Aging is a universal part of life, but have you ever wondered why some people seem to age more gracefully than others? The answer lies hidden within our genes, and a fascinating field of science known as epigenetics is shedding light on this timeless mystery. Epigenetics is derived from the Greek word “epi”, meaning “over” or “above,” and in this case, over or above our genome.1
Epigenetics might sound like a complex term, but at its core, it’s all about the chemical changes that happen to our DNA and its partner proteins as we age. These changes act like little switches, controlling how our genes work without altering the DNA sequence itself. Basically, epigenetics influences how our genes express themselves as we grow older.
So, what role exactly does epigenetics play in aging? To understand this, we will look at the most influential steps starting with DNA methylation, which is essentially our aging clock. Imagine your DNA as a library of instructions for your body. DNA methylation is like adding bookmarks to certain pages in this library. As we age, these bookmarks change, affecting which genes are used more or less. Scientists have even developed “aging clocks” based on these changes, which can tell us our biological age and might differ from our birth age.2
Another influence is our histone modifications. Think of your DNA as a neatly folded map, and histone modifications as the folds that pack your DNA. These modifications can loosen or tighten the map, making it easier or harder for your body to read the instructions in your genes. This process also changes with age, impacting how our genes respond.
Cells in our body can get old too. Epigenetic changes can speed up this aging process, leading to cellular dysfunction and contributing to age-related diseases. Epigenetic changes aren’t just driven by time; they’re also influenced by our lifestyle. Factors like our diet, stress levels, and exposure to toxins can affect these changes, potentially speeding up or slowing down the aging process.
Picture epigenetics as the captain of a ship navigating the waters of our genes. Like a skilled captain, it decides which sails to hoist, determining the speed and direction of our genetic voyage. These decisions have a profound impact on our health and aging journey. Understanding epigenetic changes is like deciphering a captain’s log so in the future we will all be able to steer our genetic ship towards smoother waters and better health, while also avoiding age-related storms along the way.
So how can we use this information to measure or impact aging? Clearly testing for epigenetic changes is possible and there are already a number of “biologic clocks” where you test your biologic age.3 This is like an aging dashboard. We all know that environmental factors such as stress, radiation (sun), toxins, sleep, and what we eat can affect our health. And inflammation is at the center of chronic damage to the body and faster aging. So if you can measure your biological clock, a change in environment, stress and inflammation can slow the clock and improve health and longevity. Many of these lifestyle and environmental factors are under our control. And with progress in the field of stem cell therapy, we will have even more control and perhaps a way to treat and impact the speed of aging! We all want healthspan increase – longevity with high quality of life. Storing your stem cells when your biologic clock is younger is one way to hack the aging issue. Stay tuned for more!