Did you know there are species of jellyfish that can completely generate new cells and in theory live forever? Collectively they are romantically known as immortal jellyfish, if they can avoid infections and being eaten, their ability to reset their cellular age, means they can live indefinitely.
Why can’t we humans live like Benjamin Button? Well, I believe it is only a matter of time before cellular scientists can certainly advise on steps to take to dramatically extend our life expectancy. After all, while our DNA is very different to that of the jellyfish, it does closely resemble that of a shark. And there are 7m sharks living off the coast of Greenland, Somniosus Microcephalus, that can live up to 500 years old!
What if you could live to an age of more than 100 years without chronic illness, without the need for drugs, and with both your mind and movement wonderfully intact? Well, I am here to tell you that I believe you can. I believe that in the future, as scientists discover more about cellular biology, we won’t be seeing the lifespan of sharks as anything out of the ordinary.
Let me share with you some ideas, scientific evidence, and research that can have a profound anti-aging effect on your body.
Let me begin by introducing you to the “information theory of aging”. It assumes that “decreased functionality of the whole organism and its systems, is a result of decreased functionality of cellular repair mechanisms”. Effectively, it is the idea that aging is due to the loss of information in cells over time. But what if you could recover it? What if you could reprogram your cell, let’s call it cellular reprogramming.
Excited? Awesome. But before we get going, because for many readers it may have been some time since sitting biology at school, let me set the biological scene, with some simple explanations that will help in better understanding the rest of this article.
- What is a cell? It’s the basic unit of life. The number can vary in living organisms from a single cell, as in yeast, to around 30 trillion in the human body. Amongst other things, cells can build up and break down molecules, move, grow, divide, and die.
- What do I mean when I say Cellular Reprogramming – Returning a cell to a previous state.
- Let me now explain what scientists are now calling Cellular Senescence. It’s a process where normal cells stop dividing and start to release inflammatory molecules, this can be caused by, DNA damage or epigenomic noise amongst other things. They are sometimes referred to as zombie cells.
- What are chromosomes – it is a compact structure into which our cell’s DNA is organised, held together by proteins. Human cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes in each DNA.
- Oh – I better quickly explain DNA for completeness – DNA is the molecule that encodes the information for a cell to function. It forms a shape that resembles a twist in a zip or a twisted ladder. They can break and they can repair. Cells repair their DNA because if they don’t the cell dies.
- Your genes are a segment of your DNA that carries a set of instructions that helps the cell perform certain tasks.
I hope this is helpful, and you’re enjoying it, I hope you don’t mind I want to just add a few more. I feel I am on a good roll!!
- Enzymes are a protein, rolled into tiny balls that carry out chemical reactions that would otherwise take much longer to happen, in some cases if at all.
- The theory of hormesis. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. How come? A small level of adversity stimulates the repair process of a cell, which provides the cell with health benefits and a survival instinct.
- Epigenetics – Firstly they do not change your actual DNA, they sit on top. They effectively are chemical signals that nullify the effect of the DNA. It’s like putting a sticky note in a book and saying ignore this chapter. It’s still there, but you are informed to ignore it.
- What are stem cells? Cells with the ability to turn into different types of cells (jellyfish style) and have the ability to divide and make more stem cells. They are different from other cells, which once created should remain that kind of cell permanently. For example, a brain cell once a brain cell, cannot become a kidney cell.
- Oh yes, I need to tell you about telomers. They are like a cap that protects the end of your chromosomes, which are often compared to the little plastic bits at the end of a shoelace to protect it from fraying. If it wears down, the DNA can break, stop dividing and become senescent (a process by which a cell ages and permanently stops dividing but does not die).
OK – let’s put all those words to use. Remember where we began, with the immortal jellyfish. One has the most lovely sounding name the Aurelia Aurita. Seriously, it keeps self-repairing and can live eternally. And, of course, there are grapevines that produce beautiful wines that are over 400 years old, and there are olive trees on the island of Crete dated at 3,000 years old and pine trees that can live for 4,000 years, in fact in California last year, they dated a Bristlecone tree at over 5,000 years and it’s still going strong. Why is this all relevant, when you could also say that some life forms, like mayflies, live for less than a day?
Well apparently, we share more than 12,000 genes with certain sharks. Wow, when you consider it's believed that there are around 20,000 to 25,000 human genes, that makes us half shark! I know some people in business that are complete sharks, so that doesn’t come as a complete shock to me!
We share some very interesting genes indeed with the shark, especially one called FOX03, this gene is labelled the longevity gene. In tests on worms, they found that this gene can double a worm’s lifespan, and guess what? FOX03 relates to how the worm deals with – are you ready for this – insulin!
Now, if you aren’t up to speed on insulin, it is the hormone that the pancreases releases to remove glucose from the blood. You see, to keep the body in homeostasis (balance) your body only likes to suspend the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in your 5 litres of blood. Any more and it’s effectively a poison. So, when you eat a subway sandwich, and that harmless-looking bread turns into a whopping 15 teaspoons of sugar (or a big plate of rice), insulin goes into battle to remove 14 of the 15 teaspoons of converted sugar as quickly as possible. I could go on and on about insulin, but basically, it is designed to save your life when you overdose on starchy carbs and sugar. It comes to your rescue, turns sugar into body fat, and stores it mainly around your belly. Insulin is your fat-storing hormone!
Turns out worms live longer when they experience periods of starvation and batten down the hatches till times improve. Turns out also, that human communities that enjoy both long lifespans and health spans, also participate in lots of intermittent fasting, giving the body a big break from insulin production.
Sorry, back to the FOX03 gene, well, it appears that all creatures and plants that live for a long time also have the FOX03 longevity gene. As Dr David Sinclair says in his book Lifespan, “when you look through a microscope, we’re all made of the same stuff. We all share the survival circuit, a protective cellular network that helps us when times are tough”.
Let me introduce you to Professor Waddington. Back in 1957, as a professor of genetics at the University of Edinburgh, he developed an analogy, that helps us understand our genes and more importantly the importance of epigenetics. He was trying to figure out how an embryo, a collection of identical cells, all with the same DNA, could be transformed into the thousands of different cell types in the human body.
He was the first, as far as I can see, to described the epigenetic landscape. He created an analogy in which the embryonic cell is a marble sitting on top of a mountain. During development, the marble rolls down the hill and comes to rest in one of hundreds of different valleys, each representing a different cell type.
This is called differentiation. The epigenome guides the marble, but it is also guided by gravity, so at the valley floor, it stays where it has fallen. As long as it stays there, you have cell stability.
But it appears that the slopes of the mountain are not as steep as we would like and the pull of gravity is not that strong and sadly can’t keep it locked in for eternity.
Maybe for the shark, the valley walls are steeper and it has a stronger force of gravity. But we humans don’t. Once a marble has settled, if all goes well with the fertilisation, a baby is born, and if enough marbles stay in place, they become a healthy adult.
Every time there is a change to the epigenome, too much sugar, unwanted chemicals, too much insulin, it’s like an earthquake, and some marbles become unseated and jump into a different valley. Every time this happens, they become a different cell, as some call it a zombie cell.
What happens with aging, is that over time, the wrong genes end up in the wrong places and then lose their identity. You end up with misguided, malfunctioning cells. This leads to the million-dollar question! How do we build up the valley walls, increase the gravity on the cells and keep things where they are supposed to be, for as long as humanly possible?!
The question I think we should all be asking – “is it possible to prevent the earthquakes in our body's tectonic plates from moving or is it just inevitable”? Well Dr David Gems, a well-respected bio-gerontologist says “That aging is not an inevitable part of life, but rather a disease process with a broad spectrum of pathological consequences”.
Dr David Sinclair, a summary from his book on how to activate our longevity genes, but in my words, “fast regularly, exercise 5 times a week, even for small bouts, try and shock the body with cold”. He goes on to say, “a bit of cellular stress is good for our epigenome because it stimulates our longevity genes. It activates AMPK, turns down mTOR, boosts NAD levels, activates the sirtuins – the disaster response teams – to keep up with the normal wear and tear that comes from living on planet earth”. Oooppss, some new phrases there!
I think it’s time to go even more molecular, like dive inside those cells that we have been looking at. Let me apologise, this stuff is a little heavy going. You won’t need to remember it to exceed your potential, but it will give you an insight into the science behind why living more Primally really works.
In each of your cells, various tiny cellular structures perform specific tasks and functions. These groups are known as organelles. Their name explains what they do very well – what organelles perform inside the cell is similar to the role organs perform in your body. One of the most important organelles within each cell is the mitochondria, which are found in all cells with the exception of red blood cells. Their job is to provide energy to the rest of the cell. If each body cell were a city, mitochondria would be the energy plant or electricity board. If a cell were a toy, the mitochondria would be the battery that brings it to life. Alongside the nucleus (another vital organelle that holds your DNA), maintaining healthy mitochondria is vital to your health and wellbeing.
It is now believed that looking after these key components to each cell and feeding them what they like to eat – healthy fats -especially MCTs, coconut, specifically C8 – which can easily (because of their shorter chain length) penetrate the wall of the mitochondria, like get rapidly absorbed– is of paramount importance to a healthy body.
In other words, the mitochondria, the powerhouse of each cell, must receive the right nutrients. Some cells have just a handful of internal mitochondria, while others like those in our brains can have hundreds. In fact, it is estimated that 10% of our entire body weight can be attributed to mitochondria.
One of their most vital tasks is their role in informing the rest of the cell when it is time to die. If cells don’t die at the appropriate time and instead continue growing, they can become a cancerous tumour.
I wrote in Primal Cure –
"THE OVERFEEDING OF OUR MITOCHONDRIA WITH JUNK FOOD HIGH IN CARBS, AND THE SUBSEQUENT UNDERNOURISHMENT DUE TO A LACK OF MINERALS AND VITAMINS IS CAUSING A PROFOUND EFFECT ON OUR MITOCHONDRIA, LEADING TO AN EPIDEMIC OF MODERN, WESTERNISED DISEASES."
Anyway, back to those few new bits of learning:
Sirtuins are a gene, a protein, that delays the aging process at the molecular level. Apparently, we have 7 different sirtuin genes. In mice studies, when put on a fasting or a carbohydrate-restricted diet, it activates the sirtuin gene and delays aging. How do they work, well most of the genes in our genome need to be kept in place, kept dormant, and kept silent throughout our lives, to prevent the breakdown of our cells, the sirtuin protein is like a lifeguard of your DNA, keeping them in lockdown mode, a bit like our government keeping us in lockdown mode during covid.
However, what happens is if they are called away on another job, to deal with another problem, trying to repair other damage, then these other genes escape and cause both havoc and aging. You may hear today people talking about STACs. This is an acronym for Sirtuin Activating Compounds. Compounds that activate our self defence system. A powerful STAC, derived from vitamin B3 is called NAD and according to Dr David Sinclair what makes NAD such a superstar is that it activates all seven sirtuins.
Recently, scientists working on STACS have really started to discover some amazing things. It turns out that NAD is a central regulator of many major biological processes, including disease and aging. It appears that NAD can add life to years. They also have researched how NAD levels decrease throughout the body, in particular, the brain, blood, muscles, pancreas, endothelial cells, and immune cells as we age. WOW! Stop and think about that list, we lose NAD in places associated with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and our immune system.
Back to Waddington’s marble analogy NAD helps keep the marbles in the right valley. It’s like adding gravity or making the valley walls steeper. They promote a reduction of epigenetic noise.
Now let’s talk – mTOR. It is an acronym for the mammalian target of Rapamycin. It regulates your cell growth. It synthesises proteins. Because it focuses on building muscles, it limits cell repair and the self-cleaning process of autophagy. It plays a common role in aging, cancer, and disease. It deactivates AMPK (I will explain this in a moment). You see our body can only focus on one thing at a time - it is either growing or repairing. When you eat you are growing, when you fast, you are repairing.
What increases mTOR? Oxidative stress, insulin, and amino acid (protein) levels. As we age we shouldn’t overdo the proteins in the diet either. Basically, we need to switch mTOR on when we want to grow, but make sure it's deactivated for periods of time too. Interestingly, exercise itself depresses it during exercise but switches it on afterwards. Fasting suppresses it too, this is why fasting before exercises gives maximum benefit. Low mTOR, then exercise, brings the best benefits.
I talk a lot about consuming natural fats, healthy fibre, and avoiding processed carbohydrates in all of my books and most of my blogs, podcasts, etc, but confess to not talking too much about protein. Protein is the building block of life and as a result, you get it in virtually all-natural foods. You get it vegetables, you get it in fish, you get it in nuts and seeds, it’s in almost everything. So you can kind of forget about protein if you are eating natural foods.
What about protein bars and whey protein? Well fine if you are building muscles when you are young, but there is evidence to suggest we shouldn’t be taken extra protein when we get older. Why? Well, it turns on the mTOR enzyme and as we have just discussed, mTOR is a building hormone, especially for muscles. But when it is inhibited, it forces all of our cells to spend less energy building and dividing and more energy in autophagy (self-repair – self-cleansing). I will do a whole separate blog on autophagy, so let’s park it for now.
Ok, here is the last one - AMPK. When your body is called upon to deal with inflammation, a key component in that repair process is activating an enzyme called AMPK. Based on the latest science, Dr Sears author of The Zone diet, says, “activating AMPK is the secret to a longer and better life. AMPK is found in every cell in your body and is a master switch that controls your metabolism and since metabolism is the essence of life, properly activating your AMPK is kind of important stuff”.
AMPK is an enzyme that plays a significant role in aging, why? because it goes into sharp decline as we age. But if you can activate it, it will keep your tissue young and slow down aging. Activated AMPK leads to high levels of autophagy and this helps cells tidy up internally and remove damaged components and damaged DNA.
AMPK is an energy sensor for our cells. It helps create new mitochondria, (mitochondrial biogenesis). It also stimulates the production of SIRT-1, the sirtuin that repairs DNA.
What reduces AMPK? - too much food. What boosts it? FASTING. Exercise boosts it, the higher the intensity the more it is activated. Dietary fibre, especially Glucomannan (Konjak) activates it. Quercetin, Fish oil, curcumin from turmeric, and EGCG from green tea activate it.
Now if you got a little lost in this blog and I never remember all this stuff myself, to be honest, having to constantly go back and relearn some of it. I started talking about this stuff because to understand aging, we have to look at the biology.
We need to understand aging at the cellular level and what to do about it.
There are thousands of scientists working on this stuff as we speak, but my inspiration and favourite expert to listen to is the brilliant Dr David Sinclair. In his book Lifespan, “why we age and why we don’t have to”, his summary on how to activate our longevity genes put in plain English is too, “fast regularly, don’t overdo the protein, exercise 5 times a week, even small bouts, try and shock the body with cold”.
He goes on to write, “a bit of cellular stress is good for our epigenome because it stimulates our longevity genes. It activates AMPK, turns down mTOR, boosts NAD levels, activates the sirtuins – the disaster response teams – to keep up with the normal wear and tear that comes from living on planet earth”.
All you need to remember is:
AMPK – activate it. It keeps you active, regulates energy in your cells, helps prevent disease. What activates it, exercise, fasting, turmeric, fibre – especially glucomannan, fish oil.
Autophagy – The body's self-repair system, what activates autophagy? Intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet.
mTOR – we need some to build muscle, it synthesis protein, but we also need to switch it off regularly because too much both deactivates AMPK and prevents autophagy.
Sirtuin - sirtuins are a gene that help delay the aging process. We have 7 different sirtuin genes. Fasting and NAD activates the sirtuin gene and delays aging. How do they work, they keep certain genes in lock-down.
NAD - acts as a fuel for our sirtuin defence system. Without sufficient NAD, which we get from vitamin B3, our sirtuin system does not work efficiently, they can’t silence rogue genes and they can't help extend lifespan. What should you eat to increase NAD? Fish like tuna, salmons, and sardines are rich sources of NAD, also mushrooms, avocado, chicken eggs, green vegetables, and especially asparagus.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could dramatically slow down the aging process? Well, I believe we can. After all your DNA blueprint to be young, is always there, even when we are older. I never say old, but older, there is no such thing as being old, just older, and wiser.
But what if we can reset the aging clock and prevent cells from ever losing their identity? What would happen if like the jellyfish, we could live forever or keep regenerating parts of ourselves by stopping our cells from becoming senescent, that’s where cells in us older folk start to lose their ability to reproduce. OK maybe not forever like the jellyfish, but live longer like a whale or a shark, we have very similar genes after all. How do we go about reprograming our cells to achieve a shark-like life span?
That’s exactly what we have been discussing.
How do we get our aging cells to reread their blueprint? Let me give you an analogy of a dirty DVD or CD disk, remember those things. Over time, by playing too much or miss handling, they stop working properly, they get dirty and they get scratched. The DVD has 30 miles of spiralled grooves containing data, but eventually scratches causes it to jump or certain songs on the CD to be completely destroyed. Our DNA in our cells, holds coincidently about the same amount of info as a DVD, but in about 6ft of the length of DNA that’s squeezed into a cell many times smaller than a speck of dust!
To restore your disc, you have 2 options, purchase a more sensitive player or give it a good clean with soapy water. Both work right? Getting a new player to put the CD in, is how they created Dolly the Sheep, but that’s not going to help you or me! What about cleaning your DVD your DNA? Well, cleaning is anything that removes epigenetic noise. Sure, eventually you can’t clean the DVD anymore, but you certainly can prolong its life with cleaning.
Remember, your DNA retains the information it needs to be young again. Just like cleaning the CD or DVD, epigenetic noise is not a one-way street. It turns out that with the help of sirtuins (our self-repair molecules), cells that have lost their identity, just like cleaning the DVD or putting the marble back in the right valley, cells that have lost their identity can be led back to their true selves.
Even if you don’t remember a single thing about today, I hope I have demonstrated 2 things:
1 – There are some fundamental biological reasons why intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, and autophagy are healthy and should help add life to your years.
2- There are biological reasons why certain foods, like sardines, green vegetables, omega 3, and supplements like glucomannan, NAD, turmeric, resveratrol, and vitamin B3 work on a cellular level.
What Made Me happiest This Week
It was my wife’s birthday on Tuesday and out at dinner felt almost normal. Not suggesting for one minute that we are out of the COVID woods, but it certainly feels like we are on the journey to recovery.
Recipe of the Week
I have been spending some time working with the totally brilliant Caldesi team. Here is one of Katie Caldesi’s awesome recipes that we uploaded to the app this week and the text here is in Katie's words.
Mediterranean roast vegetables with baked feta
It has all the colours of a Mediterranean feast on the roasting tray and fussy children (and grown-ups) can pick out the vegetables they like. The vegetables I choose depend on the season and what I have in the fridge so I have given plenty of swaps below.
- 4 baby courgettes or 1 medium courgette, sliced
- 3 small peppers or 1 romano (large) or red pepper, sliced into 1cm strips
- 200g of asparagus or chestnut mushrooms, halved, optional
- 400g feta, split into four blocks
- A handful of basil or fresh oregano leaves to decorate
Heat the oven to 200C.
Pile the vegetables together on a roasting tray. Scatter over the seasoning, 1 teaspoon of the oregano and 4 tablespoons of the oil, and toss them together with your hands making sure all the vegetables are coated in flavoured oil. Spread them out to a single layer and then snuggle the blocks of feta between the vegetables in the centre of the tray.
Scatter the remaining oregano and drizzle the last of the oil over the feta.
Bake the cheese and vegetables for 15 to 18 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and begun to brown. The cheese should look soft and pillowy. Remove the tray from the oven and serve straight away on the tray scattered with the fresh herbs.
Per serving: 10.5g net carbs, 2.6g fibre, 17.6g protein, 38.9g fat, 463kcal
Primal Living Latest Performance
We are passionate to create the very best health products on the planet. Many thanks to everyone who kindly took time to submit a review this week; here is your latest statistics.
Customer Comment of the Week
Lorraine reviewed our Bamboo bedding on Trustpilot and commented:
Bought myself a bedding set as a birthday treat. I can honestly say I was a bit undecided with the feel of them at first, (I'm normally a flannelette sheet fan) but after one night in bed, I am converted to the wonderfulness of Bamboo! You will never ever go back to having any other bedding after trying it yourself!!