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In this episode of Longevity by Design, our hosts, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD, are joined by Dr. Eric Verdin, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Tune in as Dr. Eric Verdin discusses nutrient sensing, epigenetic regulation, and recent research on the impact of foods on longevity.
Meet Longevity by Design’s podcast guest, Dr. Eric Verdin
Dr. Eric Verdin is the president and chief executive officer of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. A native of Belgium, Dr. Verdin received his Doctorate of Medicine (MD) from the University of Liege and completed additional clinical and research training at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Verdin studies how metabolism, diet, and small molecules regulate the activity of HDACs and sirtuins, and thereby the aging process and its associated diseases, including Alzheimer’s. In addition, Dr. Verdin has extensive experience working with and founding biotech companies and serving on many scientific advisory boards.
When asked about the hallmarks of aging, Dr. Verdin hones in on the two fundamental principles at the center of his research. These include nutrient sensing and epigenetic regulation. Nutrient sensing refers to a cell's ability to recognize and respond to fuel substrates, such as glucose. All living organisms have the ability to sense food abundance and the nature of food that is coming into the body. Interestingly, research has shown that calorie restriction increases lifespan in many species. "For many organisms, calorie restriction extends longevity," Dr. Verdin says. "Contrast this to calorie excess, which can accelerate aging." What's fascinating, Dr. Verdin explains, is the link between calorie intake and epigenetic regulation.
Throughout his career in biomedical research, Dr. Verdin has closely studied the interface between metabolites and epigenetic regulators. The cells in our body can sense their environment largely through metabolites, which are byproducts of foods we consume. Sirtuins example the link between nutrient sensing and epigenetic regulation, as they are dependent on NAD. NAD is a metabolite found in our cells that fluctuates as a function of nutritional abundance. More specifically, NAD levels increase with calorie restriction, and sirtuin activity increases in response to high concentrations of NAD. “The sirtuins are able to sense the amount of NAD in the cell, and this dictates their activity. In this way, sirtuins act as a link between nutrient sensing and changes in the activity of the sirtuins.” This example highlights the link between the nutrients in our diet and epigenetic regulation.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate is a major ketone body present in your body when you fast. This chemical serves two functions. First, it is a nutrient that can serve as a source of energy in the body when there are not enough carbohydrates or sugars present. Second, Beta-hydroxybutyrate has signaling properties in cells. These signaling properties inhibit the activity of HDACs and modify the epigenetic landscape. "There are multiple ways to enter a state of ketosis without eating high amounts of saturated fat." Dr. Verdin explains, "You can also enter ketosis with prolonged fasts, following a carbohydrate-restricted diet, or directly absorbing beta-hydroxybutyrate."
Genetics vs. lifestyle
Longevity research shows that centenarians have specific genes that can be passed down to family members. Interestingly, Dr. Verdin's groundbreaking study from the Calico Group in collaboration with Ancestory.com found that 93% of your longevity appears to be determined by lifestyle factors, with just 7% attributed to your genes. The study notes the societal barriers at play. "The number one predictor of your lifespan is your zip code," Dr. Verdin explains, noting that socioeconomic factors contribute to health outcomes.
Advice on living a healthier longer life
To close the episode, Dr. Verdin shares his two top tips for a healthier, longer life. First, Dr. Verdin shares that it is never too late to take control of your health. In fact, many anti-aging interventions are efficient even if you start later in life, for example, with exercise.
Dr. Verdin also promotes the benefits of going on a walk, "I am personally very convinced about exercise, and compelling data highlights the benefits of just walking. "Most of the benefits of walking actually occur within the first 5,000 steps, which was a remarkable finding. Walking 5,000 steps per day is relatively easy and can help you live healthier and longer.
Longevity by Design is a podcast for individuals looking to experience longer, healthier lives. In each episode, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver join an industry expert to explore a personalized health journey. The show helps you access science-backed information, unpack complicated concepts, learn what’s on the cutting edge of longevity research and the scientists behind them. Tune into Longevity by Design and see how to add years to your life, and life to your years.