On April 12, 2021, Dr. Kara Fitzgerald and her team of researchers published a study in the journal Aging, all about how diet and lifestyle work to reverse epigenetic age. The study was entitled, Potential Reversal of Epigenetic Age Using a Diet and Lifestyle Intervention: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. This was a smaller preliminary trial that examined how a regimen consisting of exercise, meditation, and a methylation diet could affect biological age. Methylation is likely the most resilient mechanism we have for controlling gene expression, and DNA methylation specifically is of the many mechanisms of epigenetics. DNA methylation is seen in the inhibition of certain genes including those involved in tumor formation, and our unique methylation patters are the best biochemical marker of our age. In this study, there were a total of 40 middle-aged + healthy men who were examined. Half of these men were assigned to the placebo group while the other half implemented this lifestyle modification regimen (treatment group) that is described below:
Excerpts From the Study, Potential Reversal of Epigenetic Age Using a Diet and Lifestyle Intervention: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial
“The dietary recommendations employed as part of the treatment protocol for this study were based largely on biochemistry and generalized measures of health.”
“The dietary intervention used here were also plant-centered, and included a high intake of nutrients that are substrates or cofactors in methylation biosynthetic pathways (e.g. containing folate, betaine), ten-eleven translocation (TET) demethylase cofactors and modulators (e.g. alpha ketoglutarate, vitamin C and vitamin A), and polyphenolic modulators of DNA methyl transferases (DNMT) (e.g. curcumin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), rosmarinic acid, quercetin, luteolin). It also included limited nutrient-dense animal proteins (e.g. liver, egg).
“The diet restricted carbohydrates and included mid intermittent fasting, both designed to lower glycemic cycling. The diet was supplemented daily with fruit and vegetable powder, and was also rich in polyphenolic modulators of DNMT activity, and contained a probiotic providing 40 million CFU’s of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v.”
“Lifestyle guidance in this study included a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least 5 days per week at an intensity of 60-80 precent maximum perceived exertion.”
It is also important to note that the researchers found that “excessive exercise may accelerate methylation aging,” but this has only ever been observed in individuals who are elite, competitive athletes.
“Twice-daily breathing exercises that elicited the Relaxation Response were prescribed for stress release,” and the study recommended at least 7 hours of sleep per night to help optimize sleep in participants.
I think stress is such an important factor to consider here because, as stated by the researchers, there are almost a quarter of the DNAmAge CpG sites that are located in glucocorticoid response elements. This is described in detail in the linked study, but in short, this means that there is likely a relationship between our stress levels and our rate of accelerated aging. The study also observed that insomnia was linked to an acceleration in the DNAmAge clock, and that PTSD contributed to an accelerated rate of methylation aging as well.
To read more on how the study was conducted, you can find it HERE.
The results revealed that the biological age of those in the treatment group was reversed by a total of 3.23 years. This was shown after 8 weeks of “treatment” compared to the placebo group who scored an average of 1.27 years older at the end of the study period.
Studies like this get me so excited because they further validate that FOOD IS MEDICINE and exercise + stress reduction are vital to not only extending our lifespans but in helping us achieve optimal health. How many of you were aware that methylation could impact how we age? Did you already know that advanced age is the greatest risk factor involved in impaired physical and mental function, as well as cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegeneration?
With this information we now have, how can we work to reverse our biological age and support DNA methylation throughout our bodies? One very sustainable way to work on this every day is through diet. Most of the existing research available suggests that vitamin B-12, folate, vitamin B-6, and choline, along with other vitamins and minerals, are essential for optimal DNA methylation to take place. By simply increasing our intake of these nutrients, we will naturally be supporting the DNA methylation occurring throughout our bodies and ultimately, helping prevent certain genes from being expressed, like those involved in cancer formation.
DIETARY SOURCES OF FOLATE
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) currently recommends that adults consume 400 mcg of folate each day, and women who are pregnant/breastfeeding should consume 600 mcg per day. By incorporating foods like citrus fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes like lentils + peas + beans, dark leafy vegetables, beets, asparagus, brussels sprouts and eggs into our diets, we can naturally increase our folate levels.
DIETARY SOURCES OF VITAMIN B-12
Vitamin B-12 can be found in foods like fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, eggs, beef, organ meats, clams, sardines, tuna, trout, salmon, fortified nondairy milk and other dairy products.
DIETARY SOURCES OF CHOLINE
Great sources of choline can be found in foods like whole egg, chicken breast, fish, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, soybeans, dairy products, organ meats, caviar, shitake mushrooms, and almonds.
DIETARY SOURCES OF VITAMIN B-6
Foods that are high in vitamin B-6 include poultry, fish, organ meats, non-citrus fruits, and starchy vegetables.
The bottom line is that DNA methylation plays a key role in how our bodies age. At the end of the day, we are what we eat, and science shows that food effects whether we sleep at night, how we function throughout the day, how our bodies look, and how they function on the inside. Food affects the way our brain obtains and utilizes energy, as well as how we look and feel. The secret to truly optimizing our health and feeling our best is to increase the intake of nutrients that are going to promote a longer, healthier life, and in doing so, we can help our bodies age gracefully.