Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Healthspan Recipe v2.0: Sunday Musings…9/25/22

How did I spend all of the spare time my hip “gifted” me with over the last several weeks? Well, I did do a little bit of stuff on the intellectual side of my day job. I spent a bit of time working formally as a consultant, helping companies with new product development and working on writing projects in areas that interest me. Much more enjoyable were the couple of opportunities I had to interact informally with colleagues who’d reached out and requested a bit of wisdom from the mini-silverback in their midst. Both versions of this part of my professional life are very satisfying.

Neither, it turns out, is enough to fill all of the hours that would normally be taken up by going to work. After my daily PT was accomplished I was left with 5+ hours of “free” time, and I just couldn’t see spending it all on bingeing TV. Even something as noteworthy as “The Wire”, which I still regret missing and am still promising myself I will watch (Beth has no interest). What I did, instead, was indulge my interest in the field of lifespan and longevity research, an area I’ve wanted to explore for some time.

Now, my little combination of whimsy and drivel here is not the place to do an exhaustive review of the science involved in extended your lifespan by adding healthy years of living. For that I will save you the trouble of trying to find resources and once again recommend “Lifespan” by Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard. I will be sending copies of this around to friends and family who wish to know more than what I’m about to share, or the “why” behind my suggestions. If you just want to read his conclusions yourself there are about 100 pages that will do the trick. More interested in the potential social and societal ramifications of having a meaningful percentage of our populations living actively for 20 or 30 additional years? Sinclair shares his thoughts on these as well.

In a nutshell we can distill Sinclair’s (and other’s) conclusions down to two straightforward strategies that work at the cellular level. First, in order to enhance cellular vitality it is beneficial to maintain cell processes that function during times of deprivation in an “on” mode. Second, while doing so, one must enhance each cell’s ability to identify and repair defects and errors in both our genes and the “epigenetic” mechanisms that turn those genes on and off. Again, if knowing what this means in a more granular fashion is your cup of tea, “Lifespan” is excellent.

How, then, do we accomplish these goals at macro level? The stuff we choose to do in our day to day lives? Some of this you likely already know, especially if you have spent any time here in my Restless Mind. Deprivation is in many ways a synonym for stress. Tactic #1 is eat less. At a cellular level this, in and off itself, turns on the “save for a rainy day” mechanisms that extend the healthy life of the body’s cells. Honestly, your macro dietary move could be just that. Eat less. “Eat to promote results in the gym, not fat.” Yes, all of the research showing the effectiveness of particular forms of fasting are largely correct. You can turbocharge the effect of eating less with pretty much any version of fasting that you can, or are willing to adopt.

Let me step outside of “stress” for just a moment to discuss what to eat. Sugar is still the enemy. Processed food high in added sugar, especially manufactured sugar such as high fructose corn syrup, is a pro-inflammatory agent that works at cross-purposes to our goals here. Attempting to get as many of your daily carbohydrates from non-grains and non-sugars is STILL part of the prescription. Sinclair and a litany of others have repeatedly shown the deleterious effects of eating mammalian protein. Meat, especially red meat, is associated with higher rates of both heart disease and cancers of all sorts. Do you have to become a vegan to increase your healthspan? Heavens no. Just realize that with the exception of post-intense exercise recovery, our need for gobs of protein is lower than we think. Obtaining that protein from plant sources and fish is easier than you think.

Returning to the the concept of “stress”, you gotta get up and move. The couch is STILL your nemesis. Literally anything is better than nothing. Brisk walking works, and by brisk I don’t mean meandering behind your pug as he ponders the placement of his, well, you know. Wanna run? Sure. Why not? Just remember that you don’t need to run 10 miles/day to increase your healthspan. Turns out the health benefit is probably the same if you run 3 miles, and you might get almost the same with that brisk walk. The key is to elevate your heart rate and get a little bit out of breath. Nothing seems to be more effective than high intensity interval training or HIIT. No matter what you think about CrossFit, done properly it is simply the most efficient and effective way to inject physical stress into your recipe.

Lastly for the macro stuff is the truly macro: you have to build some strength. Old fashioned, full-bodied functional movements during which you move meaningful (meaning heavy to you) weight. Sure, you can use all manner of exercise machines that produce resistance that targets individual muscle groups, but healthspan necessarily means the absence of decrepitude. Doing movements such as the deadlift, squat, or press that cannot be broken down into component parts, and doing them while moving a load that is meaningful without being dangerous, is what will make it more likely that you will be able to rise unassisted in (much) later life.

But you knew all, or most, of that already, right? What’s new, at least for me, is what we can do on a daily basis with supplements and a common medication to enhance our body’s functions on a cellular and genetic level. There are a ton of things that have been proposed to slow aging at a cellular level. Many of them have been controversial, at least in part because the research has been less than overwhelmingly positive. Sinclair takes far more of these things than I am comfortable suggesting. I’m going to make it super simple, distilling everything I’ve read about “what to take” down to 4 substances, 3 of which are over the counter.

Let’s start with the simple science of the one medicine that has a direct effect that counteracts cellular aging. The ends of your chromosomes are protected by structures called centromeres. The longer the centromere, the physiologically younger the chromosome, and therefore, the cell. Metformin is a medication that is routinely prescribed as a first-line treatment for Type 2 diabetes. Metformin has been called the closest thing to the Fountain of Youth yet discovered. One of its notable “side effects” is that is elongates those centromeres, presumably increasing the lifespan of the cells themselves. An older medication, metformin is available as a generic for, like, $5 a month. Sinclair takes 1,000mg per day.*

You may have heard about Sinclair’s next suggestion, resveratol. Sinclair and his labs became famous for the findings on resveratol in 2006 that formed the backbone of the so-called “French Paradox”. The French supposedly were living longer despite eating a diet high in saturated fat because of the liberal partaking of red wine with those “unhealthy” meals. While reading “Lifespan” I found it interesting that the people living in the Sardinian “Blue Zone” routinely drink meaningful amounts of a local red wine, Canonnau, that contains high amounts of resveratol. Not all of the early enthusiasm about resveratol has survived deeper testing, but it appears to have little or no downside when taken without the alcohol chaser in the red wine. Sinclair takes 1000mg/day*.

The last supplement is a kinda two-fer. Nicotinamide mononucleoside (NMN) is a potent producer of NAD, the energy source for the activation of the “stress genes” as well as the proteins that function in cell repair. Again, the science is cool and it is well-described in “Lifespan” if you wish to explore it in greater depth. Theoretically the production of NAD results in a depletion of methyl groups that are necessary for other significant basic cellular activities. Sinclair suggests that, if this is so, this can be counteracted by adding trimethylglycine (TMG or betaine) to your supplement cocktail. Sinclair takes 1000mg of NMN and 500mg of TMG daily*.

So there you have it. A recipe that, coming from me, begins appropriately with something that sounds an awful lot like the original CrossFit prescription, “Fitness in 100 Words”, found in the CrossFit Journal Vol. 1 #2 2003. Eat less. Eat better. Move in such a way that you get a bit out of breath and do that regularly. Get and stay stronger by doing full-body functional exercises where you move weight. Do your homework and consider taking some or all of the supplements that David Sinclair and his family and co-researchers are taking to extend the lifespan of the cells in their bodies.

In so doing you will also be joining me, and my family, as I add Sinclair’s regimen to the pescatarian diet suggested by my daughter, and head back to the gym after my rehab from hip surgery. May we all increase our personal healthspan, adding many healthy and vibrant years to our lives.

*Reporting on these findings is not a medical recommendation. Note that you need a prescription from a doctor for metformin. Discuss metformin with your medical doctor.

Leave a Reply