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Will You Live to 120? Maybe

Longevity science is getting really freaky, really fast. Better amp up that 401(k)

Birthday cake with 120 candles
Paul Spella

Talk about reversing aging and extending life span, and you can find yourself wandering into Ray Bradbury territory in no time. But in his new book, Young Forever, Mark Hyman, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, argues that a revolution is right around the corner. If Gen X can stay healthy into our mid-60s, we might be able to stay healthy into our mid-120s. Arrow Editor in Chief Stephen Perrine asked him for some stop-the-clock strategies.

At the beginning of your new book, you mention this idea of “longevity escape velocity.” Can you explain?

The idea is that we would reach a moment when science is advancing faster than we age, so that we would never actually reach the end of our natural life span. It’s a bit futuristic to be true, but I do think that the advances in longevity science are so remarkable right now that we can’t predict where we’ll be in our own lifetimes.

I’ve heard the idea that “the first person to live to 150 is alive right now.” But we’re talking about someone who is a little kid, right?

I don’t know that. If the average 50-year-old male can stay healthy over the next 15 years, we could be looking at a completely changed world. Remember, 25 years ago the idea that everyone would have a tiny computer in their pocket seemed like science fiction. 

What do you see as the biggest change ahead?

We’re on the verge of shifting from a model of treating disease to one of creating health. We create health, and the diseases go away on their own. We can’t change our genes, but we can reprogram them to a younger self.

You talk in the book about the process of hormesis. Can you explain that a bit?

DNA can do one of two things; it can repair itself, or it can replicate. When an organism is put under stress, DNA shifts from replication to repair. That’s called hormesis. Many of the diseases of aging stem from DNA that’s improperly replicated; if we can signal our DNA to spend more time in repair, we can literally halt much of the aging process. 

Fasting is one way to safely create hormesis; so is exercise. The big push today is to find fasting-mimicking compounds — essentially nutrients that cause this hormetic reaction in the DNA, but without having to go for extended periods without food. One compound under study is called NMN, which the body converts into NAD+, a coenzyme that’s stimulated by hormesis and plays a huge role in DNA repair. It’s available over the counter, but it’s still in clinical human trials.

Remember you don’t have to fast for long periods to see benefits. Finish dinner by 7 p.m., and then stop eating, and have breakfast around 9 a.m. You’ve just done a 14-hour fast, and that can have a tremendous benefit if you do it on a regular basis.

Besides fasting, are there other natural ways to amplify the hormetic effect?

The primary thing to remember is that three-quarters of your plate should be vegetables. We know that phytonutrients found in plants are among the fasting-mimicking compounds we want, but there are tens of thousands of them. So the greater variety of plants you eat, the more you’re sending the right signal to your DNA. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds are important. And you do need animal protein. Especially as we get older, our bodies need leucine, an amino acid found in higher amounts in animal protein, in order to maintain muscle mass. Veganism is a wonderful idea, but it’s hard to get enough leucine (which is low in plant proteins) as we age unless you supplement with extra leucine.

A number of supplements contain phytochemicals that stimulate hormesis. I like matcha powder, which contains concentrated levels of compounds in green tea; pomegranate concentrate; fisetin, which comes from strawberries; and a form of buckwheat called Himalayan Tartary buckwheat. And almost everyone should be taking vitamin D supplements. 

Is there any food that prematurely ages us?

Refined sugar. Sugar seems to interfere directly with the DNA repair process. Researchers can see this on a cellular level. I eat sweets, but I have them in very, very limited quantities. I think of sugar and starch as recreational drugs. Liquid sugar, like sweet teas or coffee drinks, is absorbed even more rapidly, and the way it amplifies the effects of aging are stunning.

Follow Article Topics: Health-&-Fitness