Can Diet and Lifestyle changes really reverse our biological age and allow us to ‘travel back’ to a younger version of ourselves (similar to the DeLorean automotive car machine in the movie “Back to the future”) ?

For us at zentor, it is always important to combine insights from scientific research with practical applications, that can improve our physical and mental wellbeing and thus living a fulfilling life. In addition to research on happiness and positive psychology, we frequently also work in adjacent fields – in this case, specifically how diet and lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on our wellbeing and even reverse the process of aging.

In my capacity as a certified health coach and nutritionist, I was lucky enough to be involved in an Epigenetic Age Reversal trial using Diet and Lifestyle Interventions. 

This pilot randomized clinical trial is one of the first in its kind as it uses non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, diet and lifestyle interventions to slow down or reverse DNA methylation measures of aging. 

This randomized clinical trial was conducted among 43 adult males between the ages of 50-72, who were randomly assigned to an eight-week diet and lifestyle treatment group, or the control group without an intervention. The treatment program included diet, sleep, exercise, meditation, and supplements. Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis was conducted using the Illumina Methylation Epic Array and DNAmAge was calculated using the online Horvath DNAmAge clock.

The diet and lifestyle treatment was associated with a two year decrease in DNAmAge in the treatment group (i.e. going back in time by 2 years) as a result of the eight-week program.

Changes in blood biomarkers were also significant for mean triglycerides (-25%, p=0.009). Among the PROMIS markers of emotional health, depression and pain interference scores changed significantly. Depression improved (p=0.045) and pain interference [K1] rose (p=0.02). Of course, larger-scale and longer duration clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings, as well as investigation in other human populations.

These findings are however, very important at this time, where advanced age is the largest risk factor for impaired mental and physical function contributing to many chronic diseases including cancer, neurodegeneration, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  The growing health-related economic and social challenges of our rapidly aging population are well recognized and affect individuals, their families, health systems and economies. 

This study put emphasis on a very nutrient dense diet. This included lean meats & fish, eggs and a variety of colourful vegetables. This diet restricted carbohydrates and included mild intermittent fasting both designed to lower glycemic cycling. The diet was supplemented daily with a fruit and vegetable powder and a probiotic providing 40 million CFUs of Lactobacillus plantarum. Lifestyle guidance in this study included a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least five days per week at an intensity of 60-80% of maximum perceived exertion. As well as a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. Additionally, twice-daily, ten minutes breathing exercises that elicit the Relaxation Response were prescribed for stress reduction. 

This multimodal (“systems”) intervention is reflective of a clinically-used approach that combines individual interventions and likely produces synergistic effects which lead to a healthier, more “youthful” metabolism. The combination of interventions used in this study may yet be improved upon and may be more impactful when further personalized. An ever-evolving understanding of personalized application of such dietary and lifestyle interventions will likely lead to refinements to this kind of intervention that may further extend indicators of biological age.

We are always looking for scientific insights that can foster a long and healthy fulfilling life. If we have purpose and happiness in our life and are mentally and physically healthy, we of course want to enjoy it for as long as we can. With the new insights from this study, it seems using an upgraded diet and lifestyle can significantly add years to our lifespan, which continues to bring home one of zentor’s core messages; the realization that we have more power, then we realize,  in changing how we think and how we feel on a daily basis.

Photo credit: Claudio Schwarz Purzlbaum on Unsplash

The full publication is available for review on: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342929824_Reversal_of_Epigenetic_Age_with_Diet_and_Lifestyle_in_a_Pilot_Randomized_Clinical_Trial. As of September 10, 2020, it has been officially submitted to the Journals of Gerontology (Manuscript ID JGMS-2020-RES-734).