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Episode 634
The Doctor's Farmacy

How To Kill Zombie Cells To Slow Aging

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Each of us is made up of an estimated 30 trillion cells, all of which work together in harmony to perform all of the functions necessary for us to survive from day to day and year to year. But sometimes cells go rogue and don’t conform to the normal cell life cycle. When that happens, we end up with cells in our body that start to cause damage. These rogue cells, called senescent or “zombie” cells, release inflammatory chemicals that contribute to all manner of health issues—osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, to name just a few.

In today’s episode of my series I’m calling Health Bites, I am talking all about zombie cells—what they are, how they develop, and how we can get rid of them.

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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.

Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Pharmacy…

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If you learn a little bit about how to attack and eliminate zombie cells from your body, you can stop them from accumulating, you can prevent all sorts of health issues, from heart disease to dementia to cancer, and live a longer, healthier life.
Hi, it’s Dr. Mark Hyman. Welcome to the Doctor’s Pharmacy, a place for conversations that matter and today I’m bringing you a health bite to improve your health because taking small steps daily can lead to big changes in your health over time.
Now, let’s talk today about zombie cells. Okay, what are zombie cells? We’re going to get into that and why they’re so important and why you need to learn, why you get them, and how to kill the zombie cells, which are very hard to kill. Now each of us is made up of about 30 trillion cells and they all work together in harmony to do all sorts of things in your body to survive day to day and year to year. But sometimes the process of regulating ourselves at replication, killing the old cells that need to be killed, recycling the parts that need to be recycled, it goes awry and it goes awry for a lot of reasons we’re going to get into, but mostly have to do with our really crappy environment, lifestyle, and toxins.
Now, when cells don’t properly die or get recycled, die through a process called apoptosis, which is basically just means the cells kind die normally, or they’re not able to be cleaned up through this process of autophagy, which sort of means self cannibalism or self eating, they kind of aren’t useful as cells anymore but they become these zombie cells. These zombie cells, turns out, are a key part of the aging process or what we call senescent cells. Senescence means the process of aging. I like to call them zombie cells, because they’re cells that never die and they’re not just floating around, just doing nothing, they’re producing this really nasty set of compounds that are driving inflammation throughout the body, and then they make other cells into zombie cells, so they just accelerate the collection of zombie cells in your body and the more zombie cells you have, the less well your body works, the faster you age, the sooner you die. The key is to learn about why you get them and stop the zombie cell accumulation, the zombie apocalypse, and two, learn really cool tools about how to kill the zombie cells and we’re going to talk about what those are in a minute. So stay tuned for this.
Now, these inflammatory chemicals, we call them cytokines, and when these zombie cells are active, they’re doing basically nothing except producing these nasty sets of inflammatory signals and chemicals that are causing everything from heart disease to cancer to osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, and the list goes on. It’s one of the underlying things we call the hallmarks of aging. I just finished my book called Young Forever, the Secrets to Your Healthiest, Longest Life, and it’s coming out February 21st, 2023. Make sure you get it. It’s going to go way more into detail all this but bottom line is there are about 10 major things that go wrong in the body that explain all disease, especially all the diseases of aging.
In medicine, we basically go and treat the symptoms and not the cause. Hallmarks are going upstream and working on the root causes of the diseases, but there’s also the causes of the hallmarks, which I get into in the book. We’re not going to go down that rabbit hole today, but the problem with zombie cells is we are getting more and more of them and we are not able to actually help our bodies stay healthy. Let’s talk about the zombie apocalypse and why it’s so important and know how we have to think about fixing this problem.
Now, the zombies cells are not killed by regular programmed cell death. You’ve got 30 trillion cells, but your cells are constantly turning over some every minute, some every day, some every week, some every year, some every decade, but your cells turn over in every part of your body and that process is highly organized and it’s a very smart process of either killing the cells through programmed cell death we call apoptosis, which clears out old damaged cells, and then this process called autophagy, which actually also basically like a Pac Man will eat the dying cells or the old cells and recycle the parts. When you, for example, fast, your body can’t use food to make new parts so it basically breaks down old cells and uses them for recycled parts. But the problem is sometimes apoptosis, autophagy don’t work and the cells don’t really quite die and they become what we call zombie cells or senescent cells.
Now, why do you get zombie cells? Well, it can be caused by DNA damage, which is caused by our inflammatory lifestyle, toxins in our diet, processed foods, sugar, obviously all the environmental toxins that we’re exposed to, 84,000 toxins in the last 100 years, only 1% have been tested for safety. It can be when we’re reproducing our cells, when we’re replicating our cells, we use these little things at the end of our chromosomes called telomeres to keep the DNA healthy and proper and when you have a short telomeres, because as you age, your telomeres shorten, sometimes that process will not really lead to the death of the cells, but actually to actually these zombie cells. The predominant reasons though are chemical, toxic stress, our inflammatory diet, and lifestyle and the things that we actually have control over. These accelerate all the age related diseases, cancer, heart disease, liver disease, dementia, cataracts, Parkinson’s, arthritis, muscle loss, all that stuff that and more obviously are affected by these zombie cells. That’s why they’re one of the key factors in aging. In fact, there’s billions of dollars being spent on looking at how do we kill these zombie cells and what do we do about it?
Now while these zombie cells wander around your body, they create really dangerous molecules, these molecules are called cytokines, and all kinds of other molecules with big scientific names. Basically they drive inflammation and then they also cause more zombie cells. The neighboring cells kind of rapidly become senescent or zombie cells too and that leads to the vicious cycle. As we age and our immune system stops functioning as well, as we get older or more susceptible to cancer, more susceptible to infection because our immune systems aren’t as strong, that’s why we see more older people dying with COVID, our body can’t really handle these zombie cells at all, and it just makes this whole thing worse.
Again, this whole inflammatory cascade, these inflammatory moles flood your body, they cause damage, and they cause something called inflammaging, which is one of the hallmarks of aging as well that I talked about in my book, but inflammaging is driving so many of our chronic diseases. Everything you know about as far as chronic illness is usually caused by inflammation, heart disease, obviously cancer, diabetes, obesity, dementia, even things like depression, autism, all these diseases that we see out, in addition, obviously autoimmune diseases, all are connected to inflammation.
What’s interesting though is if we can break this cycle of the self perpetuating zombie apocalypse and kill these zombie cells, which we’re learning about in the research, we can actually slow the process of aging down, maybe even reverse it. Now what’s really cool is that there’s these natural and pharmaceutical compounds that actually kill them and stop the progression of inflammaging and allow for your body to repair tissue and rejuvenate and remodel. These compounds are called senolytics, senescence is aging, lytic means to stop or blow up or break, so you basically stop the process of these senescence cells and senolytics are a new category of both natural compounds and pharmaceutical compounds.
Now, one really cool study actually use something called quercetin. Quercetin is a natural compound, it’s found in apples and onions and it actually has so many beneficial effects. It’s antiviral, it actually can be helpful in COVID, it helps gut healing, it’s like a natural antihistamine. It’s an amazing compound and it comes from our food. They basically combined this with a leukemia chemo drug called Dasatinib, which was incredibly effective in killing zombie cells. They did this in mice and their lifespan was extended by 36%. That means if you’re a human, you live to 80, that means you’re going to live to over 120 if you take these two compounds. Now it hasn’t been done in humans yet, so I wouldn’t start doing that but quercetin is benign, it’s relatively inexpensive, it’s accessible, and there’s no downside and potentially a lot of upside. It’s one of my key parts of my longevity strategy.
Now, other natural compounds also kill zombie cells. Now in the edible plant kingdom, there’s about 25,000 different compounds we call phytochemicals. These molecules are produced by plants, they’re their defense systems. They help defend against harsh conditions and predators but our bodies use them, and what’s really interesting is that these are plant compounds. What would they have to do with us? But we’ve co-evolved with these plants, I believe, in this process of symbiotic phyto-adaptation, or we kind of co-evolved with these compounds to use them for different bodily functions. I think this is a really important thing to understand because when we start to understand that food is medicine and that actually there’s certain ways that our bodies are lazy and use these things to help regulate our function, we know about this. For example, we know about resveratrol, which is a common in red wine that apparently helps extend life in animals and rodents and so forth. Well, how does it work? It works on certain pathways like [inaudible 00:10:39] , which is a regulator of aging. We know that these actual plant compounds bind to different receptors and pathways in our body just like medication, and actually work in ways that activate things in a way that’s optimal rather than blocking or inhibiting a pathway which would most medication does, it actually helps optimize function and improve the system’s working.
Now, what are some of these senolytic compounds? By the way, there’s a lot of money being thrown at drug discovery to try to find drugs that senolytics, but you don’t have to look very far to find plant compounds that senolytics. My favorite is called fisein, comes from strawberries, persimmons, apples, cucumbers, and onions, super important, it’s part of my daily regimen, and it’s shown to be a very powerful senolytic. Luteolin, another plant compound found in carrots, broccoli, artichokes, onions, cabbage, apple skins, quercetin, we talked about, that’s something you can get in food as well, apples, grapes, berries, broccoli, citrus fruit, cherries, curcumin, which is found in turmeric, which is a curry spice. There’s also alkaloids found in long peppers, all kinds of things that we can use to actually activate these things.
Now there are pharmaceuticals that are coming out to look at this, but it probably is going to be not too far in the future that we’re able to look at taking a supplement with the right combination of these natural senolytics, maybe new pharmacologic compounds that arrest and stop this a zombie apocalypse.
As one other thing that works besides food, which is hyperbaric oxygen. In Israel, they did a long controlled study showing that better than actually any plant or pharmaceutical compounds that we’ve discovered so far that hyperbaric oxygen, which is where you go in basically a decompression chamber or 100% oxygen, they put you like an atmosphere to under the water, basically, it’d be like 33 to 66 feet under the ocean, and that much pressure will actually create an anti-inflammatory state, will create this process whereby you both length and telomeres and you kill zombie cells, which is pretty amazing. I’m kind of excited about actually how we’re using these new and innovative therapies to help us stave off aging and to help reverse what’s going on.
Also, intermittent fasting or [inaudible 00:13:02] eating can help, exercise is really key, hot therapies, saunas, hormesis is great. We’ve talked about hormesis on the podcast, but essentially it’s a process of something that doesn’t kill you but makes you stronger, for example, like exercise. If you tear your muscles, you’re injuring yourself, but you also come back stronger. Heat therapy is one of those things. There’s a lot of ways we can actually learn to reduce the production of zombie cells by a healthy lifestyle and to increase the killing of the zombie cells by both lifestyle habits, as we talked about, hyperbaric oxygen, and natural plant based senolytics, and maybe even around the corner, more advanced combinations of these compounds or even pharmaceutical drugs that help to kill the zombie cells.
I probably told you way more than you want to know about zombie cells, but I encourage you to read my book Young Forever, coming out soon. It’s going to explain how all this is connected but if you learn a little bit about how to attack and eliminate zombie cells from your body, you can stop them from accumulating, you can prevent all sorts of health issues, from heart disease to dementia to cancer, and live a longer, healthier life.
Okay, that’s it for today’s Health Bite. Be sure to share it with your friends and family and we’ll see you next time on the Doctors’ Pharmacy.
Speaker 3:
Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit and search their Find a Practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

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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