Most of us want to live a long life – but not at the cost of living poorly. When I’m ‘old’, I want to to be independent, active and fit. I’d also take a sharp mind and a body free of disease! That’s what healthspan is all about, increasing the number of years of our lives that we are healthy.
We can’t change our genes. In that department, we must play the hand we were dealt. However, what we can change, is our epigenome. Or to put it another way, we can change the way our genes are activated. You can think of the epigenome as the control centre for our genes. It regulates which of our c20k genes are turned on or off at any given time. Some of these genes are referred to as ‘longevity genes’ in the biohacking community. They are named so as their activation triggers healthy pathways that tend to protect us from harm.
So how do we turn these longevity genes on? One of the best way it through something called hormesis. Hormesis could be described as receiving a benefit from an agent or process that could ultimately kill us if we had far too much of it. The body overcompensates by activating our longevity genes. The stress is not only cancelled out, but we are left with a nice healthy net benefit. The old saying ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ is a great way to describe hormesis. The following are four classic hormetic stresses that are believed to activate a number of longevity genes
There are benefits to both hot and cold exposure. Heat exposure from the sauna, is said to help protect from protein misfolding and plaques, and also boost protein synthesis. Cold exposure is said to boost the immune system and boost antioxidant activity.
Believed to be a great way to boost production of a protein in the brain called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which plays a critical role in creating new brain cells. High intensity interval training is also believed to increase mitochondrial biogenesis (the little organelles in our cells that produce energy) as well as autophagy (the clearing our of cellular damage).
This is idea that when plants are stressed, they will undergo their own form of hormesis and produce certain molecules (e.g. polyphenols) which actually trigger hormesis in humans. For example, if plants are experiencing a tough time growing, the hormetic molecules could signal a time of famine, so our longevity genes are activated. Two famous molecules are sulforaphane (to activate NRF2, a powerful antioxidant pathway) rich in broccoli sprouts, and resveratrol (to activate sirtuins, a family of 7 longevity genes) found in grape skin.
Be it intermittent fasting (e.g. 16:8) or a 3 day fast – it’s all good. Reducing inflammation, boosting immune cells (following refeeding), activating autophagy and dampening the insulin signalling pathway are but a few on the benefits.