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Episode 542
The Doctor's Farmacy

What Causes Rapid Aging?

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Aging shouldn’t be something we dread; it should be something we celebrate. Yet, as a society, we are sicker than ever. We are so fixated on keeping people alive longer, but what about keeping people healthier? This is the difference between healthspan and life span. Your life span is how long you live. Your healthspan is how long you live a healthy, vibrant life.

I’ve learned so much about this topic over the last few years that my team at The UltraWellness Center and I got together to make a docu-series about the Functional Medicine approach to longevity. Over the next few weeks, I’m excited to share this series with you here. In this episode, we dive into an overview of the seven systems of Functional Medicine and how you can optimize these systems to improve your healthspan.

To get all of my longevity tips, sign up for my weekly Longevity newsletter at drhyman.com/longevity.

In this series, I am joined by my colleagues at The UltraWellness Center: Elizabeth Boham, MD, MS, RD, Medical Director and Physician; Todd LePine, MD, Physician; and George Papanicolaou, DO, Physician.

This episode is brought to you by Rupa Health, InsideTracker, and Pendulum.

Rupa Health is a place where Functional Medicine practitioners can access more than 2,000 specialty lab tests from over 20 labs like DUTCH, Vibrant America, Genova, and Great Plains. You can check out a free, live demo with a Q&A or create an account at RupaHealth.com.

InsideTracker is a personalized health and wellness platform like no other. Right now they’re offering my community 20% off at insidetracker.com/drhyman.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (00:11)
Welcome to the Longevity Roadmap docu-series. This is an eight-part docu-series about accelerating your health at any age. It’s also about preventing, slowing and reversing disease. It’s about turning back your aging clock at any age. It’s about becoming resilient, strong, and useful. We all deserve a long life filled with energy and vitality, and while we can’t control everything, the science of a longevity teaches us what makes us age quickly and how to age backwards. Rather than a disease focused approach, we can follow a health focused approach.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (00:51)
Most of us have the same goal. I want to add years to my life, and life to my years, I want to live a long, active, engaged, and healthy life, or as I like to say, to die young as late as possible. Now, as a doctor on the front lines of treating chronic disease in my patients and the population, I have spent my life learning about how to build a strong, healthy body and a healthy mind. And I teach this to my patients every day. And I apply these principles to myself, my family, I share them with my community.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (01:25)
We’re in a very strange time. Most of us live longer than any time in history, but most of us spend the last few decades and sometimes more with dysfunction and disability and suffering from preventable and reversible ailments on piles of pills. Modern medicine is more advanced than ever, and yet we’re sicker than ever. Advances in surgery and medication helps many of us live a longer lifespan, but what about our health span? Your lifespan is how long you live. Your health span is how many years you live a healthy, vibrant life. You want your health span to equal your lifespan. Rather than living the last 10 or 20 years or more of your lives incredibly sick and disabled like most of us, how about living to 90 or 100, and be able to be fully engaged in life and love and play and work?

Dr. Mark Hyman: (02:20)
We’re so fixated on living longer, but how about living healthier? Right now, 6 in 10 Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease. And 4 and 10 have more than one chronic disease. In a few years, 83 million Americans will have three or more chronic diseases, diseases that rob them of their quality of life, steal years from their life, and are almost entirely preventable. We have more information than ever before. More technology, more therapies and more illness.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (02:55)
And this is how it goes for most of us. Chronic disease, problems like disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, depression, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, and lots more comes on gradually, starting around age 45 or 50. For most of us, we see a slow, steady decline in energy, function, wellbeing. And then after 60, we often see a steeper decline. And by 70 we’ve resigned ourselves to poor function and health, and it only gets worse from there. Pills, doctors, hospitals, procedures, nursing homes are worse. And often diseases of aging start really young, in our thirties and forties and smolder along and manifest in our fifties and beyond.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(03:37)
Now, you can consider the idea of optimal wellness and being your best self and having the greatest health span to really be something that you should be addressing your entire life. But when it really comes to where disease is causing the most damage, where we’re seeing the most morbidity or reduction in performance, it’s in that zone from 65 to 80. That’s the red zone.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(04:02)
So the goal of medicine should now be really focusing on how do we shorten that? Of course, if you spoke to a room full of people and you said, “Okay, everybody, who here wants to live to be 100 years old?” You don’t see a lot of hands go up right away, because most people start thinking, “Ah, I’m going to be 100 years old, and I’m going to be in a nursing home, and somebody’s going to be feeding me. I’m not going to have a great quality of life. I don’t think I’m in for that.” But if you say, “Who wants to live to be 100 years old, and you’ll only be sick for a week or a day?” Well, then I think everybody’s going to raise their hands. That’s pushing back disease. That’s increasing our health span. And that should be the focus of what we’re doing in medicine now.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (04:52)
And the problem is that medicine has focused on treating disease, but the new science of longevity, based on the principles of functional medicine, teach us how to create health, to optimize our health wellbeing and our function. Unfortunately, today, instead of going on long hikes up the mountain, as we age most of us take regular pilgrimages to the doctor and the hospital. And then our families and our healthcare system spends massive amounts of money trying to keep us alive for as long as possible while we’re suffering. We spend about 90% of our lifelong health care dollars in the last two to three years of our lives. And these are long painful, expensive deaths. What kind of life is that?

Dr. Mark Hyman: (05:36)
I propose a different way of living. One in which we take the steps we need to take today to feel better than ever. And in turn, we’re going to experience health in our later years. I don’t know about you, but I’m training for the centenarian Olympics, something my friend, Peter Attia talks about all the time. How do you become a vibrant, alive, connected, healthy human at 100 years old? Think 10, 20, 30 years from now, what kind of life do you want to live? Do you want to be able to keep up with your kids, your grandkids, and your great grandkids? Do you want to be able to travel? Have adventures, walk without pain, be mentally sharp, be focused, be learning your whole life? I want those things, and I want them for you too. I want you to be resilient and strong in the face of the global pandemic of disease like the one we’re currently facing. I want you to thrive, and I want you to die young as late as possible.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (06:33)
Most doctors learn nothing about health, only about disease. Functional medicine is all about the science of creating health. It teaches us how to optimize the essential functions of our body to create health. Our immune system, our gut microbiome, our hormones, our energy systems, how we make energy in our bodies, our detoxification system, our muscles, and our nutritional status. With my team at the Ultra Wellness Center, we will walk you through the major obstacles that are interfering with extending your health span and your lifespan, and the exciting science of supercharging your health using the principles of functional medicine.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (07:15)
Now, if you’re not familiar with functional medicine, it’s the future of medicine available now. Functional medicine seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of a whole bunch of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. It is, as I said, simply the science of how to create a healthy human. And when you create health, often disease goes away as a side effect.

Dr. Elizabeth Boham: (07:46)
In functional medicine, we recognize that all the different systems in the body are interrelated, and are related to each other. We recognize that when somebody has gum disease, that can be a trigger for their heart disease. We recognize that when there’s imbalances in the microbiota in our digestive system, that’s influencing our metabolism. That’s influencing level of inflammation in the body. And we know sometimes that causes, it can be an underlying cause of auto-immune disease. So as opposed to just naming a disease and then sending that person to a specific specialist, we’re looking and recognizing how all the different systems in the body are related, interrelated. And then working on that individual person to rebalance the systems in their body.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (08:36)
Simply put, we are medical detectives. We work with our patients to uncover what’s going on underneath the disease and dysfunction, getting the diagnosis of heart disease doesn’t tell you everything. Heart disease, diabetes, dementia, these are really just symptoms. They’re labels that we give to people who share common symptoms. But knowing the name of the disease, doesn’t tell you what causes it.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (09:01)
For example, diabetes just means you have high blood sugar, but why? Is from the starch and sugar in your diet, environmental toxins, or maybe an inflammatory microbiome or maybe nutritional deficiencies, or maybe all of it? The key to successful aging and to health in general is to find all the underlying causes. So let’s find them and let’s tackle them.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (09:25)
In functional medicine rather than treating the tens of thousands of diseases all as separate things, we restore balance in the basic functional systems of your body that are all connected. When they’re in balance and they’re functioning well, you’re healthy. And when they’re not, you’re sick.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (09:44)
What we know now is that there seems to be a unified theory of aging, that there are common underlying factors that seem to lead to all these downstream diseases. And the diseases that we see that we think are the causes of death, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, these are just downstream consequences of imbalances in our biology that we can do something about. And for different people, depending on their genetics and various factors, it can be expressed as heart disease in one person, cancer in another, diabetes in and, another Alzheimer’s in another. But if you look at the underlying factors like inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction, which is your energy factories, your microbiome and your diet, all these things play a huge role in determining whether or not you get these diseases. So these diseases for the most part are preventable if we understand how to follow a lifestyle and a way of being an eating and exercising and sleeping and relationships and connection and meaning and purpose and nutritional status that optimize our exposome.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (10:55)
Medicine is undergoing an incredible scientific revolution, a massive paradigm shift. We now know the body isn’t just a collection of separate organs and parts, all to be treated separately by different specialists. It is one whole integrated dynamic interconnected system. The key is treating the system and removing the things that create imbalance and providing those things that restore balance and optimal function. And this can be done at any age, at any stage of disease. But of course, the sooner you start, the better. Your health status at this moment in time is determined by all the inputs of your life, your diet, exercise, quality of your sleep, stress, your nutritional status, your exposure to toxins and allergens, microbes, your relationships, your beliefs, your thoughts, the meaning and purpose that you have in life, all wash over your genes and determine your health status.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (11:57)
We can’t change our genes, but we can change how they are expressed. We may have a predisposition to diabetes or dementia, but we’re not predestined. All those inputs affect your gene expression for better or for worse. We have the power to influence all of it. If we get rid of those things that impair health, and we add in those things that create health, we can live a long, healthy life.

Dr. Todd LePine: (12:27)
I’ll talk about genes and longevity, and I always like to tell patients that your DNA is not your destiny. A lot of people have been taught that your genes are your destiny. So if mom had heart disease, dad had diabetes, that you’re going to get it. And that’s not necessarily the way it is. Your genes are more or less a recipe for making proteins and various body chemicals in the body and body parts. And your genes are a little bit like a loaded gun. So you can have the genes that make you more predisposed towards inflammation, or you can have the genes that make you more predisposed towards oxidative stress and inflammation, and a gun that’s loaded never kills anyone until you pull the trigger. And a person’s lifestyle and environment is the finger that pulls the trigger on your genes. So it’s really important to have that mindset that you are not destined by your DNA.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (13:28)
The things that influence our lifespan and health span are often similar, but our lifespan in part is determined by our genetics. There’s only so many years humans can live. The maximum life of any human has been reported to be 122 years. Most of us don’t get anywhere close to that, but there is a possibility for extending our lifespan as a human species, to maybe 120, or even maybe 150 with new technologies and scientific advances. But our health span is determined by things we have control over. 90% of our health status is determined by what we call the exposome. Those are the things that we expose our genes to over our lifetime.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (14:14)
Functional medicine is simple. Disease results from imbalances in seven basic functional interconnected systems in your body. The key to health, to optimal aging, to preventing reversing and treating disease is really simple. Remove those things that create imbalance in the body and the systems and add in those things that restore balance, and the body’s natural intelligence does the rest.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (14:39)
So let’s review those basic systems. The first is your gut, the function and the balance of your digestive system and your microbiome, which we now know is a massive driver of health if it’s in balance and a huge contributor to disease if it’s not, is the first system we have to look at. The next is your immune system and your inflammatory system. So much of aging is caused by inflammation. In fact, we call it inflammaging. Next is your energy production system. Those little factories in your cells that burn food and oxygen and turn it into energy that your body can use. We associate aging with the loss of energy, but learning how to optimize and heal those energy factories called mitochondria is the key to healthy aging.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (15:32)
Next is your waste disposal system, or what we call detoxification or biotransformation, where we transform molecules and get rid of them that are bad. The better we are at eliminating toxins that cause damage to our body and that accelerate disease and aging, the healthier we’re going to be. Next is your transport system, or your circulation and lymphatic system that keeps things flowing and moving throughout your body. The next one is your communication system, the control tower of your body, your hormones, your neurotransmitters, your brain chemistry, your immune messengers, your chemicals that orchestrate nearly everything in your body and get out of balance if we don’t learn how to age well. And finally, your structural system, which is everything from the sub cellular membranes and your cells to your musculoskeletal system, your muscles and bones.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (16:25)
Dysfunction in any of these systems can lead to disease. They manifest as diseases that we know by their names, but by going deeper to the root causes, by learning how to optimize each of these systems, we can make our health span equal our lifespan. We can add more years to our life and more life to our years.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (16:46)
Now, the major elements that interfere with health span around the world are heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and injury, mostly from falling because we ignore our muscle mass and strength as we age. In this docu-series, we’re going to explain the functional measures and approach to each of these and much, much more, so you can take steps toward accelerating your health journey and even age backwards.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (17:13)
Each episode will not only cover the functional medicine approach to disease and disease prevention, but what you can do starting today at home to take charge of your health. And we’re going to also share how to work with your doctor to get what you need. We’re going to talk about the best test for heart health, cancer prevention, hormonal health, brain health, and lots more. And we will also discuss what functional medicine tests are needed to cover imbalances in those seven systems of your body that are crucial to create health and optimal aging.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (17:46)
You will learn how to use food as medicine. Functional foods and super foods that help with DNA repair, that activate our stem cells, that balance your hormones, that nourish our gut microbiome, that boost your detox system, and even supercharge your mitochondria or your energy factories. You’re going to learn about foods that build your muscle and reverse inflammation, enhance your immune system. We’re going to talk about every one of these seven systems of the functional medicine matrix, and how you can address each of these starting today.

Dr. Todd LePine: (18:16)
Inflammation is a part of the immune system’s response to a outside insult, be it a bacteria, a virus, or an injury. And we want to have a robust response to inflammation that allows us to fight off an attack, if you will. However, our body then needs to turn that inflammation off, and inflammaging is when we have low levels of inflammation in the body that are like a smoldering burn, and that predisposes towards more rapid aging, so it’s inflammaging, is what we call it. And all of the conditions which we commonly see in the office, be they inflammatory arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, are tied in intimately with inflammaging. And when our immune system does not properly turn off the inflammatory process, it’s like the smoke alarm. It’s like the smoke alarm goes off and it gets sort of stuck in that loop. That can happen in the body. And you have to sort of reset or reboot the immune system.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (19:26)
Well, most diseases that we see that are chronic diseases that affect 6 in 10 Americans, that 4 in 10 Americans have two or more, and then in a few years 83 million Americans will have three or more. These are all inflammatory diseases. And what we’re understanding is this unified theory of aging, inflammation plays a huge role. And that’s what we call inflammaging. And it happens because a whole series of factors that we have control over, get out of control. We eat an inflammatory diet. We don’t exercise, which leads to inflammation. We don’t focus on the quality of our sleep, which leads to inflammation. We don’t learn how to regulate our stress response. We all get stressed, for sure. I get stressed, but I make sure I meditate every day, and that reduces inflammation. It turns on anti-inflammatory genes.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (20:22)
We don’t have a nutrient dense diet full of ingredients that help to regulate inflammation, like phytochemicals that are tens of thousands of molecules in the food we eat that are in plant rich foods. We’re even finding phytochemicals in grass fed meat. So we can consume these that help regulate inflammation in our body. We can change our thoughts, our thoughts literally drive inflammation. We can change the quality of our relationships. If you’re in a toxic relationship, it drives up inflammation. If you’re in a loving relationship, it slows down inflammation. If we avoid toxins, we stop the inflammatory trigger from that. And you can’t avoid all toxins, but we sure know how to avoid a lot of them. And we also know how to help our bodies detoxify from them.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (21:08)
So we have the ability to slow down this inflammatory process and to actually reverse it. And I think this is what we don’t think about in medicine. We don’t have inflammologists. Functional medicine doctors are inflammologists. We ask the question, why is there inflammation? Not just, “Oh, how do I treat the downstream effects?” Like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, auto immune diseases and so on. We go, “Well, why is there inflammation in the first place? Is it something you’re eating? Is it a toxin? Is it an allergen? Is it stress? Is it bad relationships? Is it lack of sleep? What is it?” And then we navigate to find the cause. And by finding the cause, we literally can unwind the effects of inflammation on aging and literally turn back the clock biologically.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(21:57)
When we talk about aging, or when I talk about aging with my patients, I can’t help but talk about something called zombie cells. But before we talk about zombie cells, let’s talk about something else. Something called apoptosis. Apoptosis is basically programmed suicide of cells in our body. When cells get to certain point where they’ve outlived their function, they have a suicide program that says, okay, time’s up. You need to go. And they die. And they’re taken out of the system. Zombie cells are also known as senescent cells. I like to call them zombie cells, that’s a lot cooler. The senescent cells, they have damaged DNA. It’s damaged by inflammation and oxidation. And they end up in this condition of suspended animation, where they’re not completely functioning, but they are functioning enough to actually release compounds that will make a toxic environment around them. Will actually impact other cells with oxidative stress, inflammation, damage those cells, and worse yet program them to be zombie or senescent cells.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(23:15)
And this process goes on and on and on. And if we took care of every other disease and we didn’t address senescent cells, that process alone would lead toward death. And that’s aging. Senescent cells can be any cells. We have different types of cells in our body. We have immune cells, for example. So when immune cells do their job, they rush to a scene of the accident in your body where there’s a foreign invader, and they mop up the mess, clean everything up. But when they’re done, they die. Most of them. Some of them don’t die, and they become senescent cells. And these senescent cells begin to impact the immune system. And it’s believed that senescent cells and their multiplication in the immune system lead to immune suppression or immune dysregulation that makes people as the age much more susceptible to infectious diseases.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(24:18)
Senescent cells can also be found in joints. So if you have an accumulation of these zombie cells, these cells suspended in animation, then they can’t lubricate the joint. They can’t protect it. And they can’t regenerate like chondrocytes in a joint will. And you will have more inflammation in your joints, and that will lead to disability.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(24:42)
Senescent cells also can impact mitochondrial function in other cells around them. And mitochondria are those powerhouses that play a very big role in how you function every day and how you age. When your mitochondria aren’t functioning appropriately, that actually leads to cell death. It actually can lead to more senescent cells. And that’s one of the mechanisms by which senescent cells are able to affect the cells around them and put them in suspended animation.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(25:12)
The good news is that there’s lots of research being done on how to eliminate senescent cells. And we don’t have to go far into our nutritional armamentarium to find something that works. Polyphenols or resveratrol has been shown to actually eliminate senescent cells. Where do you get polyphenols? Well, one of the favorite places people like to get polyphenols is in a glass of red wine. The good news is that there are compounds that can help remove senescent cells. One of them is a polyphenol called fisetin. Fisetin can be found in strawberries and seaweeds, and it’s formulated as a supplement. It’s actually a potent antioxidant, and can support brain health as well. So it might be worth taking.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(25:58)
Another compound, actually a pharmaceutical drug used to treat diabetes called metformin has also been studied, and in mice it’s been shown to increase their lifespan by 10%. And the proposed mechanism is that it actually slows the aging process down by limiting the number of senescent cells or zombie cells that form.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(26:21)
And finally, there’s a compound that comes through the red pepper called piperlongumine. Piperlongumine has also been researched and studied and found to be able to limit senescent cells, and may extend lifespan. So if you like red peppers, hot peppers, that’s a place to go.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(26:38)
When we’re talking about aging and understanding how senescent cells can impact the immune system it’s interesting to think of that in context of health span and what I had mentioned before, about as we age, we become more frail. Part of that reason is because of senescent cells. They’re actually destroying some of the really important systems in our body. And so as we do age, our immune systems get weaker. With the current crisis. This pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 disease, a lot of focus is on the immune system. And we’re finding that it’s elderly people that are having the most problems with COVID-19. And that’s where the rate of death is the highest. They’re not dying specifically from the virus. They’re dying from the immune response. They have dysregulated immune systems.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(27:41)
Younger folks are also struggling, many have died. And so the question is, if the immune system is just going to get weaker as we get older, well, why are the immune systems of younger people being impacted? And are there other reasons why they might be dying from COVID? And there probably are, but we do find that they are also having an abnormal immune response that creates a cascade of events that leads to other physiologic issues that might lead to the demise.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(28:17)
But it’s the immune system that’s the real key here. Immune resilience is something that we all should develop, but it’s very hard to in our current lifestyles, where people struggle with sleep, people struggle with stress, people struggle with eating the right foods. They’re getting way too many sugars in their diet, processed carbohydrates. They’re getting toxins in the air, they’re getting toxins in their food, they’re getting toxins in their cosmetics and clothing.

Dr. George Papanicolaou:(28:47)
You’re going to hear that refrain a lot during this as we speak about health, because those are the elements that are eroding our health. And every one of those things I just mentioned dis-regulate the immune system. They amp it up, causing autoimmunity so that you’re actually going to start creating antibodies against self. They’re going to depress it so that you can’t respond appropriately to infections that will invade you. And in the case of COVID, we have a amplified cytokine response that results in, is almost the final pathway to death in patients. And that’s because their immune systems are not strong. Their immune systems are in some way broken. So when think about health now, I think from now on, we’re going to start thinking about what do I need to do to improve my immune system.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (29:50)
Now, as soon as I turned 60, longevity and health span became a major focus in my life. I want to show up as my best self. I want to give my highest gift to the world, to spend every day able to fully be present with my loved ones, to cook, go on adventures, travel, do all the things that make me happy. How I define health is to be able to get up in the morning and do whatever I want. Read a book or write a book, climb a mountain, ride my bike, play tennis with energy and vitality.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (30:16)
Now I know many of you want your version of the same thing. So I’m bringing you all the extraordinary new science of longevity so you can train with me for the centenarian Olympics. I’m already on my way. I checked my telomeres, those little end caps at the end of our chromosomes that shrink with age, they tell you your biological age. My chronological age is 60, but my biological age is 39. Now I’m going to teach you how to do the same and reverse your biological age. And it’s not that hard. This is innovative, exciting, new information that I have not shared yet. You’re going to love it. And you’re going to want to share it with everyone you know.

Dr. Mark Hyman: (30:55)
Thank you for watching this longevity docu-series. I’ll see you next time for Episode 2.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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