Can you reset your biological clock? You can’t make time run backward, but you may be able to slow or even reverse the aging process. Dr. David Sinclair believes that aging is far more reversible than we thought. He told the New York Times, “Cells can clean themselves up, they can get rid of old proteins, they can rejuvenate, if you turn on the youthful genes through this reset process.” He and his colleagues have been able to do this in mice. Can we hope that their approach will help humans as well?
How old do your cells think they are? Measuring biological aging is more complicated than counting candles on your birthday cake. Some blood tests (such as one from Inside Tracker) help tell the story, however. When Dr. Sinclair discovered his biological age was older than his chronological age, he began looking for simple ways to help reverse the aging process. One thing he does himself is skip meals. Intermittent fasting by eating only one meal a day holds promise. Other sensible approaches that he recommends: don’t smoke, get regular exercise, get enough sleep and take metformin.
You may well wonder about metformin. Normally, this medicine is prescribed for people with diabetes to help lower blood sugar. However, it appears to have a number of other interesting properties as well. Scientists are now conducting a long-term trial of metformin to see how it affects the aging process.
In addition to metformin and intermittent fasting, Dr. Sinclair thinks NMN (nicotinamide mono-nucleotide) is interesting. He takes this supplement himself, although the clinical data in humans don’t yet show that it can reverse the aging process. At least one study shows, though, that it can improve insulin sensitivity in heavy older women (Science, June 11, 2021). Mouse research shows that it reduces the inflammation associated with aging (Integrative Medicine, Feb. 2020).
You may imagine that your aging is genetically determined by the DNA you got from your parents. That is only partly true. Damage to the DNA actually drives the epigenetic clock that governs the aging process. Dr. Sinclair’s research is looking for ways to alter epigenetic programming. One approach is through the Yamanaka factors that can undo the genetic programming of mature cells.
How do childhood experiences affect epigenetics and the aging process? That’s the focus of Dr. Terrie Moffitt’s research. A study of mental health in the entire population of New Zealand shows that people with early mental health problems are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease later in life.
Dr. Moffitt’s research on 1,000 people born in 1972 shows that children with low levels of self-control and trouble taking turns, for example, may experience accelerated aging. Taking care of mental health in late adolescence and early adulthood could pay big dividends in coming decades, as these young people become middle-aged and older.
David Sinclair is a Professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School & co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging. Dr. Sinclair is a co-founder of several biotechnology companies (Sirtris, Ovascience, Genocea, Cohbar, MetroBiotech, ArcBio, Life Biosciences, Liberty Biosecurity) and is on the boards of several others. He is also co-founder and co-chief editor of the journal, Aging. His work is featured in five books, two documentary movies, 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman’s “Through the Wormhole” and other media. He is an inventor on 35 patents and has received more than 25 awards and honors. Dr. Sinclair’s latest book is Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don't Have To.
Terrie Moffitt, PhD, is the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of Psychology at Duke University, and Professor of Social Development at King’s College London. Her expertise is in the areas of clinical mental health research, neuropsychology, and genomics. She is interested in the consequences of a lifetime of mental and behavioral disorder on processes of aging.
She is a co-author of The Origins of You.