A Doctor’s Guide To Finding Success With Longevity Supplements
By Radley Griffin, M.D.
People are always looking to make improvements. We search for ways to make our lives better, easier, and more fulfilled.
We also look for ways to make our lives longer.
It’s an almost primal urge, built into our DNA. We want to know how we can stick around on this planet as long as possible.
One hot topic involved in this pursuit today is longevity supplements. What are they? Do they work? Are they safe?
As with almost any new development, some people are skeptical; others, hopeful. The Wright brothers didn’t climb into their plane for the first time without some naysayers (and some risk). But airplanes turned out to be a better, more efficient way forward for travel, and once people saw the results, they wanted to fly, too.
Fortunately, longevity supplements are a much less risky endeavor than pioneering human flight. Let’s look at how we use supplements, their effectiveness, and what “longevity supplements” actually are.
Know How You’re Using Supplements
In a general way, supplements fall roughly into two categories: short term and long term.
Whether a supplement is short term or long term depends on your specific environment, your body, your diet, and your health. If there’s only a short-term need, then you only use it for a little while. If the need continues, so can the supplement use.
People use short-term supplements to make immediate improvements to their health, such as preventing an infection or correcting a deficiency.
We saw this preventative type of supplementation surge during the early days of COVID.
For example, zinc’s antiviral properties made it a top recommendation among healthcare providers, as did vitamin C’s anti-inflammatory benefits. And these immune-supporting qualities work against more than just COVID.
Short-term supplements like iron can also address deficiencies resulting from issues like temporary malabsorption, bleeding, or a dietary change.
Sometimes, if a deficiency or health condition demands it, short-term supplements turn into long-term supplements.
People take long-term supplements simply when the need for that supplement persists.
Some long-term supplements are used to prevent dietary deficiencies that could result from lifestyle, such as vitamin B12 for vegans. Others address existing deficiencies that just won’t resolve, such as the rampant vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. and the world. Still others help prevent urinary tract infections, promote hair growth, decrease prostate enlargement, and support digestive health and balance.
Many supplements can support health over the long term with little to no risk or side effects.
What Are Longevity Supplements?
The name longevity supplement might bring to mind an amazing super-pill that cures what ails us, fights off future disease, and keeps our bodies kicking forever. But that isn’t quite the case.
In reality, longevity supplements are any supplements we use to support our health and extend our lives.
Do Longevity Supplements Work?
Before I answer this question, I have a different one for you:
Are you ready to ask this question?
Life is a lot like a pendulum, and you can either swing toward longevity, or you can swing toward death.
If you’re treating your body poorly — smoking, living under constant stress, eating unhealthy foods — no amount of supplementation is going to stop that pendulum from swinging toward death.
Even drugs won’t stop it. You can’t simply take a statin for high cholesterol and continue on with an unhealthy lifestyle. That’s like having the statin pushing your pendulum from one side, but you pushing back harder from the other.
So before you consider longevity supplements, assess your pendulum. At minimum, reverse any unhealthy habits that are swinging you toward death and get back to the center — to a baseline of health. Then consider what actions you can take to swing the pendulum toward longevity.
Okay, But Do They Work? Exploring New Longevity Supplements
Supplements that specifically target longevity are a very recent field of study. To get an idea of the thought behind them and what they aim to do, we need to look to some modern-day Wright brothers — to the thinkers and scientists who’ve made longevity their mission.
People like Tony Robbins and Harvard’s Dr. David Sinclair are excited about possibilities for increasing human longevity through a variety of methods, including longevity supplements.
In broad terms, there are three categories (plus a bonus) of longevity supplements available right now.
1. Longevity Supplements for Mitochondrial Health
Mitochondria produce the energy for every single one of our cells. We have millions and trillions of these little cell engines in all the tissues of our bodies. So by taking care of our mitochondria, we take care of ourselves.
Much of Dr. Sinclair’s research relates to a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which our mitochondria use for making energy. NAD+ also plays a key role in keeping our DNA healthy and resistant to aging.
Dr. Sinclair suggests that taking NAD+ precursors like nicotinamide riboside (NR) or nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) supports NAD+ levels, thus protecting our DNA and helping our mitochondria keep us energized and functioning as we age.
While these longevity supplements show quite a bit of promise in research, more studies are still needed to clinically prove their benefits in humans. They appear to have a very favorable safety profile, however, for anyone wishing to give them a try.
Other popular longevity supplements for mitochondrial health include coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and antioxidants like vitamin E.
2. Longevity Supplements for Prevention
One of the most important components in longevity is prevention. We want to prevent illness, disease, and atrophy, and it’s important to keep in mind that our supplement needs will change as we age.
A great example of this is iron. Iron is a mineral we need for growth, energy, and hormone production. A person in their 30s or 40s may absorb all they need from their diet, but as we age, our bodies have a more difficult time absorbing iron. So a person in their 70s or 80s may need a supplement.
Many supplements can support longevity in this way: vitamin D for immune health, B vitamins for neurological and psychological health, and many more.
3. Longevity Supplements for Genetics
An exciting development in longevity supplementation is addressing genetics with what we like to call “precision supplementation.”
This is when we can actually target longevity supplements and foods to support your genetics. For instance, if we discover that you’re genetically predisposed to a certain condition, we can dive into which supplements are associated with suppressing or facilitating that condition.
If a woman is predisposed to urinary tract infections (UTIs), for example, targeted supplementation can actually inhibit bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and help prevent those infections before they start.
We don’t usually consider medications as “supplements,” but emerging data is showing that some medications may contribute to longevity as well.
Longevity Is a Long-Term Commitment
Anything you do for longevity has to be a long-term commitment. Eating is a great example of why.
You can’t eat a huge, healthy meal on Sunday and expect to last the rest of the week without eating. Why? Because your body and its tissues need a continuous supply of those healthy nutrients. You have to eat every day.
The same is true at the cellular level with supplements. Taking supplements for a short time won’t have much impact 10 years down the road, though it may be beneficial for a short-term problem. Whether it involves the more widely known long-term supplements or newer longevity supplements, if you’re interested in longevity then you have to commit to a sustainable strategy for the long term.
Team Up for Longevity
If you’re interested in longevity supplements and living a long life, we strongly recommend you team up with a knowledgeable physician for the journey.
All of the recent research into longevity supplements is incredibly exciting, and we can’t wait to see what else we’ll discover to keep the pendulum swinging in the right direction.