What is our REAL age? A study of how our perceived age can be very different than how old we are at the cellular level.
How old are you? Frankly, it’s a question I rarely ask myself or think about anymore. When I was younger, it seemed I thought about my age all the time. The youngest of five, I just wanted to be older and thought about it constantly because ‘older’ to me meant the freedom to live how I wanted. Not that I had a particularly suppressed childhood, I didn’t, it was quite the opposite, in fact. No, I just wanted to grow up as quick as I could and do what I wanted to do. And, on reflection, I did do just that.
Soon, after my twenty-first, birthdays just disappeared into the background of a busy life. My twenties were a blur of college and travel – equal amounts of both. In my thirties, I set out to make a home and since then I’ve raised kids, a husband and a dog, and payed a mortgage. Everyone’s story really, I suppose, just a different interest rate. But now as I approach mid-life, I’ve begun to take stock, mainly in my health.
Now, usually around my birthday, I’ll do a quick calculation. Birth year to the year 2000, then add the current year – math for the everyday comes in handy every now and again. At some point in the process I’ll find it incredulous there are grown humans born after the year 2000, then I’ll reluctantly rest on a number, double-check my math on a calculator, wince, then gulp down a glass of wine or similar libation to dull the pain.
Although there are other topics that press on me, money, fulfillment, general happiness, no other has the urgency of late than health and aging do. And I’ve begun to wonder, is my body as young as I feel?
To answer that question I began to dig, deep… cellular.
If our cells are old, are we?
When one is curious about a subject in 2019, one GOOGLE’S it. There amongst the din of wrinkle creams and erectile disfunction medication, I stumbled on an extraordinary word, sirtuins.
Elysium Health successfully simplifies the complicated interaction of sirtuins in the cells as a ‘family of proteins that play a role in aging by regulating cellular health.’ Stay with me, I promise I’m not just nerding-out here. ‘They are responsible for critical biological functions like DNA expression and aspects of aging. However, sirtuins can only function in the presence of NAD+, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, a coenzyme found in all living cells.’ Not just humans either, every living thing.
Aging, Bingo! Okay, I was getting warmer. My curiosity peaked, I now had to know what NAD+ was. Hunting through a few books, a pile of scientific periodicals and a PubMed review or two, I was astonished to learn NAD+ not only exists in every one of our billions of cells, it’s the literal driver behind, well, life itself. In fact, without it, all living things would cease to exist. Really? Yes, I discovered. There is a current flurry of scientific study around NAD+, how it relates to overall health and age-related disease, and how scientists at Harvard University have recently yielded something remarkable.
A study there found we begin life with a full supply of NAD+. As we age, this coenzyme, literally drains from our cells, so when most of us reach our fiftieth birthday, we are working on about half our original stores. I was on to something here. Visuals help, so I think of an hourglass, and the sand slowly pouring from the upper chamber. However, in my scenario, the hourglass has no bottom and the sand blows into infinity. The resulting effect? Cells age with the loss of NAD+, and the bad news is we age too, right along with them.
What’s the big deal with NAD?
My very question, and the answer was jaw-dropping. NAD+’s main function is to facilitate redox interactions (or carry electrons from one response to another). But that’s not near the end of the story. NAD+ is critical in assisting the cell’s survival in handling the onslaught of environmental changes, that happen to us every second of every day. Things like nutrient sensing and metabolism, mitochondrial function, circadian rhythms which affect sleep patterns, immune and inflammatory responses, which are the gate keepers that stand in the way of us and disease, DNA repair, cell division and on and on.
NAD+, I found, is without a doubt a big deal, but losing so much of it by mid-life seemed to me like terrible news. Indeed, further research indicates our NAD+ levels drop to nil as we edge into old age – bad news, indeed!
I was becoming clinically depressed but lucky for me I kept reading. That same Harvard study went on to investigate how to replenish NAD+ levels and described how they had tremendous success with a bunch of old mice. It found the NAD+ precursor NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide), given to a group of mice – the human equivalent to 90 years – over a period of time of four weeks, on average were able to run twice as long as the mice who did not receive the NMN. Since the study, the afore mentioned ‘flurry of scientific activity’ is now extending into the positive effects of NMN supplementation and the replenishment of NAD+ at a cellular level.
Is NMN good news for aging?
The good news is, people supplementing NMN on a regular basis after their mid-forties and older have reported very positive improvements in their energy and brain function and those that pair NMN with a healthy lifestyle including strength resistance exercises have indicated a quicker response time to muscle building. This fact was of particular interest to me as I’ve noticed a significant loss in my muscle density just in the past few years.
NAD+ does occur naturally in foods like certain oily fish, mushrooms, other veg and some nuts, but it is only present in trace amount so I wondered about the NMN supplements available. A simple search turned up a number of products. Wading through many of the options and looking closer at their labels, I soon discovered the best were pure NMN of concentrations of 98 percent or higher, and do not contain artificial preservatives, sugar, starch or other fillers. Let’s just say, there are a lot of cowboys out there.
The best, like Herbalmax’s Reinvigorator formula, are science-based products which manufactures their NMN at 99 percent purity. The purer the product, I understand, the better the replenishment on our NAD stores, and in turn will have a bigger and more positive effect on our aging bodies. Another product by Mirai Labs clocks up 98 percent purity but costs significantly more.
Age is but a number
As I head into the second-half of my life I know, as I did in my younger years, I’ll spend a bit more time thinking about my age, it’s inevitable I suppose, although now it’s for entirely different reasons. Mortality is not the issue for me although it is an issue, living well with the time I have left, however long that may be, is becoming a priority.
Age is a state of mind to be sure, however, age is also a sum – whether we like it or not. We have a choice to make. We can be like the ostrich and put our heads in the sand. Of course, a choice like that always has its consequences. No, I think I’ll face aging head-on. Especially when I look at my daughter and think, I’d like to meet her kids one day and I’m fairly certain she’d like that too.
It is true, life is short and a bus could hit me tomorrow but what if it doesn’t? What if I live to one hundred and eleven (writing it out has a bigger impact) like my grandmother did, what then? How healthy do I want to be if that happens and do the choices I make now have a cost? The answer is, a very obvious, of course it does.
In the end, I’d prefer to live healthier… and longer if possible, but certainly healthier and hopefully stick around for my family. Given the choice, wouldn’t everyone?