A Naturopathic Doctor's 5 Must-Have Epinutrients To Slow Down Aging
In a 2021 study, naturopathic doctor and functional medicine expert Kara Fitzgerald, N.D., author of Younger You, was able to improve participants' biological age by three years. Sounds like a tall order, but the intervention was actually pretty simple: With a very doable diet and exercise plan, it only took eight weeks to see these results. "A big reason we actually made a difference in eight weeks' time is because we very intentionally bathed the body in a high amount of epinutrients," she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
What are epinutrients, you ask? Allow Fitzgerald to explain below, along with a few of her favorites.
What are epinutrients?
Epinutrients play a very big role in DNA methylation. See, methylation is an important biochemical process that helps optimize gene expression, health outcomes, and, yes, aging (read more about it here). And while supplying your body with methyl donors—like beets, cruciferous veggies, and eggs, if you can tolerate them—is crucial for improving your methylation pathways, Fitzgerald says you don't want to just be pushing methylation forward all the time. "You want to give it information about where to go," she says.
"Yes, we need a robust methyl donor intake, but we also need to direct the behavior of these methyl groups," Fitzgerald continues. And it turns out, epinutrients can do just that: "These exquisite compounds direct methylation traffic," she adds. "So you want an abundance of methyl donors, but you want it with these traffic directors, these [epinutrients]."
You may hear the term methylation adaptogens tossed around, which is another scientific term for these epinutrients—just like how other adaptogens "adapt" to what your body needs in order to manage stress, these epinutrients help balance the methylation cycle.
On a final note: These have pretty science-forward names, as we're calling out the specific nutrients that, as Fitzgerald notes, are "epigenetically active." Don't worry, though: We'll give a few examples of foods that feature these powerful players:
We'll wager you've heard of the famous antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the main catechin in green tea. The powerful compound has been found to be 100 times more potent than the antioxidant power of vitamin C and 25 times more than vitamin E. "You can get the most EGCG out of your green tea by allowing it to steep in just-boiled water for 10 minutes," Fitzgerald once shared with mbg.
Anthocyanins are what give berries their red, blue, or purple pigments—think blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and pomegranates. These flavonoids likely play an important role in brain and overall health, and research has associated a link between anthocyanins and healthy aging.* "Choose a variety of berries, including blackberries, black currants, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries," Fitzgerald writes. "Smaller, wild varieties often have high concentrations of epigenetic adaptogens."
You can find this polyphenol in a variety of fruits, namely pomegranates, and the powerful antioxidant helps protect your body's cells from free radicals.* Research has shown this polyphenol can support metabolic and brain health—and as a side note, derms love it for promoting healthy skin again, too (which is why you can find it in a variety of beauty supplements).* One study, for example, found that the polyphenols in pomegranate extract increased skin's resilience against UVB rays.*
When cruciferous veggies crop up in conversation, you may associate them with the powerful antioxidant sulforaphane—but the compound diindolylmethane (DIM) is also found in cruciferous vegetables, and it's shown to balance estrogen levels in the body and support overall hormonal, ovarian, and prostate health.
Ah, curcumin: The main active ingredient in turmeric has a number of health benefits, including heart health, brain health, and more. It balances your body's inflammatory response by blocking NF-kB, a molecule that can work its way into your cells and turn on genes that lead to inflammatory pathways. And on the subject of aging: Curcumin activates the enzyme telomerase, which helps lengthen and preserve telomeres and, thus, slowing down the process of aging.
"These are the reasons we're eating blueberries, or strawberries, or turmeric," says Fitzgerald. Of course, these five food groups do not meet all of your caloric needs—think of them as extras for optimizing your methylation cycle. "They are the targets that we want you to hit," says Fitzgerald. "Include a couple cups of green tea, a little bit of turmeric every day, the vegetables…" You can't go wrong.