Turning Back the Biological Clock

Turning Back the Biological Clock

A new study (published Apr 15, 2021) indicates that natural interventions can roll back our biological aging rather appreciably. The title of this study is “Potential reversal of epigenetic age using a diet and lifestyle intervention: a pilot randomized clinical trial”.

Science has proven that, to a degree, aging is malleable. While bad habits like smoking and junk food can speed aging up; healthful interventions, such as exercise, a good diet, lifestyle changes, and supplements, can do the opposite and slow down the aging process.  This comes down to epigenetics, which tells us that, more important than our actual genetic predispositions, are the environmental factors (both external and internal) that switch these genes on or off.  The epigenetic chemical tags that sit on top of our genes use “methyl groups” to affect that switching on or off. Using this knowledge, scientists can now track the rate of biological aging in organisms.

The study we are examining was a randomized, controlled clinical trial conducted with 43 healthy adult males between the ages of 50-72, lasting for 8 weeks. During this time, the subjects were given guidance on diet, exercise, relaxation, and sleep, as well as being provided with certain supplements.  At the end of the study, both the guided group, and the control group receiving no intervention, had their DNA methylation analyzed.

Getting Old

It doesn’t matter how old we are chronologically (in calendar years). As the saying goes: “you are only as old as you feel”.  We feel old, or not, mostly based on our “biological age”, which is determined by how well our cells and organs are functioning. As the cells, tissues, and organs accumulate damage, lose function, and slow down their repair rate, we get old, and develop those diseases associated with aging.

Aside from our genetic heritage (if your parents were long lived, you also stand a good chance of doing so), which is internal, aging is heavily affected by those epigenetic factors which are external, such as diet (including supplements), exercise, toxins (found in air, water, drugs), stress, and sleep.  So, the way that scientists can evaluate and track that accumulated damage and loss of function to the cells, tissues, and organs, is by examining DNA methylation patterns.

According to the lead author of this study, Dr. Kara Fitzgerald (ND IFMCP), “What is extremely exciting, is that food and lifestyle practices, including specific nutrients and food compounds known to selectively alter DNA methylation, are able to have such an impact on those DNA methylation patterns we know predict aging and age-related disease. I believe that this, together with new possibilities for us all to measure and track our DNA methylation age, will provide significant new opportunities for both scientists and consumers.”

And, according to study co-author, Moshe Szyf, PhD, of McGill University: “This study provides the first insight into the possibility of using natural alterations to target epigenetic processes and improve our well being and perhaps even longevity and lifespan.”

What is Methylation?

Now, before I go much further, I will touch briefly on the complex subject of methylation for those who have little awareness of it.  The subject of methylation is a big one in the alternative medicine field, as roughly between 30 and 40% of people have methylation problems. This malfunction, usually a result of poor maternal care, or a highly stressful childhood, causes certain genetic switches to malfunction, which can lead to either over-expression or under-expression.

The long and short of it is, those whose methylation processes are damaged will not produce adequate neurotransmitters, leading to “mental illness”. Nor do they produce adequate amounts of glutathione, leading to an inability of the body to rid itself of toxins (heavy metals, chemical toxins, radiation, etc). This inability to remove toxins then leads to the development of difficult-to-diagnose physical ailments (such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and lupus, to name but a few).

This is a complex issue, and the only way for an individual to be certain that methylation is the root of their health problems is to do a DNA test (e.g. through 23 And Me), and then send this raw data to a site that will analyze it to determine if there are indeed methylation issues. (One such site is Genetic Genie.). If one wants a quick overview, and a list of symptoms to check, I suggest reading this article in Psychology Today , titled “MTHFR, Methylation and Histamine in Psychiatric Conditions”.

Study Conclusion

How well did the subjects fare? Well, results indicated that “the diet and lifestyle treatment was associated with a 3.23 years decrease in DNA damage compared with controls.”  In other words, the biological age of those participating in the active component of the study had reduced the equivalent of over three years in aging – compared to the controls – in the span of 8 weeks.

Protocol For Reversing Biological Age

Here I will give a brief synopsis of the dietary and lifestyle factors that were included in the protocol given to the subjects in this study. (Those who wish for more details can follow the link to the original study, provided at the end of this material.)


The dietary recommendations employed “generalized measures of health because few dietary associations with DNA damage have yet been established”. Thus, the diet used here was mostly plant-based, but also included some nutrient-dense animal proteins (e.g. liver, egg, fish, and lean meat).

The diet restricted carbohydrates and included mild intermittent fasting, both designed to lower glycemic cycling. The diet was supplemented daily with a fruit and vegetable powder, also rich in polyphenolic compounds.” 

The study noted that “the combination of polyphenols, rather than the use of singular phytonutrients, has been shown to deliver enhanced favorable effects on epigenetic changes”. In other words, it is more effective to get phytonutrients from food concentrates than from isolates put into pills.


“Lifestyle guidance in this study included a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least 5 days per week at an intensity of 60-80 percent of maximum perceived exertion.”

Stress Reduction

“Cumulative lifetime stress has been shown to be associated with accelerated aging. Twice-daily breathing exercises that elicit the Relaxation Response were prescribed for stress reduction. It was recently demonstrated that 60 days of relaxation practice designed to elicit the Relaxation Response, 20 minutes twice per day, could significantly reduce DNA damage.”


“This study aimed to optimize sleep, with a recommendation for at least seven hours nightly. Seven hours is generally considered to be healthy, but the limited data on accelerated aging only relates to extremes of sleep deprivation.” However, “acceleration of the DNA damage has been associated with insomnia, in a sample of 2078 women”. (Study)


Okay, most of us already know what a good diet looks like, and that we need adequate exercise and sleep, and to keep our stress in check. But, for me at least, what I really wanted to know from this study is what supplements were used.  Unfortunately, the study was not clear as to which nutrients were derived from food, and food concentrates (like the aforementioned fruit and vegetable powder), and which nutrients were given in supplemental form.

However, we can at least examine the specific nutrients that were, one way or the other, provided in relatively high amounts (compared to the Standard American Diet), nutrients which worked in tandem with lifestyle factors to reduce the aging process.  Those nutrients mentioned include: vitamin A (may have been provided by the liver included in the diet); vitamin C; curcumin (if not in supplemental form, then derived from turmeric); epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, found in green tea);quercetin (found in onions); and rosmarinic acid (found in lemon balm, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme).

A probiotic supplement was given, providing 40 million CFU of Lactobacillus plantarum (notice that is far lower than most of the probiotic products on the market which contain billions of Colony Forming Units). L. plantarum is found in fermented dairy and vegetable foods (including kimchi, and sauerkraut).  Also mentioned was alpha ketoglutarate, which cannot be obtained from food. Rather, it is synthesized from non-essential amino acids that the body produces from its own cells. However, AKG is available in supplement form.

Methylation Nutrients

As well, the scientists ensured that there was “a high intake of nutrients that are substrates or cofactors in methylation biosynthetic pathways”.

This is important to note, as it is currently believed that if one has methylation issues, they must ensure that the nutrients required for this epigenetic function are provided in supplemental form. Since the body has lost the ability to create and/or absorb these nutrients in the required amounts. These nutrients required for methylation include folate (not folic acid), vitamin B12 (in the methyl form), choline, and SAMe or betaine anhydrous (also known as TMG).

Yet, according to the authors of this study: “All of the aforementioned human trials (NU-AGE, TRIIM, Vitamin D3 study) and the present study were able to effect changes on the DNA methylome without extra-dietary supplementation of known methyl donor nutrients, supporting the concept of a far-reaching regulatory network on DNA methylation and representing a departure from previous studies that manipulated DNA methylation more directly with extra-dietary supplemental folate, B12 and other methyl donor nutrients.”    (Link to the full study.)

All of which means that, if you can maintain an ideal diet, exercise regularly, sleep well, and control your stress, you may not need supplements to facilitate methylation and slow down your aging process. (Which means that I personally will be taking supplements for some time to come.)

(P.S. Above, where I state “not folic acid”, I am referring to the prevailing idea that those with methylation issues are actually harmed by taking synthetic folic acid, as it can block their uptake of natural folate from food. That is why we now see conflicting science on the benefits of taking folic acid in supplement form. As a result of this new information, NutriStart recently replaced the folic acid in our NutriPod Vitamin Packs with L-5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate, the form acceptable for those with methylation issues.)  (Study)

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

* indicates required
  • Contact

  • NutriStart Vitamin Company

  • 14-755 Vanalman Avenue

  • Victoria, BC

  • 1-800-813-4233

Scroll to Top