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Aging – we’re all doing it, every second of every day. But, how well we do it – ideally with health, vitality and great-looking skin – is another question entirely. If you’ve been walking a healthy path from the get-go, then a million anti-aging kudos to you. On the other hand, if you haven’t always been considerate to your physical self, don’t despair over changes you wish you’d made way back when. The good news is that many studies show that it’s never too late to embrace new habits and start enjoying the health benefits. In other words, it’s still possible to put the brakes on aging by focusing on the lifestyle essentials, like how much you eat; how much you move your body; how much restful sleep you get; and how much stress you can comfortably tolerate. All have a big impact not only your life span but your “health span.” My advice? Weave in as many healthful habits as possible, one at a time, or all at once – whichever way works best for you! Adjust and tweak them until looking and feeling great becomes your new default setting – a sure sign that those positive, age-defying steps are paying off.
But, is there any one secret to aging wonderfully? No – there are actually quite a few of them, and many of them seem to impact the mTOR longevity gene.
Meet mTOR – helping to orchestrate both youth and aging.
The mTOR system is a complex of proteins that helps regulate how we get bigger and how we grow older, in other words, how much energy gets invested in growth and how much gets dedicated to maintenance over the long haul. In the animal world, if there’s abundant food, the mTOR system gets turned up, the animal gets fat, sassy and ready to reproduce. When there’s scarcity, mTOR puts on the breaks, metabolism, especially protein production, slows down, and the animal can survive longer on less food.
Similarly, when we human types are young and well-fed, mTOR is full throttle, with our cells dividing like crazy, taking us from babyhood all the way up to our adult size. The problem is, as adults, if we keep our foot on the mTOR accelerator by eating round the clock – especially lots of animal protein – we’re likely to pay a high price, in the form of unchecked cellular growth and more waste products than the body can safely get rid of. The result: an increased risk of cancer and a generally worse odds of living a long life.
So, bottom line, we have to exercise some dietary smarts and self-restraint if we want to stay in synch with the aging body’s changing needs. When we tamp down our mTOR system, we redirect the body’s energy supply. More is spent on repair and maintenance, like taking out the cellular garbage, via the essential process known as “autophagy.”
Eat right — and eat less — for less mTOR.
Your mission as a full-grown adult? To get your metabolism functioning like a fuel-efficient car, running as far and long as possible on a tank of gas. As I’ve discussed in my recent post, The 4 New Rules of Eating for Aging Well, two great ways to downshift mTOR is to go low-carb, to shift your metabolism from a carb-burning machine to a fat burning one, and to cut back on animal protein, especially red meat. Unfortunately, a carb heavy diet tends to ramp up mTOR, as does red meat which contains high amounts of branched chain amino acids like leucine, which also stimulates mTOR. In other words, a carb and meat-heavy diet in adulthood will do you no longevity favors.
As low-carb veggies and plant protein don’t offer nearly as much branch chain aminos to contend with, so eating right and light helps keep your mTOR in check and autophagy – which salvages worn-out cells and recycles them for energy and new cells – going strong. All good reasons to dial up the plants and plant protein and dial down the branch chained amino acids found in meat and dairy. Trade them in for excellent sources of plant protein like lentils, chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, organic tempeh, nut butter, pea protein powder, hemp powder, etc. – and don’t forget the leafy greens.
Slow the aging clock with intermittent fasting.
Another time-tested technique to help suppress mTOR activity is to restrict caloric intake. I’m not talking about living on carrot sticks, but rather a modern and sane approach to eating more strategically known as intermittent fasting. In the easiest form of IF, you eat all your meals within a daily 8 -12 hour window. In the “time-restricted” version, you make sure to eat all your meals as early in the day as possible. Other forms of IF are more ambitious, including alternate-day fasting, the 5:2 approach, and so on. But what they all have in common is lightly stressing the cells of the body, in a good way, suppressing mTOR activity and triggering autophagy.
Supplement your youth.
Supplements won’t undo the effects of a sub-par diet, but assuming you’re eating well, supplements are helpful for filling in the dietary gaps. They can help keep your immune system functioning robustly, improve the function of the mitochondria (the energy powerhouses of your cells) and impact your longevity gene pathways – all of which will help you age better and more slowly. Granted, lots of people do well without ever taking supplements, but my experience is that targeted supplementation is usually helpful. Although the science may not be quite there yet, I strongly believe in the anti-aging properties of the following supplements, many of which inhibit mTOR activity – and take them myself:
1) Alpha-lipoic acid is a potent antioxidant which naturally occurs in every one of your cells, but the body doesn’t make enough of it! ALA helps fight inflammation, balance blood sugar, modulate the immune system, protect skin collagen, support the health of your nervous system, and boost the effectiveness of other antioxidants. You can get some ALA in grass-fed red meat—especially organ meats—and vegetables like broccoli and spinach. But most of us need more.
Dosage: 300 to 600 milligrams per day (non-meat-eaters should aim for the higher end).
2) Curcumin helps combat inflammation, which reduces pain and fatigue, improves mood, boosts cognitive function, and stimulates longevity gene pathways. Curcumin is also found in traditional anti-cancer herbal formulas because it can interrupt the growth of cancer cells.
Dosage: 500 to 1,000 milligrams twice a day. Take it with good fats, like eggs or avocado, so it can be properly absorbed. Add turmeric to your cooking too.
3) Nicotinamide riboside (NR) supports many aspects of healthy aging. It’s an alternative form of vitamin B3 that’s converted by your body into a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which exists inside every cell. The amount of NAD+ in your cells naturally decreases as you age; this decrease has been linked to illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. NR keeps that NAD+ up, and it also supports healthy brain function and cognition. It works best when combined with resveratrol and quercetin. A similar supplement, nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), which leads to an increase in NAD+ levels, has recently entered the market. NR and NMN both do basically the same thing.
Dosage: 250-1,000mg per day
4) Quercetin is a plant pigment that shows up in small amounts in foods like grapes, berries, cherries, apples, onions, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and tea. It’s an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that helps to lower blood pressure, protect the body from age-related diseases, reduce the risk of cancer, decrease viral growth, and support the heart. You can’t get very much from food, so it’s a good idea to supplement. On its own, quercetin is not easily absorbed, so look for supplements that pair it with vitamin C or digestive enzymes like bromelain to aid absorption.
Dosage: 500 to 1,000 milligrams per day
5) Resveratrol is a polyphenol with powerful antioxidant properties. It’s anti-inflammatory, it may prevent cancer, and it’s neuroprotective, meaning, good for the brain. It seems to mimic the beneficial effects of calorie restriction. Resveratrol seem to boost the activity of enzymes in the body called sirtuins (a family of longevity genes), which control certain biological pathways and are known to be involved in the aging process. It’s found in grape skins, pomegranates, wine and raw cacao, but only a supplement can deliver the appropriate, recommended dosage.
Dosage: 200 to 300 milligrams per day.
6) Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial to health, particularly metabolic health. They reduce inflammation and lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Most people don’t get enough omega-3’s in their diet. Buy good fish oil that’s been tested for mercury.
Dosage: 1 to 3 grams per day.
What about anti-aging drugs?
I’m not a proponent of pharmaceuticals (except, perhaps, as a last resort). But recent research suggests metformin, the world’s most prescribed drug (for lowering blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes) could be something of a game-changer. In mice studies, it’s been shown to reduce inflammation and mimic some of the positive effects of caloric restriction on longevity gene pathways. And researchers have looked at the health histories of groups of people taking metformin and found they often lived longer, with less disease, than similar groups of people who didn’t take the drug. Now, the FDA has approved a study that will look at Metformin in a controlled clinical trial. But metformin is not without its downsides, including possibly blunting the health benefits of exercise and inhibiting mitochondrial function and vitamin B12 absorption.