Many people come to me and say, "Doc, what's the key to living a long and healthy life?" Well, that's a loaded question. A lot of factors play a part in enjoying longevity and remaining healthy and active well into old age.
For starters, we know that a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, avoiding toxins, high-quality sleep, and stress reduction are paramount. We also know that it's important to cultivate meaningful relationships, have a sense of community, and get out there and have a good time every now and then!
So while there's no magic pill that will guarantee you'll live to be 100 years old, there's a long list of things we can do to promote longevity. Also on that list are a few key supplements that you can take—in addition to practicing all the key lifestyle principles—that might help protect your cells from damage and improve your longevity:
Resveratrol is one of my favorite anti-aging supplements. (And no, it's not just because it can be found in red wine!) All kidding aside, resveratrol is one of the most studied antioxidants, and it is a polyphenol that can be found in grapes, blueberries, raspberries, peanuts, and, yes…wine too. It has a number of health benefits that range from improving blood sugar control to reducing inflammation and helping with detoxification, among many others. In addition, a compound called psterostilbene (which is a metabolite of resveratrol) might be even more effective than resveratrol itself.
2. Fish oil
Fish oil is another staple when it comes to longevity, as its anti-inflammatory properties are well-established. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fat that can help reduce inflammation and cardiovascular risk. There are even fish-oil-derived specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) that might improve resolution of inflammation and potentially have therapeutic benefit in cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, sepsis, pancreatitis, and other conditions. Although more research is needed to truly confirm any benefit, this is certainly an interesting area of research to keep an eye on.
Ginger is another one of my all-time favorites. It's been used for ages in a variety of ways, and it contains many compounds like gingerol, shogaol, and paradol—which have antioxidant, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is a relatively safe way to treat and prevent chronic disease, and I use it in my practice quite often!
Nicotinamide riboside (NR) is a form of vitamin B3 (niacin) that functions as a precursor to NAD+, or nicotinamide dinucleotide (an important coenzyme found in our cells). It's also felt to be involved in signaling pathways in our body and functions as a neurotransmitter. You can think of NR as an NAD+ booster. It has a great deal of important functions, including improvement of blood sugar and lipid balance and even increasing life expectancy in certain animals and maintaining a lean body.
NR has been shown to be helpful in a certain kind of cardiomyopathy because of its ability to improve cardiac function. Another recent study outlined that NR could be a reasonable supplement to take to protect the brain in Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. While some of the literature regarding the use of NR is conflicting, it certainly sounds like a reasonable supplement to keep in your arsenal against aging given the data out there that supports its strong cell-protecting properties.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a hot topic these days. Some feel that vitamin D is really not "just" a vitamin but something more powerful, like a hormone. Vitamin D seems to decrease risk of death in certain populations, and we know that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a whole host of cancers, autoimmune diseases, and inflammation.
CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) plays a big role in the energy pathways of our mitochondria, the cells' powerhouse. Some studies have shown that a deficiency in this important electron and proton carrier can be associated with neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, cancer, fibromyalgia, muscle disorders, and heart disease.
7. Grapeseed extract
Grapeseed extract is a powerful antioxidant, and one study recently demonstrated that it can help protect us against cell dysfunction that might occur as a result of exposure to the toxin BPA (Bisphenol A). Another study showed that when grapeseed extract was taken, there could be some benefit as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplement.
Alpha-lipoic acid has been studied since the 1950s for its important role in energy metabolism and protecting our cells from mitochondrial dysfunction caused by reactive oxygen species. This is a very important antioxidant that can have health benefits. Most healthy people can make enough of this important agent to enhance other key antioxidants in our bodies such as glutathione, vitamin C, and vitamin E; however, the levels of alpha-lipoic acid in our bodies decreases as we get older, and this can lead to endothelial or cell dysfunction. This is one key supplement to keep handy, especially as we age.
9. Adaptogenic mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms have long been used to enhance the immune system and fight against inflammation and even cancer. Is it all hype? Well, maybe not. A recent study demonstrated that shiitake mushrooms improved immunity and improved cell proliferation. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, there are many different kinds of mushrooms that have health benefits and can protect our cells against damage, and taking several of them together in the form of a mixed-mushroom supplement could have synergistic effects.
10. Milk thistle
Milk thistle is one herb that you will always find in my house. It is known as a liver tonic and can help boost your detoxification capabilities. It has been demonstrated to stimulate the immune system, and it may be helpful in increasing immunity to infectious diseases. This is one key supplement that you might find helpful in protecting your cells from damage, particularly in the liver.
Curcumin is also a very important herb that I use frequently in my practice. In animal models, curcumin and one of its metabolites have been shown to improve longevity. It's thought that this positive effect comes from its beneficial regulation of oxidative stress responses and certain genes that are related to aging. Curcumin might also help fight against obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes as well as benefit those with various types of cancer, fatty liver disease, arthritis, skin diseases, gut inflammation, and even PMS!
12. Gotu Kola
Studies have shown Gotu Kola's benefits for diabetes and wound healing, and its antimicrobial, antioxidant, brain-protecting, and memory-boosting properties have also been described. These health benefits are often attributed to the flavonoids, phenolic compounds, and triterpenes found in the plant itself.
Ginseng is a must-have when you are talking about anti-aging and protecting your brain as you get older. As one of the most widely used herbs across the world, it may help enhance our tolerance against severe dysfunction and disease. It is felt that this important herb has a wide variety of effects and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and memory-enhancing properties but can also help with obesity, diabetes, allergies, certain tumors, and sexual dysfunction. These are certainly helpful things to look for in an anti-aging supplement and ginseng seems to have them!
Astragalus is one of the most popular Chinese herbs, and it is used for a variety of things, including as an immune stimulant, antioxidant, liver protectant, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and diuretic agent. Research also shows that it can protect our mitochondria from reactive oxygen species and promote health. This definitely sounds like a key herbal in protecting our cells against damage. Since energy depletion and increased oxidative stress lead to the aging process and this herb is felt to protect against these issues, it was hypothesized that perhaps astragalus has anti-aging properties.
Well, there you have it! Your beginner's guide to anti-aging supplements. One word of caution: Beware of supplements that claim they can increase the length of your telomeres, which are the caps of DNA at the end of our chromosomes that have been associated with longevity the longer they are. Too much of a good thing is not necessarily beneficial to the body, and there may be a risk that cancer could even develop as a result of ramping up our cells too much. It's good to find a balance and take the herbs and supplements that are most helpful for you, in your current state of health, and with regards to your particular medical problems. A skilled integrative or functional medicine practitioner should easily be able to guide you in the right direction so you can protect your cells against damage and improve your longevity.
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