Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
You can start at any age. It was actually one study. They started 70 years old and they got people exercising and eating a healthier diet, and they were able to reduce mortality in that age group by 50%.
Everyone, it’s Dr. Mark Hyman and welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. That’s farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. And today I’m bringing you a conversation that really matters to me, which is about the science of aging and longevity. And we’re doing it in the format called health bites because these are little health bites that when you eat them make you better. They are small steps to help you live better, healthier lives. And if you’ve been following my work over the last bunch of years and months, you know that I’m getting more interested in the science of longevity and how we age, why we age, what we can do about it, how we can really transform our whole framework around aging. And what I’ve discovered has really expanded my horizons, has changed my mind about the very aspect of aging itself. And because of that and my work in reviewing the literature and working with patients and seeing tens of thousands of patients and actually reversing biological age in so many people, including myself, that I’ve written this new book called Young Forever, which is out February 21st, 2023.
I’m going to tell you about it. It’s not quite out yet, but you’re going to get a sneak preview. And for those who are listening to this after, well, you can get a little bit more in depth about what I’m thinking. And I want to share some of the key concepts that have changed my view of aging and longevity, and how we can dive deep into some of the key pillars of my book to break down what causes aging, what are the diseases of aging and how to prevent them, and how we can literally reverse biological aging and stay young forever, no matter what age we are.
So let’s first talk about how we need to reframe our very concept of aging itself. The scientific literature, until recently, has seen aging as a normal phenomena. But what longevity research is now revealing is that the very process of aging is based on dysfunctions in the body that we’ve identified that we can transform and change and literally reverse the process of biological aging. We can’t become chronologically younger. I was born in 1959. I got that for the rest of my life. No matter what I do, I’m not going to be chronologically younger unless I may be going into outer space and the laws are relatively apply. But I can’t change my biological age.
And it’s important because your biological age determines your youthfulness, your ability to do what you want to do to feel good. I mean, down in Costa Rica now, and I’m surfing, I’m playing tennis, I’m hiking mountains, I’m having a great time. And I can do exactly what I did when I was 20 or 30 or 40 without limitation because I’ve learned how to work on my own biology using the principles that I’m going to share with you today and also in the upcoming podcast, and that are really in covered in great depth in my book, Young Forever, which is out soon.
So most of us look at the aging population around us and we go, we don’t want any of that. Well, I mean it sounds terrible. It’s not appealing when you see people in their 80s or 90s or even 70s. You see frailty, you see disability, you see dependency, loss of mobility, pain, disease. I mean, who wants that? I mean, if you ask anybody, they’re going to say no. I mean, but what if we could live into our 90s, 100s and beyond disease-free, active and mentally sharp? And that’s possible. In fact, right now I’m in one of the Blue Zones in the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. And there’s people here who I saw a guy riding his horse the other day was 100 years old. He was upright. I mean, most people think getting a horse at 100 is a pretty stupid idea, but I count on it. And this guy was just super fit and healthy and 100 years old. And it was pretty impressive to see.
So we have that potential within our biology if we learn how to create the conditions for health and remove the conditions for disease. So when we look at whether or not we can do that, the science is really telling us very clearly that we count. And that’s what my book Young Forever is about. It’s about the revolutionary science of how we can stay young at any age and how we can literally reverse biological aging.
Now, it’s important to understand that this is not a hedonistic pursuit. It’s not about the selfish desire to extend our lives so we can never die. I mean, there are maybe some billionaires who want to do that. I get it. But the truth is that it’s about how do we put more life into our years, not just more years to our life? How do we actually feel good enough to show up in life at any age and do what matters to make ourselves live a better life, those we love, to support them, and to create meaning and purpose in the world that allows us to give our best gifts? Because the truth is, by the time we get in our 60s, 70s, and 80s, we’ve accumulated a lot of wisdom, but our bodies start to break down.
What if we could actually take that incredible resource, that wealth of knowledge of elders and experience and continue to harvest that for society, for our families, for our communities? So it’s really not about some hedonistic pursuit. It’s finding your why. What matters to you? What do you care about? What do you want to do? I mean, I feel like I’m 63, but I’m just beginning. I have so much I’m interested in, so much I want to learn, I want to discover, a place I want to travel to, things I want to accomplish in life. And I honestly feel like I’m just getting started, believe it or not. I’ve done so much already. I feel like now I can actually start to begin to live fully.
And so if you want to live to be 100 or 120 or 150 or 200, why? For me, the answer’s pretty simple, is to actually bring more love into the world and to do more good in the world, to make the world a slightly better place before I leave. And to just, that’s it. So that’s my why. What is your why? What do you care about? What matters to you? How do you actually begin to look at your life and discover those things? And there’s a concept that the Japanese called ikigai, which is a beautiful concept that, by the way, I think the Japanese are the longest lived population as a whole on the planet, and Okinawans are very long-lived.
And ikigai means the reason for being. And we know that if you have meaning and purpose in your life, that you live seven years longer on average. Now, if we eradicated cancer and heart disease from the face of the planet, we’d only extend lifespan by about five years or so. So literally, by having meaning and purpose, you can do a better job than if you got rid of all heart disease and cancer from the planet. Now, that’s in planet, individual level, but it kind of proves the point that having a meaning and purpose and a why, finding your why is so key.
So ikigai basically has four elements, finding out what you love, what you’re good at, what you maybe can be paid for, and what the world needs. And I’m personally lucky that I’ve found that for myself, which is bringing functional medicine in the world. I really love to help people. I’ve really become good at it because I’ve seen so many thousands of patients and have had to heal myself from so much of my own illness. And I think the world needs to be healthier. So I think it’s all a good thing. That’s my ikigai.
And if you have more meaning and purpose and you figure out your ikigai, I think you’re going to live a happier, longer life. Now often we look around us and we see, god, it doesn’t look pretty to get older. We reach our “golden years” and we’re tired, we’re spent. We’re sick often. I mean about six out of 10 Americans has a chronic illness. That’s a lot of people. If you’re over 65, it’s about 80 plus percent. According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of older adults have at least one disease and 68% have at least two. That’s heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia.
I mean, I get it. It makes sense why people don’t want to live to be 100 because it’s scary and it seems horrible. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can imagine a life where you live to be 120, you go for a hike with your beloved, swim in a mountain pond, make a delicious meal, make love, and then drift blissfully off to sleep, that would be good. That’s kind of how I want to go. Maybe at 120, maybe 180, I’m not sure yet. I’m still working out the details, but I’ll let you know how it goes.
So let’s talk about our key concept that I talked about in the book is called healthspan versus lifespan. And our healthspan is how many years of our life we are healthy. Our lifespan is how many years we are alive. So if you spend the first 50 years of your life healthy, but the next 30 years unhealthy and with diabetes or heart disease or obesity or arthritis or whatever it is, your healthspan and may only be 50 years, but your lifespan could be 80. The truth is that for most people, the last 20% of your life is not healthy.
But in places like the Blue Zones, they’re healthy and working and active and their health span equals your lifespan. I met this guy Pietro in Sardinia who basically was unbelievable. He was 95 years old. He was a shepherd. He literally just retired from being a shepherd and was herding his sheep five miles up and down this rugged mountain pathways all the time and really was so healthy. And I mean, you see old people, they’re kind of crunched over. He was upright and he was booming voice, he was clear-eyed. And holy cow, they’re engaged and they’re working and they’re active. And in the Blue Zones, they are really an integral part of their society. They’re not discarded in nursing homes.
So I think we kind of imagine aging population as a drain on society, but it actually doesn’t have to be. Guys like Pietro and other people I met in the Blue Zones, they’re really active members of their community and society. One guy, Carmen was I think 88 years old, and he was tending to his own farm, when we had tons of veggies he was growing, all these fruit trees. He had pigs, he had chickens, he had a bunch of sheep and he took care of the whole thing himself. And he was 88 years old and it was like a steep rocky hillside. I could barely keep up with him going up the hill. And he gave the food away. He couldn’t eat it all himself, obviously. He gave it to his family, his friends, his community, or he fed it back to the animals. He just liked being out there and having a purpose.
And we know that if you are looking at the economics of this, so people go, oh god, we’re going to have a bunch of old people. It’s going to be a drain on society. It’s terrible. But actually David Sinclair and others, he’s a leading aging researcher from Harvard, they published a paper in Nature Aging, which is a medical journal, called The Economic Value of Targeting Aging. And they looked at rigorous data analysis that if you actually improve people’s health and the healthspan got longer, which eliminated the periods of life that they were sick or reduced them dramatically, that if you did that for every year of life extension, we would save $38 trillion globally. If we could do it by 10 years, we’d save $367 trillion. But that’s only if we improve healthspan.
I mean, think about that. I mean that’s almost 10 times the amount we spend on healthcare a year in America alone. So the economic payout is huge. And kind of 86% of the $4.1 trillion that we currently spend on healthcare in America, 86% of that is on lifestyle preventable chronic disease, things that are not inevitable parts of aging. And worse even still, and this is why we have to be so focused on not just longevity but the science of health, which is what informs longevity, we are seeing an incredibly metabolic and] healthy population. I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. But a few years ago we had 88% of the population that was metabolic [and healthy. Now it’s 93.2%. That means 6.2% of Americans are healthy and don’t have high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, are not overweight and haven’t had a heart attack or stroke.
I mean, think about that. There’s only less than seven percent of Americans that are metabolically healthy, and that’s terrifying. And in COVID, it was a big problem in America. We’re four percent of the world’s population, but 16% of the cases in deaths. So we’re four times what we should have been and with the best healthcare system in the world, we should have been far less. And yet we got so sick and we got so much death from COVID because we’re unhealthy. And it was estimated that about 63% of all the hospitalizations and deaths from COVID could have been prevented by better diet. That’s amazing to me.
So the moral of the story is that if you invest in your health that you will earn big dividends both in the quality of your life, then the length of your life, and that you actually don’t have to worry about when you start. You can start at any age. It was actually one study, they started 70 years old and they got people exercising and eating a healthier diet and they were able to reduce mortality in that age group by 50%. So it’s quite amazing what we can do at any age. And I’ve seen this. I’ve seen this at and people who are in their 70s, 80s and my patients that there’s so much room for improvement in our health at any age.
So let’s talk a little bit about why we have such a flawed framework around aging and the science of aging, or at least the science we’ve had up to date. Our whole approach is wrong. We’re going downstream to treat the diseases, sort of like what I call whack-a-mole medicine. Essentially we treat diabetes and heart disease and cancer and dementia all as separate problems. But like I said, if we eradicated heart disease and cancer from the face of the planet, the two biggest killers, life expectancy would go up maybe five to seven years. It wouldn’t go up 30 or 40 years.
But there are now ways that we can understand the root causes of those conditions and how they’re all very similar. And if we address those root causes we call the hallmarks of aging and the causes of those hallmarks, and we’ll get to that, then we can actually change the trajectory and create a healthier population. So we don’t have to treat these diseases separately. We have to just look at the underlying dysfunctions that occur in our biology with aging and that are modifiable through our lifestyle and our environment. We have massive control over what happens to our biology by what we eat, by our activity levels, by our thoughts and our stress level, by sleep and by many, many other things, including the nutrients we take in from plants and compounds, our microbiome. So many things we have control over that we can modify that regulate the aging process.
So we don’t really treat disease in functional medicine, we create health. And as a side effect, disease goes away. The same thing is I don’t treat diabetes, I don’t treat heart disease, I don’t treat cancer. I create the conditions for health. And those diseases then often just go away. So when we think about aging, for example, if you look at risk factors for diseases, we talk about risk factor management and prevention. But let’s look at smoking. If you’re a 30-year-old smoker and you smoke two packs a day, your risk of lung cancer is dramatically lower than if you are a 70 or 75-year-old person who has never smoked. So if age is such a big risk factor, we should be treating the underlying biology of aging rather than treating all these downstream diseases. And that’s really what functional medicine does. It looks at how we understand the body from a functional dynamic perspective.
What are the systems in the body? How are those interacting? How are they imbalanced or out of balance? What can we do to create balance in the body? It’s a huge paradigm shift. And I’ve been banging this drum for 30 years now and I think it’s finally catching on. And what’s so exciting to me around aging, and David Sinclair talks about this, the information theory of aging. Which is basically, it’s an information problem. We’re putting the wrong information in or we’re not putting the right information in the body. And that’s what creates the dysfunction that leads to the diseases of aging. Rather than trying to block the processes or the symptoms, we need to actually look at the underlying mechanisms that allow our bodies to actually create health. And you want to treat the cause, you treat disease. It’s very beautiful.
So I think in functional medicine we have something we call the tack rules. And the basic idea is if you’re standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make it feel better. If you’re standing on two tacks, taking one of them out won’t make you 50% better. So you basically have to find all the triggers and problems and remove them. If you, for example, are let’s say heavy metal toxic like I was, well that’s going to destroy so many of your biological functions. Unless you address that, unless you get rid of the toxin, your body can’t heal. And I just read an article about microplastics the other day and it’s frightening a little bit how many of these compounds are now in our bodies, are affecting our health and that we need to start to learn how to remove.
So what’s really happening is now we have a new framework for thinking about disease. And in the next podcast about Young Forever, I’m going to talk about the hallmarks of aging, what they are, how we think about them, what we can do about them, what causes them. But we basically now are in this moment in history where we don’t have to accept that our biological aging is inexorable, that we have to just keep degrading as we get older. And yes, eventually things will break down. But we can maintain our biology in a very high functioning state until very, very old. And we can do this by using this science of functional medicine, the science, we call it [inaudible 00:18:11] biology or network medicine, which is really underlying a lot of the discoveries in the field of aging. And a lot of aging researchers don’t quite get this because they’re like the blind men and the elephant. They’re looking at their particular thing.
But they are now talking about these hallmarks of aging. They are now talking about the information theory of aging. They are getting that there are these underlying things that are going wrong, that if we work on those things, we can modify our trajectory in life toward disease or improve our trajectory and actually get healthier and reverse our biological age.
So I’ve been studying this for 30 years. I’ve been looking into these sort of biological networks that we have. I’ve been looking for the root cause of disease. I am looking at things like genetics, the microbiome, our immune system, hormones, our mitochondria, our detoxification system, our structural system, our whole interconnected network of systems. We’re basically a system of systems, a network of networks. And by doing that, we actually can begin to uncover the real story of disease. It’s a massive paradigm shift. It’s like Columbus saying the Earth is not flat, or Galileo saying that the sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth. It’s the other way around. And I think these are really hard things for people to accept, especially back then. I think there’s still people who believe that the earth is flat, but I don’t know what to do about that. I think these are hard concepts to change.
And I say that diseases, as we conceive them, don’t really exist. They’re just downstream expressions of dysfunctions that we can actually identify and treat using the model of functional medicine. So I think, you can make changes at any age. I’m 63 and I’m in better shape than I was when I was 40. My biological age, I’ve tested and we’ll talk about how to test your biological age in an upcoming podcast about Young Forever. My biological age is 43, so I’m 20 years younger biologically. And I want to get to 25. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll keep you posted. What I’ve learned over the last few decades of doing this work is really revolutionary and it’s helped me grow biologically younger as I get chronologically older. And I want that for you too. It’s really possible.
So whether you want to live to be 70, 80, 90, 100, 120, that’s possible right now. Now we might be looking at a even longer life extension with the upcoming advances in longevity research. We’ll see. Stay tuned. But the basic pillars are there for everybody to take advantage of, what we eat, how we move, our purpose, meaning, community, our sleep, our way of dealing with stress, our relational fields, all these things we can have impact on. So we don’t have to continue things as they’ve been. We can really create a real transformational roadmap for healthy aging using functional medicine. And we can understand these root causes and we can get rid of these things that are causing disease and we can put in the things that are creating health. And that’s such a beautiful framework and it’s so great.
I’m super excited. This is just a sort of brief introduction to my book, Young Forever. In the next few weeks, I’m going to keep going. We’re going to talk about the hallmarks of aging, how and why we age. We’re going to talk about the things I do every day to stay young and how you can do them in your own life. You can pre-order the book right now. Just go to youngforeverbook.com and you can get all kinds of bonuses. It’s quite amazing what we’re offering with the book. I don’t know how we’re doing that. But we are. Great team we have. And I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast about longevity. It’s just touching the surface. There’s lots more to come. Thanks for listening to The Doctor’s Farmacy, to the health bite. Be sure to share this with your friends and family on social media and we’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
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 ifm.org 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.