There are countless supplements claiming that they are “anti-aging”.
Unfortunately, almost none of them are.
Most anti-aging supplements contain ingredients that:
- Are based on outdated ideas (e.g., that antioxidants slow down aging – they don’t).
- Are based on little to no science.
- Contain too few ingredients to really impact aging (aging is a complex process caused by multiple mechanisms).
- Contain too low a dose of ingredients (a big problem with most supplements that are pills instead of sachets).
Put simply, most “anti-aging” supplements have not shown to extend lifespan in scientific studies.
And for the few ingredients that did lengthen lifespan according to scientific studies, the problem is that often these studies:
- Have not been well-conducted (e.g. using the wrong animal strains, not measuring aging correctly, stressing the animals, using the wrong doses and combinations).
- Have not been confirmed by other research groups.
- Have experimental set-ups that are not good models of the real aging process (like, using accelerated-aging mice with very debilitating mutations in their mitochondria, which then receive a mitochondrial antioxidant – of course in this designed context, it will extend their lifespan).
Probably the biggest problem is that most supplements are based on outdated ideas about aging, such as the idea that aging is mainly driven by oxidative damage, caused by free radicals which antioxidants can neutralize.
Sometimes, antioxidants may even accelerate aging or increase the risk of cancer (R).
We know now that aging is a far more complex process than just oxidative damage. There are many other and more important reasons why we age, like epigenetic dysregulation, protein accumulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and so on.
Which are some examples of these popular “anti-aging supplements” that in fact will do little to slow down aging?
Examples are most vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Vitamin A, vitamin E, co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10), alpha lipoic acid, copper, and potassium are not going to slow down aging.
They can be useful if you have deficiencies in these vitamins or minerals, but taking additional amounts of these substances is not going to address aging at its root causes.
However, there are real anti-aging ingredients that can extend lifespan, because:
- They have good scientific studies supporting them, preferably in different organisms.
- Their use has been associated with reduced mortality in humans.
- Their intake is associated with reduced-risk or mitigation of typical aging diseases, like cardiovascular disease or Alzheimer’s.
- They have been shown to act on aging mechanisms, like epigenetic dysregulation, mitochondrial dysfunction or protein accumulation (e.g., autophagy, unfolded protein response, chaperone functionalities, etc).
Ideally, these ingredients act on well-described aging mechanisms, often in ways different than being an antioxidant. For example, they improve the stability of the epigenome (like alpha-ketoglutarate) or reduce the accumulation of proteins (like glycine and glucosamine).
Based on these insights and criteria, please find below our list of the best anti-aging supplements.
Fisetin is a natural ingredient found in vegetables and fruits, especially in strawberries. Fisetin is mostly known for its senolytic activity, meaning it can clear away senescent cells, and increase lifespan in various organisms (R,R,R,R).
Senescent cells accumulate everywhere in our body during aging. Senescent cells were previously normal cells that turned into “zombie cells”: senescent cells are cells that cannot divide anymore, but refuse to die, and secrete all kinds of substances that damage healthy surrounding cells.
Senescent cells in the skin contribute to wrinkles, senescent cells in the blood vessels make them more stiff, and senescent cells in the liver impair its proper functioning.
There are various natural substances that can have senolytic activity. One of them is quercetin. In fact, quercetin and fisetin look very similar. However, fisetin seems to be the most potent natural senolytic (R):
Researchers concluded that “fisetin had the most potent senotherapeutic effects in several cell types in vitro and showed strong anti-geronic effects in vivo.”
Besides clearing senescent cells, fisetin reduces inflammation (R,R), inhibits mTOR (an important aging switch) (R), reduces glycation (which also contributes to aging) (R), increases the production of cell protective substances, and has many more beneficial effects.
Various studies show the lifespan extending effects of fisetin (R,R,R). For example, one study found that fisetin extends median and maximum lifespan in mice, even when taken late in a mouse’s life (equivalent to 50 or 60 years old for a human) (R):
2. ALPHA-KETOGLUTARATE (THE CALCIUM FORM)
Alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG) is a substance that naturally occurs in our bodies. When we get older, the levels of AKG decline.
But even more interestingly, the mice stayed healthy for much longer: The mice that received AKG had less aging-related diseases and symptoms, including a fur that became grey at a slower rate.
This probably has to do with alpha-ketoglutarate improving the stem cell function of the stem cells surrounding the hair shaft.
How can alpha-ketoglutarate extend healthspan and lifespan?
AKG has many functions in the body. For example, it is involved in mitochondrial health. Mitochondria are the power plants of our cells, which create energy so cells can go about their daily business. When we get older, our mitochondria function less and less well. Alpha-ketoglutarate provides energy for the mitochondria, among many other functions (R).
AKG also helps to maintain the epigenome (R). The epigenome determines which genes are active or not. The older we get, the more the epigenome gets dysregulated. Substances like AKG can slow down this decline. Alpha-ketoglutarate is also involved in stem cell maintenance (R). Interestingly, AKG also improves synthesis of collagen (R), which could improve skin appearance (R).
Alpha-ketoglutarate needs vitamin C to function properly, especially for its epigenetic functioning (R). So ideally, a good anti-aging supplement would contain both AKG and vitamin C to enable synergistic effects. Interestingly, vitamin C also has epigenetic effects (R).
3. MICRODOSED LITHIUM
Lithium is a mineral found in nature. It seeps from rocks into water, including drinking water.
Various studies showed links between the amount of lithium in the drinking water and mortality rates (R,R), while other studies showed that people living in regions with more lithium in the drinking water had less neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (R) and have lower suicide rates.
A systematic review and meta-analysis demonstrated that lithium may have beneficial effects on cognitive performance in people with mild cognitive impairment (often the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease) and Alzheimer’s disease (R).
Lithium also has been used for many decades as a medicine to treat psychiatric diseases, especially to stabilize mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder.
However, the amounts of lithium given to psychiatric patients are hundreds to thousands of times higher compared to the amounts of lithium in drinking water, dosages given in trials to reduce dementia, and amounts in longevity supplements like NOVOS. We see that very low or micro doses of lithium (in the range of 0.3 milligram to a few milligrams) can have lifespan effects and protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (R,R,R).
There are many ways by which lithium can impact the aging process. Lithium has been shown to increase autophagy (the digestion of proteins that would otherwise accumulate in the cells, a process that contributes to aging) (R,R), enhance the generation of pluripotent stem cells demonstrating its epigenetic effects (R), and improve neurogenesis (R), the formation of new neurons.
Glycine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in our body. When we age, glycine levels decline.
Low glycine levels also have been associated with various aging-related diseases like cardiovascular disease and with type 2 diabetes.
Glycine has many functions in the body. It improves the epigenome (the machinery that determines which genes are switched on or off, a process that goes increasingly awry when we get older). Glycine especially improves the epigenome of mitochondria, the power plants of our cells (R).
Glycine also functions as a chaperone. Chaperones are small molecules that gently stick to and protect the proteins. That is important, because one of the reasons why we age is due to proteins accumulating everywhere inside and outside our cells, eventually hampering the proper functioning of our cells.
Glycine also reduces inflammation (R) and has many other beneficial effects, especially for the cardiovascular system. People with higher glycine levels in the blood had less risk of a heart attack (R), and glycine can protect the blood vessels (R).
Pterostilbene is the better brother of the famous anti-aging substance resveratrol.
Resveratrol has long been hyped as a longevity substance. However, it unfortunately did not live up to that hype. Studies showed disappointing results when it came to resveratrol extending lifespan.
One reason for this is that resveratrol has a very short half-life: most of it is broken down in less than an hour. Also, resveratrol, when taken orally, is not very well absorbed.
Pterostilbene, on the other hand, has a far longer half-life and better absorption, so that higher levels reach the blood and stay around for longer in the body.
We see in studies that pterostilbene performs better than resveratrol (R).
6. MALATE OR MALIC ACID
Malate, also called malic acid, is found in apples, and in our own bodies.
Malate is an important substance in the mitochondria. In fact, malate is a component of the Krebs cycle, which consists of various substances that are chemically modified to provide the energy that keeps all cells going.
Studies show that malate can extend lifespan in simple organisms (R).
That’s why the best form of magnesium for anti-aging purposes is magnesium malate (and not magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate and other forms of magnesium).
Magnesium is an indispensable mineral for the body to function properly.
Magnesium helps innumerable enzymes in our body to function properly. Cells shuttle magnesium in and out to propagate nerve signals and to generate muscle impulses, including the beatings of our heart.
Low intakes of magnesium are associated with increased inflammation, increased blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, insulin resistance, osteoporosis and even development of cancers (R).
Magnesium also provides energy, and can help people to deal with stress. Magnesium especially teams up well with malate, another substance that can provide energy.
8. GLUCOSAMINE (THE SULFATE FORM)
Most people know glucosamine as a substance to reduce wear and tear of cartilage and to improve joint health.
Interestingly, studies show that glucosamine is one of the few supplements associated with reduced mortality in humans (R,R), and also reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in humans (R). There are also associations between people taking glucosamine and reduced inflammation (R).
This should not be surprising, given the many effects glucosamine has on the body. It does much more than protect cartilage.
Glucosamine can improve mitochondrial health, thus enabling the mitochondria (the power plants of our cells) to function better. One way of doing this is by increasing “mitochondrial biogenesis”, which means that glucosamine induces the formation (genesis) of extra mitochondria.
9. HYALURONIC ACID
Hyaluronic acid is an important component of the skin. But hyaluronic acid (HA) surrounds and embeds many other cells in the body than just the skin cells.
The older we get, the less hyaluronic acid there is in the body. A 70-year-old has only about 19 percent of the amount of hyaluronic acid of a young person.
Studies show that hyaluronic acid, taken orally, can improve skin appearance by reducing wrinkles, improving moisturization of the skin and increasing skin radiance (R,R). It can also improve osteoarthritis (R,R,R), which makes sense given joints and cartilage contain a lot of hyaluronic acid.
Interestingly, hyaluronic acid is made up of acetyl-glucosamine (do not confuse with glucosamine).
Acetyl-glucosamine has been shown to extend lifespan in mice (R).
Acetyl-glucosamine could do this by inducing the “unfolded protein response”, which is a defense mechanism that kicks into action when the cell senses that there are too many improperly folded proteins accumulating in the cell (R).
Protein accumulation is one of the reasons why we age. When you consume hyaluronic acid, parts of the molecule are broken down in the gut into acetyl-glucosamine, which can be absorbed by the gut cells and end up in the bloodstream.
Ginger is a well-known spice. But it’s not just any spice.
Ginger has been found to extend lifespan in simple organisms, like fruit flies (R).
Studies show that ginger can protect mice against lethal doses of radiation, which is quite impressive (R). The mice that received ginger before they got exposed to a high dose of radiation lived considerably longer. High-energy radiation is very damaging to cells, as the radiation oxidizes (damages) many components of the cells, rips molecules, including DNA apart, and induces strong inflammation.
However, ginger seems to be able to mitigate this molecular onslaught.
11. RHODIOLA ROSEA
Rhodiola rosea is a very interesting plant that grows in the northern regions of Europa and Asia.
Rhodiola rosea has been used for centuries as an adaptogen, a substance that can improve resilience against both physiological stress and mental stress.
Interestingly, Rhodiola can also improve nerve regeneration; specific substances in Rhodiola, like salidroside could be responsible for this very interesting effect (R,R). This could be one of the several reasons demonstrating neuroprotective effects of Rhodiola rosea (R,R,R).
Studies in humans show that Rhodiola rosea can improve memory, concentration and can reduce fatigue (R). Students and people with demanding jobs take Rhodiola rosea to improve their productivity and energy levels (R,R,R).
Theanine is a substance found in green tea, and is one of the reasons why green tea is healthy.
Theanine has been associated with healthier blood vessels, and could reduce blood pressure and even obesity (R).
Theanine has shown to reduce neurodegeneration and protect neurons (R,R,R). It could also perhaps improve neuronal stem cell health and neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons in the brain) (R,R,R).
In humans, theanine can improve concentration, while also improving relaxation. Learn more about theanine here.
13. NICOTINAMIDE MONONUCLEOTIDE (NMN)
Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) is needed to make NAD+.
NAD+ is a very important substance in the cells. It provides energy for cells and is also a cofactor for proteins that repair and maintain our epigenome and our DNA.
NMN also improves the functioning of our mitochondria, the power plants of our cells.
NMN improves metabolism and reduces inflammation.
The older we get, the less NAD+ is present in our cells. Taking in NMN can increase NAD+ levels.
For example, long term administration of NMN mitigated age-associated decline in mice: NMN reduced the typical age-associated increase in body weight, improved energy metabolism, improved lipids in the blood and insulin sensitivity and ameliorated eye function (R).
THE IMPORTANCE OF SYNERGY IN ANTI-AGING SUPPLEMENTS
In conclusion, many anti-aging supplements are based on outdated insights and don’t have any or just very little science backing up their claims.
Also, they do not contain substances that have been shown to act on aging mechanisms (the “hallmarks of aging”).
A good anti-aging supplement is one that contains substances that are based on science and that acts on aging mechanisms. This also enables these supplements to have an additional important benefit: synergy.
If you have an anti-aging supplement that only focuses on “improving mitochondrial health”, you are not addressing other important aging mechanisms, like epigenetic dysregulation or accumulation of proteins.
Therefore, this supplement, even if it could improve mitochondrial health, will have little impact on extending lifespan given it only tackles one facet of the aging process.
As such, it’s very important for a good anti-aging supplement to contain substances that act on different aging mechanisms and this in a synergistic way.
For example, alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG) can maintain the epigenome and improve mitochondrial health. AKG can work together with other substances that improve mitochondrial health, like fisetin and malate, or that improve the epigenome, like NMN and glycine.
For this, other anti-aging substances need to be added, like lithium (which can reduce accumulation of proteins by stimulating autophagy – the digestion of proteins) or acetyl-glucosamine which can also reduce protein accumulation, or magnesium that can help stabilize the DNA.
So the ideal anti-aging supplement contains not just one or two substances that focus on one aging mechanism (like mitochondrial health or the NAD+ metabolism), but contains many substances that act on many aging pathways, and this in a synergistic way.
No such supplement existed, which is why we created NOVOS Core, a pioneering nutraceutical that contains no less than 12 science-based, synergistic ingredients to slow down aging (NOVOS Core contains all the ingredients described in this blog post, except NMN), and NOVOS Boost, which contains NMN.
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