DNA Methylation and Addressing Cellular Aging From Mold and Mycotoxins

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Through my experiences in integrative medicine, one large area of focus is that of “Anti-Aging”.  There are large and popular conferences and courses taught about how to stop or slow the aging process and about how to thwart the inevitable fact that we all age and eventually our cells and bodies will wear out.  Aging is a popular topic because it unifies us (it happens to us all, of course), but also captivates us with questions of how and why aging happens and why some people seem to stave off the so-called “ravages of age” much better than others. Everyone is seeking the fountain of youth, or so it seems, with the anti-aging category of medicine still one of the most popular especially during the current pandemic when age has been the number one predictor of illness severity and mortality.

When digging into the overall picture of aging and what it means for a body to age, genetics certainly plays a large part. And, while a thorough examination of the world of genetics would be well outside the scope of this article, the fact that there are genetic variances that impact us on the cellular level to support or impede our efforts in keeping our bodies and environments as clean as possible can be explored. An example of a genetic variance that affects us at the cellular level is methylation. Thus, I want to focus this article specifically on the process of methylation and how it influences aging.  In fact, methylation is so crucial to the aging process that it has been the focus of many articles and practices in the world of medicine, both traditional and integrative.

DNA and Aging

Have you heard of telomeres? These are the biochemical strands at the ends of DNA.  Every time your cells undergo a replication, you lose a little bit of that strand, and it becomes shorter and shorter over time.  As telomeres shorten, the cells themselves may begin experiencing problems too. For years, determining telomere length has been the gold standard when examining the aging process biologically. There are tests that can, to some degree, measure the length of telomeres as well as numerous therapies that may lengthen these strands in an effort to slow the biological aging process.

Ryan Smith of TruDiagnostic, a commercial testing system, has now introduced a way to measure DNA methylation that tests your biological age, as opposed to your chronological age.  DNA methylation is a good measurement of age because it controls a set of biological triggers that switch genes off and on; therefore, it also affects telomere length.  It is suggested that because of its influence on both gene expression and telomere length, DNA methylation may also be a better and more accurate way of measuring the aging process. Put simply, it is a molecular measurement that shows us information about HOW we are aging at the cellular level so that we can then make lifestyle and environmental changes to prevent the development of age-related diseases. While I am not an anti-aging specialist in the truest sense, if biological aging is, indeed, an “illness” or a predictor of illness and not simply a process, then it relates to what I do, and my challenge now is to learn enough about these labs and tests to consider if they are perhaps valuable markers in assessing health and recovery in my environmentally stricken patients.

Methylation and Its Influence on Cellular Aging

Methylation has long been recognized as a huge influence on how well our bodies detoxify.  Much attention has been placed on certain genetic tests that distinguish if one has variances in these genes which can impact how well the detoxification process takes place.  In the very simplest of terms, methylation involves the proper utilization of Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, or folate, to help the body process and release toxins.  Interestingly, a compound found naturally in the body that helps produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), is also involved in the methylation process and is often used, to various degrees of success, in the treatment of arthritis. Knowing exactly how these methylation pathways are occurring can help practitioners see which interventions, and how much, can help support this process. When a patient has been exposed to mold and mycotoxins, for example, we often find that the process of methylation is affected, causing either more rapid utilization of the components or the inability to utilize them properly.  Either way, the result can be a poorly functioning system with a build-up of oxidative stress, which I equate to “rusting” or cellular aging.

Why Biological Age Matters

While antiaging often has a correlation with esthetics, looking younger, more vibrant energy, and I think most of us would like that, the deeper meaning has to do with age-related illnesses, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, etc.  Therefore, there is much more than simply chronologic aging associated with these disorders. When we look at all disease states, the biological age of our cells, in other words how well they are functioning and withstanding the inevitable toxic insults associated with stress and with life in general, is what matters most. Thus, being able to test something like DNA methylation with a simple blood sample so that biological age can be accurately determined can be invaluable information for you and your doctor to have in treating any current ailments and in circumventing future illness and disease. One of my favorite ways to illustrate the importance of knowing biological age to my patients is to tell them that if you are thinking of aging as how much longer you have on this earth with good health and likening that to being in a room full of dynamite, what would you rather know, how long all of the wicks are or how long the shortest wick is? Most people would say the shortest. Knowing how your cells are aging in comparison to your chronological age gives you that insight so that you can make changes and reverse the disease process before it is too late.

There is so much written and available on this subject, multiple podcasts by Ryan Smith and others which detail well beyond the scope of this article the hows, whys, and where the research is leading. I will be delving more into it myself and hope to be able to share my findings and experiences as my knowledge base increases.

Mold, Mycotoxins and Cellular Aging

But back to molds and mycotoxins!  The rule that we must follow for health is the clean air, clean food, clean water model.  If air is unhealthy, then our bodies are being exposed to mycotoxins that then affect cells switching off and on these methylation expressions to some degree, genetics determining much of this, combined with the “total body load” which encompasses the sum total of illnesses and exposures throughout a lifetime. We must do all we can to counteract the cellular aging that exposure to such toxins can impose.

Total Body Load Reduction in the Anti-Aging process:

1. Keep the air clean. Monitor for mold/mycotoxins, particularly if you have previously been affected.

2. Keep Vitamin D levels optimized. Ideally, the blood level should be 60-80 ng/ml.

3. Optimize your insulin sensitivity by eating a diet low in refined carbs and sugars and eating your last meal at least 3 hours before bed.

4. Get regular exercise. Excercise directly counteracts cellular aging, helps the body detoxify, and promotes cellular regeneration.

5. Limit consumption of unsaturated fats, Omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) is particularly harmful. It is highly susceptible to oxidation causing oxidative stress and can remain in your cells for a very long time. Eliminate vegetable and seed oils. A standard American diet contains a LOT of LA and may be one of the big culprits in the massive increase in degenerative diseases.

6. Practice stress management.  Stress hormones lead to oxidative stress.  Mitigating stress with prayer, meditation, and exercise tends to slow the aging process.

7. Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation directly ages you. Your cells and especially your brain detoxifies during sleep. Without enough rest, you are literally burning the candle at both ends!

If we can control cellular aging then I think no matter what the lifespan may be, there can be better and more vibrant years and more effective disease prevention. Start with the small steps, as they are most important, with my wish for you a most healthy and energetic life possible!

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