Long-term health – or ‘healthspan’ – is a concept that I am passionate about, and constantly researching, which brings me to the topic of methylation and how manipulating DNA methylation can slow down ageing.
DNA is a crucial marker of biological age and in 2003, a team of scientists created a map of our genes hoping to isolate a single gene that causes diseases like cancer or heart disease. Their findings? That a whole host of genes come together in a complex process to influence health, or the lack thereof.
This milestone finding led to an effort to understand not just the genes that influence disease and health – but the factors that turn them “on” or “off”. This, in turn, led to the discovery of molecules known as methyl groups, which exist in their millions all over the body. More interesting is that when methyl groups are removed from DNA you activate the gene, when added, it is activated again.
Why this finding on DNA methylation is important
If we can enable or inhibit the expression of certain genes, then it stands to reason that we can prevent genes, such as tumour-causing genes – from “turning on”. In other words, are there lifestyle behaviours that we can adopt to influence how methyl groups are interacting with our genes?
Scientists have long understood that a healthy diet filled with vegetables, regular exercise, healthy relationships, reduced stress and good sleep is key. But now, a team of researchers has uncovered why these actions are so beneficial: they influence our genes. By targeting DNA methylation patterns with environmental changes, we can manipulate or extend our biological health and even reverse ageing.
A small, yet potent study
In a small pilot study published in the journal Aging in April 2021, a sample group strictly followed a healthy lifestyle regimen for eight weeks. Their estimated biological age dropped by the equivalent of about 3 years when compared with the control group that didn’t follow the regimen.
In other words, you can profoundly alter your gene expression with diet.
In the study, the participants ate the folowing:
- 7 cups of vegetables a day
- healthy animal proteins, like liver, eggs, and grass-fed, hormone-free meat
- good fats like olive oil and nut seed butters
- Foods known to boost methylation, such as blueberries, garlic, green tea, and the herb rosemary.
And, simple carbohydrates were severely restricted.
In terms of lifestyle,
- A minimum of 7 hours or more each night was prescribed
- Breathing exercises twice a day
- Moderate-intensity exercises at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week.
Nutritional tips for DNA methylation
To me, the results of this study make sense. There are specific nutrient and food options that have potent methyl donors or adaptogens for optimising DNA methylation.
Specifically, a keto-leaning, plant-based, low-glycemic diet containing:
- Cruciferous vegetables (eg cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage)
- Greens:(eg bitter greens like rocket, coriander and other herbs plus cooked spinach, asparagus and other non-starchy green vegetables)
- Seed & nuts
- Beetroot (a methylation superstar!)
- Grass-fed organic animal protein (in moderation)
- NO simple carbohydrates
Further to this, I would recommend antioxidant, anti-inflammatory supplements (Coyne Healthcare is my go-to) that protect against DNA damage, specifically:
- Green tea
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
For an easy DIY guide to nutrition, read My Guide to the Ideal Nourishing Plate.
While the study needs further research and testing, it does suggest that if you adopt key lifestyle interventions, then your body will inherently try to right itself via DNA methylation. And if the results of this study hold up, these interventions just might make you younger too. Explore my blog on ‘8 Secrets to Staying Younger’ which include more practical lifestyle tips, including a recipe, for staying younger.