Best-selling authors Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen share antiaging secrets that can add years to your life—and life to your years.
The traditional focus of the medical community’s antiaging campaign has been on the treatment and prevention of chronic disease thought to be an intrinsic part of growing old. The reasoning was clear: Since heart disease and cancer alone accounted for more than 50 percent of all deaths associated with old age, it seemed logical to assume that preventing killer diseases would result in us all living longer—a lot longer.
As it turns out, this isn’t what happens. As devastating as these diseases are, wiping them out only increases average life expectancy by about 91⁄2 years—not the projected 30 to 40. Why? Because something else takes their place.
To add serious years to your life—and life to your years—you have to slow your rate of aging on the cellular level. And you can do just that by taking advantage of recent scientific insights. By learning about the roles of mitochondria, sirtuin, and nitric oxide in the body, you’ll be able to apply these remarkable discoveries to your own life. Death is a destination we all reach some day. But how long the trip takes and how bumpy the ride is, to a surprisingly large degree, up to you.
Despite recent headlines heralding the discovery of the so-called “death gene,” you are not genetically programmed to die. Not even close. Your genes do play an important role in the aging process, just not the one most originally thought. Here’s how it all works.
The Stingy Gene
It’s easy to think that your genes insure a long and healthy life. This is true—but only up to a point. Since the fate of the human race depends on passing along our precious genes, it’s not surprising that genes call the shots. And just like the lucky fox picked to develop the rules for efficient henhouse operation, the gene stacks the deck in its favor.
Genes manage your body much like you manage your household. However, genes are more concerned with energy than dollars. And energy, like money, is always in short supply. Budgets must be established, priorities set. In short, your genes function like bookkeepers focused on three key biological budget categories:
- Reproductive Expenses: Reproductive expenses include the energy cost of giving birth and breastfeeding, as well as the energy associated with dating, courting, mating, worrying, and chasing after the kids.
- Maintenance Expenses: Think of maintenance as overhead—the cost of keeping the lights on. Maintenance expenses include the energy cost of being alive, which covers the processing of food, air, and other inputs. Maintenance also involves all the cost involved in fighting off infection, healing wounds, mending broken bones, or repairing damaged DNA.
- Growth Expenses: Growth expenses include the energy required to increase body size—in length, height, and weight.
The gene knows that the time and energy you use for one purpose limit the resources available for others. For example, energy spent fighting off infection or battling cancer means fewer resources available for reproduction. While it would seem to make perfect sense to spend whatever is necessary to maintain your health, the gene is sympathetic to this view only up to a point. The gene is all for prompt and complete payment of growth and maintenance bills, as long as they are in service of your reproductive mission and never come at the cost of reduced reproductive potential (budget priority #1).
While the gene always earns a perfect credit rating score when it comes to paying reproductive expenses, there are always a reasonable number of repair and maintenance bills that are past due. Several bills will go unpaid altogether. It’s not that there isn’t enough “cash” to pay the outstanding balances; it’s just that the gene is worried there may not be enough left over to cover all reproductive expenses. The miserly gene knows when you are young and healthy, a few past-due repair and maintenance bills won’t impact your ability to produce healthy children. However, over time, the reproductive version of robbing Peter to pay Paul begins to take a toll on your health.
Aging: The Price We Pay for Reproducing
The gradual accumulation of unrepaired damage is the essence of aging. Like water dripping constantly on stone, little by little our bodies become worn down; we become frail. This is why eliminating cancer and heart disease have such a modest impact on longevity. In a weakened state, it’s just a matter of time before something—whether it’s the flu or a fall down the stairs—breaks the camel’s back for good. So aging is the result of a trade-off. The gene-directed preferential payment of reproductive expenses means that there will be insufficient funds to cover all repair and maintenance cost.
What is a cell to do?
Now that you understand the game, you can see two ways to slow the aging process:
- Decrease the Damage Rate, so that existing repair budgets will be sufficient; and/or
- Increase the Repair Rate by diverting resources away from reproduction into maintenance and repair.
As it turns out, the only scientifically proven method to consistently slow the rate of aging and dramatically increase lifespan, Caloric Restriction, works by both decreasing damage and enhancing repair mechanisms.
Calories Down, Longevity Up
Over the past few years we’ve learned that reducing the number of calories available to laboratory animals significantly increases lifespan. Calorie restriction (CR) may cause genes to redirect spending away from reproduction toward maintenance and repair. As the theory goes, the gene interprets the severe caloric cutback as a sign of a harsh unforgiving environment—one in which the probability of survival of a newborn is low. So low, in fact, that the parent may also be in jeopardy. In an act that only looks magnanimous, the gene decides that it is in its best interest to shut down reproductive activities to plow all available resources into helping the prospective future parent survive until tough times pass. At that time, investments in reproduction are more likely to pay dividends.
If calorie restriction extends lifespan by increasing maintenance, you would see evidence of reproductive cutbacks and increased activity in repair and maintenance processes. That is exactly what scientists found. First, scientists noticed the CR animals had become sterile. They also found that in as little as eight weeks, CR animals had significantly higher levels of DNA repair mechanisms. Also, antioxidant levels inside cells were significantly higher in the CR animals. The natural antioxidants in your cells are scavenging free radicals before they do damage to cells. The net result of these and other mechanisms is that a roughly 40 percent cut in calories causes a corresponding increase in lifespan by around the same 40 percent. Coincidence? Not likely.
Scientists now have a plausible explanation of how CR actually works at a mechanistic level. It centers around a special kind of protein called sirtuin. Calorie restriction activates sirtuin, which in turn allows your cells to function properly even if they have minor damage.
Will You Actually Live Longer, or Will It Just Seem Longer?
Although there is some anecdotal evidence that a 40 percent calorie-restricted diet improves lifespan in humans, not many of us could succeed with this choice. We may live longer, but the quality of that life may not be worth living, which is why scientists are so excited about the prospects of drugs that mimic calorie restriction. Resveratrol, an active ingredient found in grapes used to make red wine, is a CR mimic that has generated enormous attention. Although early results are promising, it may be five years to decades before drugs such as resveratrol are available.
What are you supposed to do in the meantime?
While there may not be a fountain-of-youth, antiaging silver bullet on the immediate horizon, that’s not to say you can’t take significant steps to slow your rate of aging. Get a do-over and add significant years to your life and life to your years by following an antiaging to-do list: Increasing your body’s Repair Rate and/or decreasing the Damage Rate. And guess what? When the rate of damage equals the rate of repair, aging seems to stop.
Here’s what to do:
Decrease the Damage Rate
Start taking key substances that increase antioxidant levels in your cells. Oxidants, or free radicals, are toxic byproducts of the body’s energy factories—the mitochondria—that power our cells. These oxidants are indoor body pollutants that have been implicated in a wide variety of age-related diseases and conditions, including arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. Free radicals extract a particularly heavy toll in our brains since cognitive activities account for almost 25 percent of the body’s energy production. This is why some researchers view Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders as the inevitable cost of simply being alive. So much for the bad news.
Here’s our list of some nutrients shown to limit the damage caused by free radicals inside your cells:
Bioflavinoids: anthocyanins (blue-black fruits), and citrus bioflavinoids (lemons, oranges, grape-fruits, etc.)
Carotenoids: Alpha- and beta-carotene (red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables), lycopene (red fruits and vegetables)
- Green tea
- DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid that is an active component of fish oil)
- Minerals: Magnesium and selenium
- Vitamins and Cofactors: B3, B5, D,and coenzyme Q10
Increase the Repair Rate
Lose Some Waist. Most of us couldn’t stomach the 40 percent reduction in calories that has been shown to increase lifespan. Fortunately, just cutting back 15 percent gets you almost as much of an antiaging benefit. This is why you can incorporate this approach instead of the tougher 25 percent reduction often used by calorie-restriction advocates.
Get some rest: Most of us don’t get enough sleep, and people who sleep fewer than six hours a night have a 50 percent increased risk of viral infections and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, your native growth hormone increases naturally with seven hours of sleep. To up the odds for a full night’s rest—in addition to obvious options such as no TV, laptops, or lights—try sleeping in the nude (it’ll make you cooler); find a quiet environment or add some white noise; and invest in a comfortable mattress that does not trap heat. Over half of poor sleepers improve adequately with these simple steps.
Start taking omega-3 fatty acids/DHA: The compounds have been shown to deliver antiaging benefits to the heart, brain, and immune system. One of the big reasons why: the fats help relax your arteries to improve blood flow (nasty fats like trans fats make your arteries spasm, and thus promote dangerous inflammation). You can get the good forms of fish oil through certain types of fish and walnuts, as well as through fish oil supplements or the pure DHA form from algae. If going the supplement route, aim daily for two grams of general omega-3 fats or 600 mg of the pure DHA variety.
Take a deep breath: Deep-breathing exercises drag nitric oxide from your sinuses to the lungs, which dilate the capillary beds and improve the efficiency of breathing. Perhaps that’s why diaphragmatic belly breathing is the foundation of Eastern meditation and is a powerful stress-mitigating tool that no one even realizes you are using.
The powerhouse of cells, mitochondria create energy needed for cellular processes, as well as toxic byproducts implicated in a variety of age-related diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.
Specific recommendations and daily dosage
A: 2,500 IU is all you need, and
more than 3,500 IU is too much
B1 (thiamin): 25 mg
B2 (riboflavin): 25 mg
B3 (niacin): at least 100 mg
B5 (pantothenic acid): 300 mg
B6 (pyridoxine): 4 mg
B9 (folic acid or folate): 400 mcg
B12 (cyanocobalamin): 800 mcg
Biotin: 300 mcg
C: 800 mg or 50 mg twice a day if taking a statin drug because vitamin C competes with statins and reduces their efficacy when taken in higher doses
D: 1,000 IU if under sixty, 1,200 if sixty or older
E: 400 IU in the form of mixed tocopherols (100 IU from sup-plements if taking a statin)
Calcium: 1,600 mg for women, 1,200 mg for men (including from dietary sources)
Magnesium: 400 mg
Selenium: 200 mcg
Zinc: 15 mg