The researchers studied 40 healthy adult males between the ages of 50 and 72 in a clinical trial. The participants were divided into two groups – while one group did nothing, the other followed an eight-week program as instructed by the scientists.
The treatment program was focused on diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics, and phytonutrient intake. After monitoring the group for eight weeks, results showed that following these lifestyle changes produced “statistically significant” reductions in the biological aging of the participants’ cells.
After the end of the program, the researchers collected DNA samples of all the participants via saliva testing. Using the Horvath DNAmAge clock, the scientists found that committing to these lifestyle changes decreased their biological age by 3.23 years.
“The combined intervention program was designed to target a specific biological mechanism called DNA methylation, and in particular the DNA methylation patterns that have been identified as highly predictive of biological age,” study leader Kara Fitzgerald says in a media release. "We suspect that this focus was the reason for its remarkable impact. These early results appear to be consistent with, and greatly extend, the very few existing studies that have so far examined the potential for biological age reversal. And it is unique in its use of a safe, non-pharmaceutical dietary and lifestyle program, control group, and the extent of the age reduction."
So what was the diet the test group followed?
According to the researchers, the test group followed a largely plant-based diet which included foods that were high in nutrients like folate, betaine, vitamin C, vitamin A, curcumin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), quercetin, and luteolin. Nutrient-dense animal proteins like liver and eggs were also given to them along with a fruit and vegetable powder and a probiotic that provided 40 million CFU of Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v every day.
"The diet restricted carbohydrates and included mild intermittent fasting, both designed to lower glycemic cycling," wrote the researchers.
And what about the exercise plan?
The study group exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, five days a week at an intensity of 60-80% of their maximum perceived exertion. "Exercise is well-known to be broadly beneficial for almost every aspect of health and has been shown to extend the mean lifespan in animal models," they wrote.
The plan also included a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night along with doing breathing exercises two times a day. "Twice-daily breathing exercises that elicit the Relaxation Response were prescribed for stress reduction," the researchers wrote. The term "Relaxation Response" was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute. According to the American Psychological Association, the Relaxation Response is "a physical state of deep rest that changes a person's physical and emotional responses to stress".
To practice the relaxation response, sit in a relaxed position with your eyes closed, and repeat a word or sound as you breathe once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes.
This new research is indeed unique as the trial was both natural and theory-based. "This study provides the first insight into the possibility of using natural alterations to target epigenetic processes and improve our well-being and perhaps even longevity and lifespan," says Dr. Moshe Szyf, Ph.D., a leading epigeneticist from McGill University and the study's co-author.
Dr. Fitzgerald further adds: “What is extremely exciting is that food and lifestyle practices, including specific nutrients and food compounds known to selectively alter DNA methylation, are able to have such an impact on those DNA methylation patterns we know predict aging and age-related disease.”
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DNA methylation patterns, that assess the buildup of damage and loss of function to our cells, tissues, and organs, have become one of the leading ways for scientists to evaluate and track biological aging. "I believe that this, together with new possibilities for us all to measure and track our DNA methylation age, will provide significant new opportunities for both scientists and consumers,” Dr. Fitzgerald concludes.
All this does sound exciting - who wouldn’t want to reverse age naturally? But additional research is needed to understand what happens if a person continues doing the same recommendations for more than eight weeks and whether the results that they got were permanent changes or ones that require ongoing work. So, while following the diet and exercise plan recommended by this study is likely to be good for your health, we need more comprehensive research to confirm if it can actually help de-age us naturally. “We are currently enrolling participants for a larger study which we expect will corroborate these findings,” the researchers said.
The team also believes that they will be able to better decode aging-related diseases with more research.
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