegetables included in the diet prescription because they contain chemical compounds that support detoxification and healthy aging and turn off genes associated with cancer (7).Colorful vegetables, berries, and low-glycemic fruits were also included for being good sources of vitamin C, which helps remove methyl groups from DNA (8). They are also rich in polyphenols that modulate the gut microbiome to produce anti-inflammatory metabolites that combat inflammation associated with aging.
- Herbs and Spices: One or more servings of herbs and spices were included every day. The study included turmeric, rosemary, green tea, and garlic because their polyphenols can help modulate the transfer of methyl groups to DNA.
- Protein: Animal protein is more bioavailable and better for building muscle mass than plant protein. Getting enough protein is critical for preventing sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass) that’s common with aging.However, a high-protein diet keeps the mTOR pathway turned on, which promotes muscle growth but at the cost of lowering NAD+ and turning off your antiaging defenses. For this reason, animal protein was included in the dietary protocol but in limited quantities.
- Fat: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin-seed oil were underscored for their rich mineral content and essential fatty acid composition, which is necessary for cellular function and brain health.
- Foods That Were Avoided: Sugar was avoided for obvious reasons: it’s inflammatory, it causes metabolic dysfunction, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress, it feeds cancer cells and bad gut bacteria, and it is extremely pro-aging.Dairy is a common food sensitivity for many people that can trigger inflammation and gut irritation. Grains and legumes were also excluded for this reason. Wheat can cause issues for people due to its high gluten content and is especially problematic in the US because it’s sprayed with glyphosate directly before harvest. Legumes can cause problems with their lectin content, which irritates the gut.
Intermittent Fasting: All calories were consumed in the 12-hour time frame between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Not eating a few hours before bed helps with sleep, turns off mTOR, and allows the body to focus on autophagy, DNA, and cellular repair at rest. Fasting also turns on sirtuins genes that lower inflammation and prevent cells from turning into zombie cells (9)(10)(11).
Exercise Prescription: The intervention included a minimum of 30 minutes per day, five days a week, at a perceived exertion of 60-80 percent intensity. (Sixty percent was equivalent to breathing slightly heavily and 80 percent was breathing heavily but still able to have a conversation.)
The activity could be whatever the participants wanted as long as it met the criteria. Exercise is one of the most powerful and underrated antiaging drugs. It’s another fantastic way to kill zombie cells and lower markers of inflammation and cellular aging.
Stress Management Prescription: Twice-daily guided breathing exercises were a part of the lifestyle intervention using the “Relaxation Response”, a technique coined by Dr. Herbert Benson in his book The Relaxation Response. Dr. Benson was one of the first to make meditation mainstream by providing scientific evidence that it shifts your physiology to promote better health and well-being by counteracting stress and the fight-or-flight response.
In my opinion, this was an extremely valuable feature of this study because I don’t think the impact of stress on our physical bodies gets the attention it deserves. Chronic stress speeds up cellular aging, shortens our telomeres, and can shorten life expectancy by nearly three years! That’s why I was excited to see that stress management was included in this study.
Sleep Prescription: This was another key parameter of the study. It was advised that participants get at least seven hours of sleep per night. So much takes place while we’re asleep—our glymphatic system turns on (that’s our brain’s immune system), and our immune system is hard at work repairing damaged cells and DNA. Not getting enough sleep is directly tied to oxidative stress and aging.
Supplement Prescription: Lastly, the study included two supplements: a probiotic that contained Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, a gut-bacteria strain that increases folate production, and a greens powder that contained a combination of organic vegetables, fruits, seeds, herbs, enzymes, prebiotics, and probiotics.
Odds and Ends: The participants were told to stay hydrated and minimize the use of plastic food containers. Plastics contain BPA and phthalates, two extremely potent endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are linked to hormonal cancers, dementia, and Alzheimer’s (12)(13).
What Did the Results Show?
We put the spoiler in the beginning but here’s the kicker—the treatment group scored an average of 3.23 years younger at the end of the program, while the control group scored 1.27 years older at the end of the study. How’s that for an age difference? If that doesn’t seem like much, try filling out Dr. Fitzgerald’s Biological Aging Self-Assessment questionnaire to see how your biological age differs from your chronological age (you might be surprised).
The treatment group experienced changes in their methylation patterns that were consistent with younger biological age. This effect was desirable because too much methylation isn’t necessarily a good thing. The goal is to modulate methylation in a way that promotes the expression of health-promoting longevity genes, which is exactly what happened.
As far as metabolic markers go, there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and an average 25-percent decrease in triglycerides, from 112mg/dL to 89mg/dL, which the researchers attributed to the low-carbohydrate diet and exercise. Serum levels of folate increased 15 percent from dietary sources of folate and folate-producing probiotics.
Not too shabby for an eight-week intervention, right? Imagine integrating a holistic diet and lifestyle approach like this into your life right now for the long game. Just think how many years you could take off your biological age!
Try This: Below is a table that summarizes the diet, supplement, and lifestyle interventions used in the study. This table was taken from Dr. Fitzgerald’s study and modified to be reader friendly. If you want to check out the original table for yourself, you can find it here.
For a much deeper breakdown of the study, we highly recommend picking up a copy of Dr. Fitzgerald’s new book, Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better.
Dr. Fitzgerald’s age-in-reverse protocol is laid out in detail in her new book Younger You, but for those who are looking for more support and accountability on the program, be sure to check out her 3 Years Younger (3YY) Program where you can also get access to the exact supplements used in her study (listed in the table above).
Dr. Fitzgerald’s study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that we have more power over the aging process than we thought—and you don’t have to break the bank doing it.
Through diet and lifestyle interventions, we can target DNA methylation and “turn on” our health-promoting longevity genes. At the end of this eight-week intervention, the treatment group averaged 3.23 years younger. Imagine what our biological age would look like if we integrated this diet and lifestyle prescription into our lives for good.
My friend and business partner, Dr. Mark Hyman, said that the reason diets don’t work is because they have an expiration date. But something powerful happens when we step into adopting healthy habits for the long run. Contrary to popular belief, adopting healthy habits doesn’t have to make our lives miserable; in fact, it gives us the energy and mental acuity we need to give love and attention to what matters most to us in life.
I hope you enjoyed today’s newsletter, and as always, please let us know your thoughts in the feedback section below. Stay tuned to next week’s newsletter, where we’ll be sharing my top tips for how to integrate the most underrated spices and herbs into your everyday life for some serious antiaging benefits.
Here’s to your longevity!