With so much talk about aging, have you ever stopped to wonder why exactly our bodies change so much as we age? Dr. David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, has been researching this very topic.
He writes in his new book Lifespan that aging really can be treated. Read our conversation below to find out what that means, and follow his five tips for living a longer, healthier life.
Katie Couric: You think there’s a singular cause. What is it? Can you break it down for us?
David Sinclair: All of our cells have the same DNA, but they read different genes that tell them what type of cell they should be. A nerve cell reads different genes from a skin cell.
When we’re young, our cells know exactly what they’re supposed to be, but over time they lose the ability to read the correct genes. They lose their identity and begin to fail.
I think this is getting old. In my book I explain that aging is simply a loss of this information, not of a genetic type, but of an “epigenetic” type. It is similar to having a DVD scratched. The information is still there, but the music sounds terrible. I call this “The Information Theory of Aging.”
In his book Lifespan, he says that “aging is much easier to treat than cancer.” What do you mean by that?
Our laboratory has shown that it is possible to polish the scratched DVD and recover the information for our cells to become young again. It was never lost, we just needed to find a way to access it.
It is a simple solution if you understand what aging is. We put some genes in cells to tell them to reset, and they reset.
They regain their youth and regain their function. Nerve cells remember to be nerves. Skin cells remember to be skin. The epigenetic clock of aging is ticking back.
So what would an effective and revolutionary treatment for aging look like? How far are we from having one?
We figured out how to put the DVD. We also refer to this as accessing the cell’s backup hard drive. We use gene therapy to reprogram cells. We reverse vision loss in old mice and, in people, we hope to treat diseases of the eyes and ears first.
These treatments are at least 6 years away, but we have molecules at our disposal that I discuss in my book.
What are five things people can do right now to live a longer, healthier life?
This is what I do:
- Eat less often. No appetite. Not malnutrition, but skipping a meal every day and being a little hungry.
- Exercise until you’re out of breath a couple of times a week.
- Eat colorful foods and don’t eat too much or too little from any one food group.
- Maintain my ideal BMI, which for me is 23-25.
- Optimize your microbiome. Every morning I eat yogurt that is homemade (Bravo is bacterial culture, by the way).