Simple Steps to Reverse Your Biological Age

Simple Steps to Reverse Your Biological Age
By Andrew Luer
Category: Food

By: Dr. Mark Hyman

There’s nothing we can do to change our chronological age, or the number of years we’ve lived since birth. It’s a simple calculation that doesn’t change regardless of lifestyle, health status, or environmental factors—if you were born fifty years ago, your chronological age is fifty and not a day more or less.

However, recent advances including Nobel-Prize-winning research have made it possible to measure—and modify—our biological age, a more fluid and comprehensive metric that takes into account factors such as DNA methylation, telomere length, gene expression, and inflammation levels to show how slowly or rapidly our bodies are aging or declining. Often, these two numbers are fairly close, yet, crucially, they don’t have to be.

Unlike chronological age, our biological age is highly influenced by lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and simple, accessible inputs such as the foods we eat. In fact, not only can we hit pause on our biological age, but we can also put it in reverse. I tested mine, for example, when I was 62 and my biological age measured 43, a difference of almost two decades. I’ve since gotten a few years older, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my biological age has gotten a few years younger.

Yet before we unpack the steps we can take to reverse our biological age, it’s important to understand how biological age is measured.

How we measure biological age

There are several ways to measure biological age that, viewed separately or together, can provide a detailed assessment of the rate at which the body is aging on a cellular and functional level.

The first test that was used measured the length of our telomeres. Like the plastic tips on the ends of our shoelaces, telomeres are protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes that prevent our DNA from unraveling. Telomeres shorten every time a cell divides or replicates, so measuring their length gives us an accurate clock of our rate of cellular aging—or how much time we have left until our telomeres reach a critical length and our cells can no longer replicate and inevitably decline. Fortunately, there are interventions we can make to lengthen our telomeres and, in doing so, extend the lifespan of our cells.

A newer, more accurate measure was developed that measured changes in our genes—specifically, our epigenome—by assessing DNA methylation, a biochemical process that plays a vital role in gene expression by regulating whether individual genes are switched on or off. While your genes are fixed, which genes are expressed (or turned on or off) depends on the epigenome. Think of your genes as the keys on a piano and the epigenome as the piano player. As with telomere length, patterns of DNA methylation change with age, giving us insight into the age and health of our cells. Also like telomere length, DNA methylation is highly modifiable by factors we’ll cover in the next section.

We can also measure the accumulation of sterile chronic inflammation (SCI). Inflammation is one of the key features or hallmarks of aging, often referred to as inflammaging. Dr. David Furman and his colleagues at Stanford University developed a tool called iAge or the immune age. Furman and his team screened more than 1,000 people from ages eight to ninety-six for the presence of pro-inflammatory cytokines—which they called the immunome. They then used artificial intelligence to correlate specific inflammatory biomarkers in the blood that can be used to assess inflammation levels and the age of the immune system. The good news is that these, too, can be reversed through simple diet, lifestyle, and supplement protocols.

Sadly, none of these metrics are included in standard lab work, which is why I co-founded a company called Function Health to democratize access to these and 100+ other tests along with actionable guidance. However, you can also find DNA methylation, telomere testing, and inflammatory age labs online, with some offering at-home kits.

How to reverse our biological age

As we often find in Functional Medicine, many of the drivers that accelerate biological aging are rooted in the intake of too much or too little, i.e., taking in too many of the things that cause imbalance in the body and not enough of those that restore balance.

Numerous studies have shown a remarkable ability to reverse our biological age by years simply by getting rid of the “bad stuff,” like stress, ultra-processed food, and sugar, and giving our bodies more of the “good stuff,” like exercise and critical nutrients.

In fact, a study conducted by my colleague Dr. Kara Fitzgerald (whom I’ve had on The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast to discuss ways to reverse biological aging) measured the biological age of healthy males between the ages of fifty and seventy-two before and after simple diet and lifestyle modifications—and found that their biological age decreased an average of 3.23 years compared to control groups after just eight weeks!

The biological age of the control group actually increased during the study, while the age of the treatment group significantly decreased [1, 2]. Encouragingly, these results were observed after making remarkably small changes to factors such as diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients.

Here are some of the steps we can take to lower our biological age:

Increase methylation-supporting nutrients

  • Important nutrients that support DNA methylation include betaine (found in beets), folate (found in pasture-raised eggs and dark leafy green vegetables), vitamins B6 and B12 (found in pasture-raised eggs, regeneratively-raised beef, and grass-fed beef liver), and vitamin C (found in colorful vegetables, berries, and citrus)
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, kale, mustard greens, watercress, rutabaga, kohlrabi, radish, swiss chard, and turnips similarly contain compounds such as sulforaphane that promote healthy aging and can turn off genes associated with cancer [3]
  • Herbs, aromatics, spices, and teas including turmeric, rosemary, green tea, and garlic contain polyphenols like rosmarinic acid, ECGC, and quercetin, which can help modulate DNA methylation and activate anti-inflammatory pathways such as Nrf2, a transcription factor that plays a crucial role in cellular defense against oxidative stress and toxins

Avoid foods that contribute to genetic damage and dysfunction

  • Sugar is extremely pro-aging in addition to being inflammatory, feeding cancer cells and bad gut bacteria, and causing metabolic dysfunction and oxidative stress
  • Conventional dairy is often a significant trigger of inflammation and has been linked to cancer, autoimmune disease, and type 1 diabetes (it’s not the fat that’s the problem, it’s the allergenic proteins such as casein, antibiotics, and growth factors found in milk)
  • Modern grains, particularly wheat, aren’t the same as our grandparents ate and are often sprayed with herbicides like glyphosate, linked to cancer, kidney disease, lymphoma, and damage to our gut bacteria

Consume quality sources of protein

  • Protein is critical for preventing sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass), which is common with aging
  • Choose nutrient-dense animal proteins such as pasture-raised eggs (5-10 per week) and palm-sized portions of grass-fed, regenerative meats

Give your body a break between meals

  • Not eating for a few hours before bed supports better sleep (which is essential for healthy aging) and gives the body time to rest and repair itself through processes such as cellular recycling and renewal (autophagy) and DNA repair
  • Fasting for twelve to fourteen hours between dinner and breakfast (e.g., not eating from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m or 9 a.m) also turns on genes that lower inflammation and prevents cells from turning into zombie cells (cells that result from telomere shortening and DNA damage that stop dividing and instead release inflammatory molecules) [4,5,6]

Exercise four to six days per week

  • While exercise is broadly associated with lifespan extension and overall health, it’s also associated with slowing age-related declines in DNA methylation
  • Work your way up to thirty to sixty-minute sessions of aerobic exercise, such as biking, tennis, hiking, or swimming at least five days a week in addition to strength training using weights or resistance bands to preserve lean muscle mass

Manage daily stress

  • Chronic stress accelerates cellular aging, shortens our telomeres, is implicated as a risk factor in nearly every chronic disease, and has been shown to shorten life expectancy by nearly three years [7]
  • A study on chronic stress and biological age led by my podcast guest Dr. Elissa Epel found that women subjected to chronic daily stress had a shorter telomere length equivalent to a ten-year difference in biological age, increasing their risk for the early onset of age-related health problems [8]
  • Consider adding daily yoga or meditation sessions, which have been shown to reduce inflammation-related gene expression, increase the expression of telomere maintenance genes and telomere-lengthening enzymes, and support DNA repair [9]

Supplement to support healthy aging

  • Supplementation of 4,000 IU per day of vitamin D, a crucial vitamin that a large percentage of the population is deficient in, has been associated with a 1.85 year reduction in biological age in just sixteen weeks [10]
  • Probiotics that contain the gut-bacteria strain Lactobacillus plantarum 299v have been shown to increase folate production, which is known to support DNA methylation [1,2]
  • Supplementing methylated B vitamins (e.g., methyl-folate, methyl B12, and the methylated form of B6, pyridoxal-5-phosphate) can help fill in any dietary gaps to support DNA methylation

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD

  1. Fitzgerald KN, Hodges R, Hanes D, et al. Potential reversal of epigenetic age using a diet and lifestyle intervention: a pilot randomized clinical trial [published correction appears in Aging (Albany NY). 2022 Jul 27;14(14):5959]. Aging (Albany NY). 2021;13(7):9419-9432. doi:10.18632/aging.202913
  2. Fitzgerald KN. Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better. Hachette Go; 2022.
  3. Royston KJ, Tollefsbol TO. The Epigenetic Impact of Cruciferous Vegetables on Cancer Prevention. Curr Pharmacol Rep. 2015;1(1):46-51. doi:10.1007/s40495-014-0003-
  4. Anton SD, Moehl K, Donahoo WT, et al. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018;26(2):254-268. doi:10.1002/oby.22065
  5. Guim Kwon, Connie A. Marshall, Kirk L. Pappan, Maria S. Remedi, Michael L. McDaniel. Signaling Elements Involved in the Metabolic Regulation of mTOR by Nutrients, Incretins, and Growth Factors in Islets. Diabetes Dec 2004, 53 (suppl 3) S225-S232; DOI: 10.2337/diabetes.53.suppl_3.S225
  6. Jeong JH, Yu KS, Bak DH, et al. Intermittent fasting is neuroprotective in focal cerebral ischemia by minimizing autophagic flux disturbance and inhibiting apoptosis. Exp Ther Med. 2016;12(5):3021-3028. doi:10.3892/etm.2016.3852
  7. Härkänen T, Kuulasmaa K, Sares-Jäske L, et al. Estimating expected life-years and risk factor associations with mortality in Finland: cohort study. BMJ Open. 2020;10(3):e033741. Published 2020 Mar 8. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-03374
  8. Epel ES, Blackburn EH, Lin J, et al. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004;101:17312–17315.
  9. Giridharan S. Beyond the Mat: Exploring the Potential Clinical Benefits of Yoga on Epigenetics and Gene Expression: A Narrative Review of the Current Scientific Evidence. Int J Yoga. 2023;16(2):64-71. doi:10.4103/ijoy.ijoy_141_23
  10. Chen L, Dong Y, Bhagatwala J, Raed A, Huang Y, Zhu H. Effects of Vitamin D3 Supplementation on Epigenetic Aging in Overweight and Obese African Americans With Suboptimal Vitamin D Status: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2019;74(1):91-98. doi:10.1093/gerona/gly223

Related Topics

Share This


Dr. Perlmutter is one of the leading lights in medicine today, illuminating the path for solving chronic illness

Mark Hyman, MD