Epigenetic Clock – How Old Am I Really? Can I Turn Back Time?

Key takeaways:
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    Epigenetics play a crucial role in the human body.
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    The epigenetic clock could precisely measure your biological age.
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    Combining a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep could reverse your epigenetic clock.

Epigenetic – the base of the biological clock

Biological age may not be the most accurate way to determine how old we are. The epigenetic clock uses biological testing to establish a person’s true biological age. The word “epigenetic” literally means “in addition to changes in genetic sequence.” The term has evolved to include any process that alters gene activity without changing the DNA sequence. Epigenetic processes are natural and essential to many organism functions. However, if they occur improperly, there can be major adverse health and behavioral effects.

Perhaps the best-known epigenetic process is DNA methylation. This is the addition or removal of a methyl group (CH3), which could activate or silence different types of genes. Epigenetic regulation mediates adaptation to the environment by the genome lending plasticity that translates into the presenting phenotype, particularly under “mismatched” environmental conditions.

Epigenetic in nature

What are some examples of epigenetics? Plants are naturally and regularly exposed to biological and physical stress conditions. These conditions create potential survival risks. Plants have evolved to compete with these stress conditions using epigenetic backgrounds. For example, one well-studied epigenetic process is the epigenetic response — plants bloom at the optimal time after a cold winter. In animals, domestication is a good example. Dogs are probably the most varied species on earth in terms of size and color, and yet they are all descendants of the gray wolf.

Studies have shown that prosocial behavior, which increases serotonin levels, modulates the activities via epigenetic mechanisms. This, in turn, lowers cortisol levels allowing for increased social learning capability. The hypothesis states that wolves were able to socially interact better and with less stress with people due to epigenetically decreased cortisol levels. In humans, epigenetic mechanisms involve packaging the DNA into active or inactive states, thus maintaining the initial profiles of gene expression over the lifetime of the cells. So it acts as a kind of cellular memory.

Using the epigenetic clock to gauge age

Researchers have been studying the correlation between biological age and the epigenetic clock for more than 50 years. Their observations have focused on how the results impact age-related disease. However, the association between epigenetics and age became most starkly apparent with the arrival of the first technologies measuring DNA methylation. These technologies enabled the construction of extremely accurate age estimators, termed “Epigenetic” or “DNA methylation clocks”. Subsequently, these clocks reportedly capture aspects of biological aging and its associated morbidity and mortality.

To evaluate whether epigenetic clocks are better predictors of lifespan than chronological age, Steve Horwath and his team analyzed epigenetic factors from 6,935 individuals. Additionally, they analyzed physiological risk and stress factor biomarkers. The scientists converted the linear data to express age estimates, i.e., DNAm GrimAge, which measures an individual’s biological age.

Using large-scale validation data, the research team demonstrated that the epigenetic clock could predict, with some certainty, a person’s time-to-death, time-to-coronary heart disease, and time-to-cancer. In Steve Horwath‘s study, the mean chronological age at the time of the blood draw was 63.0 years. The mean follow-up time (time-to-death) was 13.7 years. With the availability of epigenetic data in various populations, there are remaining issues to be considered in the future application of epigenetic clocks. Epigenetic clock development is still ongoing, and we are, therefore, not sure whether analyzing results using new epigenetic clocks would be similar.

Longevity and epigenetic clock reversal

Can the epigenetic clock turn back time? Scientists say “Yes“. Rayn Bradley and his scientific team published an article in 2021 where they tried reversing the epigenetic clock. This clinical trial studied 43 healthy adult males between the ages of 50-72. Before beginning the trial, they measured the epigenetic clock’s starting position. The study involved an 8-week treatment program focused on diet, sleep, exercise, and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients. After which, their epigenetic clock was measured again. Participants in the treatment group scored an average of 3.23 years younger at the end of the eight-week program according to the Horvath DNAmAge clock.

Guidance per week:
  • 3 servings of liver (1 serving = 3 oz) (preferably organic)
  • 5-10 eggs (ideally free-range, organic, omega-3 enriched)
Guidance per day:
  • 2 cups of dark leafy greens (measured raw, chopped, and packed, including kale, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, dandelion, mustard greens, does not include salad greens such as romaine, iceberg, Spring mix)
  • 2 cups cruciferous vegetables (measured raw, chopped, and packed, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, kale, mustard greens, watercress, rutabaga, kohlrabi, radish, Swiss chard, turnip)
  • 3 additional cups colorful vegetables of your choice (excluding white potatoes, sweetcorn)
  • 1-2 medium beets
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) pumpkin seeds (or pumpkin seed butter)
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) sunflower seeds (or sunflower seed butter)
  • 1+ serving methylation adaptogens, choose from (1/2 cup berries (wild preferred), 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 2 medium cloves garlic, 2 cups green tea (brewed 10 minutes), 3 cups oolong tea (brewed 10 minutes)
  • 6 oz animal protein (grass-fed, pastured, organic and hormone/antibiotic-free)
  • 2 servings of low glycemic fruit
General guidance:
  • Organic preferred over conventional
  • Stay hydrated
  • Don’t eat between 7 pm and 7 am
  • Include “healthy” oils (balance types of fat, e.g., coconut, olive, flaxseed, and pumpkin seed oil)
  • Avoid added sugar/candy, dairy, grains, legumes/beans
  • Minimize plastic food containers
Supplement Prescription:

PhytoGanix®, a combination of organic vegetables, fruits, seeds, herbs, plant enzymes, and probiotics at a dose of 2 servings daily, divided.

UltraFlora® Intensive Care, containing Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v at a dose of 2 capsules daily, divided.

Exercise Prescription:

Minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day for at least five days per week, at an intensity of 60-80% of maximum perceived exertion.

Sleep Prescription:

Average a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night.

Stress Management Prescription:

A Breathing exercise Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response developed by Herbert Benson MD, twice daily.

Resources:

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