1. Poor nutrition: Those methyl groups we discussed that influence gene expression are actually made directly from the nutrients you eat, such as folate from green vegetables. A nutrient-rich diet with a diversity of plants, healthy proteins and high quality, healthy fats actually feed and nourish your genes which not only manifest in optimal health for you, but also allow you to pass these pristine genes to your children and grandchildren. Most of the patients I see in my clinic are eating highly nutrient-deficient diets that are starving their genes and contributing to accelerated aging. The other major dietary culprit behind accelerated aging is an abundance of glucose. Excess carbohydrate intake (sugar, starches and even whole grains) can damage your proteins by binding directly to form substances called advanced glycated end products, also known appropriately as “AGEs.” Back to our smartphone analogy, even if your genetic code is clean and has produced the right protein or “App,” excess glucose , like a bad software virus, can bind to your protein Apps and cause them to malfunction. So micronutrient deficiencies can disable your genes from producing the right proteins needed for optimal health, while excess glucose from too much sugar and carbohydrates can damage proteins directly.
2. Inactivity: A study done in over 2,000 identical twins who carry the same genetic material showed that the more active twins had longer, healthier telomeres than their genetically identical siblings. The most active twins had genes that appeared 9 years younger than their inactive siblings. So genes are not immutable and can be influenced by behaviors such as exercise, which promotes anti-aging and prevents chronic disease.
3. Stress: A 2004 study comparing the telomeres of a group of age-matched mothers with healthy children versus mothers who cared for children with a chronic illness (high chronic stress group) showed shorter, unhealthier telomeres in the mothers caring for the sick children. Despite being the same chronological age, the mothers of the ill children genetically looked almost a decade older. Chronic stress promotes inflammation and oxidative damage that is inflicted upon DNA, which increases disease risk and accelerates aging. Read my blog post on stress here.
4. Low vitamin D: Vitamin D appears to be involved in the process of DNA methylation, promoting telomere length, and in reducing chronic inflammation, all processes critical for halting accelerated aging. Does this mean taking vitamin D supplements is a proven anti-aging strategy? This has not been proven, but getting natural doses of vitamin D with safe sun exposure and physician supervised supplementation based on your blood levels appears to be a reasonable strategy. We’ll cover vitamin D in detail in a future post and I discuss it in detail in my book.
How Fast Are We Aging?Back to my original question stated in the title…”Are we aging too fast?” Hopefully I’ve convinced you that the answer in our modern world is a resounding yes. Most of the patients I see in my clinic are sedentary Silicon Valley workers who have all 4 major age accelerators. They are eating a nutrient deficient and glucose abundant diet, they are completely inactive, they are experiencing high stress and most are significantly vitamin D deficient due to work lives and personal lives confined predominantly to indoor, sun-deprived spaces. Their spines are arthritic and their arteries are becoming blocked with heart-attack causing plaques in their third or fourth decade of life. Formerly known as “diseases of aging,” these conditions are presenting early in life. Even more startling is seeing the effects of these age accelerators on today’s children, who are suffering from conditions like adult onset diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver. If you are planning to have children, realize that future fathers and mothers who are leading unhealthy lives may be passing their sick genes onto their children and grandchildren, increasing their risk of obesity and chronic disease. Your lifestyle decisions are no longer just about you, but can shape the health of future generations.