Want To Slow Down Aging? Focus On These 11 Longevity Biomarkers
There is much we can do to boost each one of the anti-aging pathways and slow the aging ones. Caloric restriction, as well as diet and lifestyle improvements, including physical activity, smoking cessation, and shopping the produce aisle, may all slow the epigenetic clock, for example.
Across the board, I believe we should move toward eating whole plant foods, quitting smoking, and reducing our intake of refined grains, soda, processed meat, eggs, and dairy products while increasing our consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other antioxidant-rich foods.
Here are 11 biometrics that, when combined, can help predict your longevity and health span—and how to optimize each one:
AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme that acts as a sensor for plants and animals, revving up when it detects a depletion of the universal fuel. It flips the switch in our body from storing fat to burning it to restore energy balance. AMPK doesn't only affect weight; it can also control aging2. Its discovery is considered to be one of the most important breakthroughs in biomedicine in the last few decades.
There are specific AMPK-activating compounds3 in barberries, black cumin, hibiscus tea, and vinegar. You can also help boost this anti-aging pathway by reducing your consumption of saturated fat (concentrated in some red meat, dairy, and desserts) and increasing your consumption of fiber (concentrated in legumes and whole grains).
Autophagy is considered the "primary system for cleaning the body" from the inside out. Some food components, like acrylamide (in some carbohydrate-rich foods), may suppress autophagy4, whereas others, like spermidine (in some cereals, legumes, and soy products), can boost the process5. Chlorogenic acids in coffee6 can also help your cells take out the trash.
Cellular senescence is considered to be one of the foundational hallmarks of aging. The inflammatory SASP, secreted by senescent cells, is thought to be a main driver of tissue deterioration and disease.
To prevent cellular senescence in the first place and potentially help clear such cells and their SASP, we can avert DNA damage by exercising7 and eating berries and other naturally vibrantly colored foods. We can also activate our Nrf2 defenses by eating greens (cruciferous veggies) and drinking green tea8, cooking with herbs and spices (such as cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, and marjoram), and avoiding added salt, sugar, and foods rich in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Our epigenome, characterized by the pattern of DNA methylation, can be thought of as a lens through which our genetic information is filtered. Unfortunately, it's a lens that can become cloudy as it deteriorates with age. Thankfully, epigenetic changes are reversible9, so we may be able to polish it back into focus through a healthy diet and consistent exercise10.
AGEs are considered "gerontotoxins," meaning aging agents (from the Greek geros for "old age," as in geriatric) and are implicated in a wide spectrum of age-related diseases. To help reduce our exposure to these toxins, quit smoking and eat an "AGE Less" diet that emphasizes lower-AGE foods11, cook proteins using relatively low heat and high humidity methods (such as boiling or steaming rather than frying), and choose lower-glycemic-load foods.
Aging can be thought of as an inflammatory disease.
Aging can be thought of as an inflammatory disease. A single measurement of inflammatory markers, such as CRP or IL-6 (which can both be tested relatively easily), can predict physical and cognitive performance, as well as remaining life span in elderly individuals. Thankfully, excess inflammation can be extinguished through changes in diet. The associated extension of both health span and life span suggests anti-inflammatory may be synonymous with anti-aging.
The enzyme mTOR is recognized as a major driver of aging. Perhaps more so than any other single anti-aging strategy, mTOR inhibition13 disrupts a panoply of degenerative processes, explaining why the mTOR-blocking drug rapamycin is currently the most effective pharmacological approach ever devised for targeting aging.
Nonpharmacological approaches to slowing this "pacemaker of aging" include the restriction of certain amino acids, such as methionine and leucine, and protein restriction in general. (Editor's note: At mindbodygreen, we consider dietary protein essential for healthy aging. Read our perspective on protein needs for women here.)
The mitochondrial theory of aging explains why animals with the lowest rate of free radical production live the longest. We can slow this rate through exercise training and methionine restriction. Cutting down on pro-oxidant foods rich in cholesterol, salt, saturated fat, and sugar while boosting the intake of plant foods14 can also have the dual benefit of enhancing our primary oxidant defense via Nrf2 activation and our second line of radical resistance, the symphony of natural antioxidant compounds that can work in concert.
Sirtuins are a class of protein regulators that appear to play a key role in protecting us against a variety of age-related diseases, though their role in longevity is questionable. Dependent on a molecule called NAD+, sirtuins can be upregulated by anything that increases NAD+ levels, including AMPK activation.
Telomeres are one of the aging pathways that have crept into the public consciousness. Increasing telomere length to slow or even prevent aging is a popular idea, though the science is controversial. Telomere elongation is possible through activation of the telomerase enzyme, but there is a constant battle between the forces hacking away at our telomeres, such as aging, oxidative stress, and inflammation, and the lifestyle decisions that can help build them back.
RELATED READ: 5 Ways To Lengthen Your Telomeres + Strive for Longevity
As far as we know now, these are the 11 best hallmarks of aging to focus on to give your body the best chance of living a long, vibrant life. Narrow in on one or two to start with, and you'll be well on your way to using science to slow the effects of aging with each passing day.
Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, bestselling author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. He is a graduate of Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts University School of Medicine. He's a founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, testified before Congress, and was invited as an expert witness in the defense of Oprah Winfrey in the infamous "meat defamation" trial. His book How Not to Die became an instant New York Times Best Seller, and he is also the author of the How Not to Die Cookbook, and How Not to Diet, and The How Not To Diet Cookbook.