Why Do We Age? And Can We Really Slow It Down?
We can indeed slow aging – and you will be surprised by how much.
To slow ageing is not a just a matter of appearance - if you slow aging, you also delay the unwanted effects of aging.
David Gems, Professor of Biology of Ageing at University College London confirms:
“If ageing is delayed in humans, you would have a reduction in most or all ageing related illnesses – cancer, dementia such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, blindness, osteoporosis.”
So, the reason to slow aging is not just to live longer – it is to live longer, better – fully independent and largely free from aches, pains and disease, with more energy and mentally undiminished.
This article was written by Colin Rose, a Senior Associate Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who has been writing on health science for over 30 years
The amount of research going now into the causes and ‘cures’ for aging is astonishing. Tens of billions of dollars are being spent by the leading Silicon Valley tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and by pharmaceutical giants.
The combination of these two industries is no coincidence, because artificial intelligence (machine learning) is now enabling bio-scientists to trawl through vast mountains of data on genomes, clinical trials, plant and chemical molecules.
The aim is to identify both the pathways behind aging and the natural molecules that can inhibit, slow, or even obstruct them.
I emphasised ‘pathways’. Because, although aging is basically caused by accumulative damage to your billions of cells – and therefore the tissues made up from those cells - there are multiple causes of that damage. Multiple pathways that, unchecked, drive aging and ‘age related illness.
I also put ‘age-related’ in quotes, because biological aging isn’t chronologically driven, it’s damage driven. Slow or inhibit that damage and you slow aging and stay healthy.
Why take action to slow ageing now?
There are major ‘high tech’ health-span developments that are just around the corner. But meantime the latest science confirms that there are nutrients – extracted from everyday plants - can provide a ‘time bridge’ to these other developments
We have already increased average life span dramatically. From 24 years in 1786, to 48 in 1886, to 79 now in USA and 81 in the UK (2021). We achieved that through reducing child mortality, through antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, better public sanitation, and better nutrition.
Most people would consider that a triumph, and it is. But in researching my book Delay Ageing: Healthy to 100, I checked out dozens of start-up technology companies involved in aging research. So, I have a good idea of what is coming.
The breakthroughs will be based on astonishing advances in computing, including quantum computing, which is in the relatively near future and is orders of magnitude more powerful than even today’s super computers.
This will deliver what’s called A.G.I. – Artificial General Intelligence. Currently A.I. is specialised – vast amounts of data are fed into today’s high-speed computers and are focused on a specific task – like finding a better diabetic drug. It is, indeed, already speeding up drug development.
A.G.I. though, is different – it works like a human super brain – you put a quantum computer to a broad, general task – like ‘Tell me all the causes of aging and then tell me how to overcome them’.
The AGI approach will revolutionise research and the development of drugs and interventions. Interventions like:
- Precision (individualised) gene therapy
- Tiny implants that monitor every aspect of your health and then alert your doctor to prescribe drugs to head of incipient problems,
- Blood tests to detect cancer and Alzheimer’s at an early (therefore more treatable) stage
- Organ regeneration via stem cell therapy,
- 3D printed organs,
- Editing proteins using CRISPR technology,
Even machine/human bionic combinations and a personal avatar – a digital representation of you.
(As an aside, avatars are a key aspect of Facebook’s ‘metaverse’ concept. The idea behind the metaverse is "extended reality" – the combination of augmented, virtual and mixed reality, where you, and eventually your avatar, interact with virtual reality environments via the internet). Hmm! Not quite sure why real humans aren’t enough?
Anyway, as a result of all this investment and research into aging, most scientists in the field assume that average life expectancy for people who are not yet 60, will be at least 100 within as little as ten to fifteen years. And that, unlike the present, most of these extra years will be healthy.
There are even some respected gerontologists who are confident that human lifespan will be 150-200 within 50 years.
This would necessitate some major societal changes. I worry about the impact on world’s resources and sustainability, about how long pensions last and about inter-generational fairness.
The real objective, I suggest, should be health extension. Not about extending the last, often drawn-out and troubled years of life, but about stretching out your middle years.
Living happily, living illness and medication free and contributing to society until about 100. Followed by a short old age until you ‘fall off your perch’!
But let’s get back to the here and now and ask….
What are the drivers of aging?
The nine ‘hallmarks’ of aging
In 2013 the respected journal ‘Cell’ asked a group of university scientists studying different aspects of aging to review all the existing literature on aging.
Their paper12, now called the "The Hallmarks of Aging," sums up what happens in our bodies biologically as we get older.
It all happens at the level of the cell, because cells make tissues, tissues make organs and organs make your body.
So, the aim is to proactively slow, prevent or even remove damage at the cellular level before a person falls prey to age related diseases.
Here are those hallmarks – i.e. pathways or processes - and what you can do to counteract the process. You’ll understand why it’s not enough to block or repair one ageing pathway, you need a multiple defence approach:
Errors appear in DNA.
When DNA is replicated as cells divide – (and that happens about 50 billion times a day!) - the code might not always be copied correctly.
Moreover, DNA is under frequent attack from numerous sources, including radiation, oxidative stress, environmental hazards, and dietary carcinogens in, for example, processed meats.
The extent to which DNA damage occurs—or can be prevented—correlates closely with how long we will live1.
The good news is that we have effective mechanisms in our bodies that repair DNA. (If we didn’t, we would die before 20, because this copying is on a huge, continuous scale from birth onwards). But inevitably these DNA replication errors are not always caught and as a result, genetic damage accumulates, and cells may break down or even turn cancerous.
So, scientists are working on drugs to improve the mechanism that repairs DNA. But we already know that certain phyto-nutrients can do that.
Why? Because plants face even greater risks to their DNA than animals do – since they can’t move to prevent solar or insect damage or to seek shade or water when DNA-threatening environmental stress sets in.
So, plants are naturally rich in biochemical DNA-protective compounds. And these plant or phyto-compounds seem to work as well in our cells as they do in theirs.
Phyto-nutrients in berry fruits are especially powerful DNA protectors, as is chlorophyllin found in green vegetables2. That’s why we put many of these phyto-nutrients in DailyColors.
Gene expression goes wrong.
Your genome – your genes are fixed, but not all genes are switched on – the medical term is ‘expressed’. In fact, about 50% are silent at any one time.
There are genes that protect you – e.g. tumour suppressor genes. You’ll want those switched on. But others e.g. onco-genes that increase your risk of cancer – you’ll definitely want those switched off or silenced.
This gene switching or gene expression is called ‘epigenetic’ moderation or change. It’s controlled by a group of proteins and enzymes (which are themselves proteins).
But as we get older, the proteins that are bound to DNA become looser and less accurate, and genes start to get expressed when they shouldn't be. Or get silenced in error.
Reversing errors in gene expression can improve brain function, immune strength and skin condition.
Phyto-nutrients that can make a positive impact on your epigenome - gene expression - include those from blue colour group plants (anthocyanins) and from red colour group plants (carotenoids). Other DNA protective compounds include vitamin C and nicotinamide, a version of vitamin B3.
Proteins become less efficient.
Genes continuously produce the millions (!) of proteins within each of your cells and these proteins ultimately control almost every body function. They carry signals and turn processes – including genes - on and off.
Proteins need to be recycled regularly because they lose their effectiveness and shape over time. But as we age, our bodies are less able to re-cycle the material in old proteins – or to eliminate these old proteins. So unusable proteins can build up and clump together and become toxic – obstructing the functionality of the cell. It’s rather like an over-crowded and messy workplace reduces productivity.
Protein accumulation is one of the major features of Alzheimer's disease — as proteins called beta-amyloid aggregate and clump in the brain and result in the loss of neurons and cognitive function.
Protein clumping also causes vision problems - glaucoma - and stiffening arterial cells – leading to blood pressure and heart problems.
Many phyto-nutrients are vital to making healthy proteins – especially those in fruits like blueberries, blackcurrants, and grapes and sulphur foods like onions and garlic, ginger, plus herbs like rosemary. That’s why we included phyto-nutrients from these plants in DailyColors. Other compounds that help slow protein accumulation include vitamin C, zinc and glucosamine.
Cells don't die when they should.
Cells don’t live for ever – they eventually stop dividing. At which point they should naturally enter what is called ‘programmed cell death’ or apoptosis. Their components are then ready to be re-cycled to make new cells.
But sometimes damage makes them become resistant to this normal and ‘cleansing’ death. They turn into something scientists call senescent cells or "zombie cells" - which pour out toxins that infect other cells in their vicinity and spread inflammation throughout the body.
Senescent cells accumulate with time and age – and, for example, cause wrinkles. Senescent cells in blood vessels make them stiffer and can lead to atherosclerosis or to inflammation in the brain.
Scientists have found that eliminating senescent cells in old mice reverses many of the effects of aging.
Several drugs called senolytics are now being developed with the goal of reducing senescent cells in the elderly to delay and treat age-related disease. But several phyto-nutrients act as natural senolytics. One of these is fisetin found mainly in strawberries, but also occurs in apples and onions.
Studies on DailyColors show that the blend helps significantly reduces the effect of senescent cells.
Mitochondria – which create your energy - malfunction.
Mitchondria are tiny organelles in your cells that convert oxygen and food into energy. But these mini powerplants normally become more inefficient and dysfunctional as we age – and can produce an altered form of oxygen, (called free radicals), that can cause severe damage to DNA and proteins.
In a study published in the premier science journal Nature, scientists were able to reverse wrinkles in mice and increase their vitality by restoring the function of their mitochondria3.
We know that phyto-nutrients from blueberries and grape skins and malate found in apples are among natural food compounds that can help protect and restore human mitochondria. These are in DailyColors. Others natural compounds include curcumin, Omega 3 and green tea.
Metabolism becomes imbalanced.
Cells need to sense and adapt to the amount of nutrients that are available. An imbalance with the cell's ability to sense or process nutrients causes problems, that include weight gain and diabetes.
With age, cells normally become less accurate at detecting the amount of glucose or fat that's in the diet and body, so some fats and sugars don't get properly processed.
Consequently, aging cells can accumulate an excess amount of fats - not because you necessarily eat a lot of fat, but because cells don't digest it properly.
Similarly aging cells often do not sense sugar intake properly. This means that insulin production is inefficient, blood sugar levels rise, and diabetes can develop. In addition, sugars and proteins combine, ‘glue together’ or ‘cross-link. This produces stiffer, inflexible fibres and can cause glaucoma and stiffened blood vessels – leading to blood pressure and heart disease.
Research suggests that plant polyphenols – a category of phyto-nutrients - help the body maintain its ability to sense nutrient intake4. These include quercetin, oleuropein (in olive plants) resveratrol, EGCG (in Green Tea) and curcumin. The same research indicates that maintaining a high ability to sense nutrient intake can help reduce the risk of neuro-degenerative disease, including Alzheimers4 6
The supply of stem cells declines
Stem cells are ‘generalist’ cells that have the ability to become different types of cells in our body.
They can also act as part of your internal repair system, replacing cells that are damaged or dead. But as we age, the number of stem declines and existing ones become less active – meaning that tissues that should be renewed, are not. And the rate of cell and tissue renewal becomes slower, which is a reason why tissue damage accumulates.
Once again recent – 2020 – research suggests that polyphenols i.e. phytonutrients - may act as a form of stem cell therapy5. Phyto-nutrients that are cited in this study include those from blueberries, olives, grapes, green tea, curcumin and apigenin.
Cells fail to communicate properly.
Cells need to continuously communicate with each other. They send signals through the blood stream and the immune system. But this communication becomes poorer as our bodies get older and senescent cells accumulate.
For example, cells need to signal to communicate their boundaries and if that is poor, they may begin to clump together and become tumours. Other cells become less responsive, turning into senescent cells which pour out inflammation-causing toxins.
When immune cells fail to communicate, the immune system is unable to clear out viral or bacterial pathogens and senescent cells.
And when messages sent through the hormonal network fail, molecules such as insulin fail to function properly.
Researchers note that both inflammation and DNA damage impair cell communication7. Which is why diets with a high level of phyto-nutrients – which both counter inflammation AND support DNA repair - help maintain healthy cell communication.
Phyto-nutrients, Omega 3 and vitamins A,C,D and E, together with the minerals zinc and selenium are also key to helping prevent the immune system weakening as we get older – which otherwise is the norm.
It is a weakening of the immune system that is linked to the increase in diseases like cancer and pneumonia that occur with age.
Telomeres are the protective caps or tips at the ends of each strand of DNA. Telomeres protect the ends of our DNA and are frequently compared to the plastic caps at the ends of our shoelaces which protect them from unravelling.
Every time cells divide, the tips of the chromosome become shorter. When the telomeres are lost, chromosomes become unstable, and abnormalities arise that usually kill cells or make them dangerous.
But the question is – when telomeres become shorter is this a cause of aging on its own – or the result of the other eight hallmarks of ageing? I rather think the latter.
The microbiome becomes out of balance
In the last few years we have come to realise the huge effect our gut microbes have on our health. Not least because some 70% of immune cells originate there. So, the ratio of good versus ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut can be considered a 10th Hallmark of Aging.
Our food intake affects this balance, because out trillions of intestinal bacteria feed on it. So, whereas sugary foods encourage harmful bacteria to proliferate, fruits - and especially vegetables and their complex starches and phyto-nutrients - help the beneficial strains to thrive and therefore improve the ratio of good to bad bacteria.
It’s all connected
Although we don’t yet know exactly how all these Hallmarks of Aging are connected – they clearly are. For example, we know that stem cells decline over time because of epigenetic dysregulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, protein accumulation, crosslinking, inflammation and accumulation senescent cells.
We can also see that phyto-nutrients and color phyto-nutrients are important protective elements against all these ten hallmarks of ageing – in addition to their key role in inhibiting ageing enzymes.
And we can see why the Mediterranean Diet is so closely linked to longevity. It features so many of the nutrients that help counteract the multiple causes of aging.
But it’s not only what you eat that counts – it’s what you don’t eat. Top of the list to eat far less are sugars, in all their forms.
Sugars are highly aging for multiple reasons. They cause inflammation, they cause frequent insulin peaks which can lead to diabetes, they increase cross-linking of fats and proteins and therefore stiffer blood vessels in the heart, brain, skin and eyes - and they lack vital nutrients.
Sugars and sugary foods are also addictive and not filling. Not for nothing are they called ‘empty calories’.
By now, almost everyone knows that fast absorbed sugars include not just table sugar, but soft drinks, candy and sweets, baked goods and cake and many fast foods and sauces. But fewer know that potatoes, pasta, white bread and rice are also metabolised like sugar. The process is slightly slower, but the end result is the same. So cut down on them, too, if you want to slow ageing.
Although better diets and nutrition, together with well-researched supplements like DailyColors, are the most effective thing you can do to slow aging currently, it is not, of course, the only thing.
Other essentials, confirmed by research, if you want to live healthier for longer include:
- Regular exercise on at least 5 days a week
- 7-8 hours of sleep,
- not over-eating
- stress reduction
- and giving yourself a 12-hour minimum ‘window’ between your last food at night and the first in the morning – because that ‘calorie holiday’ lowers your blood sugar level.
Follow this simple plan and you can expect to increase not just your lifespan, but more importantly your health-span.
A final thought.
At the present, conventional medicine is trying to deal with diseases like dementia, cancer, heart disease, diabetes one at a time. But that’s like trying to put multiple fingers in multiple holes in a dyke.
These diseases are all related to the aging process. So, isn’t it sensible to be proactive, to take action to slow ageing down and therefore help tackle the root cause of them all, simultaneously?
- Human longevity and variation in DNA damage response and repair: study of the contribution of sub-processes using competitive gene-set analysis | European Journal of Human Genetics (nature.com)
- Chlorophyllin intervention reduces aflatoxin–DNA adducts in individuals at high risk for liver cancer (nih.gov)
- Reversing wrinkled skin and hair loss in mice by restoring mitochondrial function | Cell Death & Disease (nature.com)
- Dietary Polyphenols: A Multifactorial Strategy to Target Alzheimer’s Disease (nih.gov) Disease (mdpi.com)
- Stem Cells as Potential Targets of Polyphenols in Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer's Disease - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Polyphenols: multipotent therapeutic agents in neurodegenerative diseases - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Aging, Rejuvenation, and Epigenetic Reprogramming: Resetting the Aging Clock (nih.gov)
- Modern Biological Theories of Aging (nih.gov)
- Modern evolutionary mechanics theories and resolving the programmed/non-programmed aging controversy - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Is the Evolutionary Programmed/ Non-programmed Aging Argument Moot? - PubMed (nih.gov)
- A Darwinian-evolutionary concept of age-related diseases - ScienceDirect
- The Hallmarks of Aging: Cell