Most of us remember high school biology class lessons that taught us that DNA was the part of our cells that contained our genes and was our cellular instruction set. We learned that each of us have slightly different DNA and it’s what makes us all individual with different strengths and weaknesses but ultimately, our DNA defines each one of us as a unique member of the human race.
DNA was discovered back in the 1800s but its relevance and role in our cells was not fully understood until much later as researchers slowly unraveled its function and importance to who we are and, as it now turns out, how healthy we are as we age and the speed at which we age.
DNA is not just a static molecule that sits in place having done its job of instructing our cells to be our own version of a skin cell, a heart cell, or any cell for that matter. Our DNA is a vibrant molecule that is moving all the time, opening and closing, turning on and off genes, providing code for your protein manufacturing machinery to make key cellular components, and generally sensing and responding to the environment to ensure that it can provide all the molecules your cells need to be healthy.
What is remarkable is that it does all this in an incredibly hostile environment. External stress like UV rays from sun exposure, carcinogens in our diet, pollution from our environment, and internal stress like oxidative stress from free radicals, all conspire to create a situation where your DNA gets damaged up to 100,000 times per day, per cell!
And we have tens of trillions of cells so you can imagine the work that is going on every millisecond of every day, even when you are asleep, to keep your DNA in good working order so that your cells get what they need to operate optimally and keep you well.
In fact, our cells put a huge resource into keeping our DNA in good working order and they do this by constantly monitoring, checking and repairing our DNA through very complex mechanisms. It’s important we have these processes in place and if it goes wrong then the outcome can result in accelerated aging, or worst, cancer.
The fact that how well our DNA is functioning relates to the speed at which we age, is a relatively new discovery. There have been clues for a long time like progeria, a condition where children age at an accelerated rate and die of diseases normally associated with advanced age in their mid-to-late teens. This is directly related to a fault in the ability of DNA repair mechanisms to operate correctly. Other clues relate to certain health conditions that put long-term stress on our DNA that accelerate aging and can shorten lives by 10-20 years.
Armed with this new knowledge, scientists have been looking to see what we can do to support our vital DNA repair and maintenance machinery so that we can keep our DNA in great working order for as long as possible. And the good news is that there are things we can do everyday to support our DNA health and, in the process, slow the rate at which we age.
We all know the importance of regular exercise, and it turns out this supports our DNA repair mechanisms and turns on genes that have beneficial effects across all our cells. We also now know that diet is a key part of the picture. Plant-based diets appear to be best. That doesn’t mean you have to give up meat completely but minimizing meat as part of a strategy for longevity seems to be important. Minimizing sugar and other carbohydrates like bread is also critical. Finally, spending a little time fasting from food encourages the recycling and rebuilding of key cellular components, which places less stress on your DNA and therefore should be part of your healthy longevity strategy.
Recent breakthroughs in understanding how to support DNA repair mechanisms at a cellular level have led to the development of new supplements that are having a material impact on our health and the aging process. Significant supplements like Hobamine, an extract from Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat, gives us new ways to protect our DNA from oxidative stress, allowing for healthy aging.
Also, high on the list are compounds called STACs or Sirtuin Activating Compounds. Sirtuins are key proteins involved in the repair and maintenance of our DNA. One of the best STACs is pterostilbene, an extract from blueberries that has been recognized for years for its beneficial health effects and now we know it works by supporting our DNA.
And finally, the aforementioned sirtuins need a vital co-factor called NAD to function optimally and this co-factor is depleted in our cells as we age. Until recently we have not been able to get enough NAD from our diet to make a difference but the discovery of NMN and NR mean that we now have a way to restore NAD levels in our cells to youthful levels; another key discovery to support healthy DNA and our longevity.
These supplements are exciting because we are the first generation of humans who have access to these compounds and that means we can take extra steps to protecting our DNA and in the process support our bodies in ways that mean we will have extra energy, vitality, and health during our 40s, 50s and beyond. And while it’s not proven just yet, there are very strong clues that these supplements, combined with a good diet and regular exercise, will slow the onset of multiple conditions we associate with advanced age.
More exciting research on our DNA is coming fast and it’s likely we will have more tools to keep it acting youthfully for much longer than we once thought was possible. Who knew, when it was discovered, how important our DNA would be for our long-term health today!