Cells don’t live for ever. They eventually stop dividing, at which point they should naturally enter what is called ‘programmed cell death’ or technically, apoptosis. Their components are then ready to be recycled to make new cells.
But sometimes damage makes them become resistant to this normal and ‘cleansing’ death. They turn into something scientists call senescent cells or "zombie cells", which pour out toxins that infect other cells in their vicinity and spread ageing inflammation throughout the body.
Senescent cells can be thought of as 'cellular waste'. They accumulate with time and age – and cause wrinkles. Senescent cells in blood vessels make them stiffer and can lead to arthritis, atherosclerosis or to inflammation in the brain. Which is why excess senescent cells are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Scientists have found that eliminating senescent cells in old mice reverses many of the effects of ageing (Ref. Ref.) Several drugs called senolytics are now being developed (Ref.) with the goal of reducing senescent cells in older people to delay and treat age-related disease. They work by increasing ‘autophagy’ – a natural process where old cells are broken down and recycled. (Auto=self and phagy=eating)
Studies have also identified several phyto (plant) nutrients that act as natural senolytics.
Colin Rose is a Senior Associate Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is the Founder and Director of Research and Innovation of Uni-Vite Healthcare and author of a recent book: Delay Ageing: Healthy to 100, where he reveals how to slow ageing and, therefore, help prevent later-life illness.
On why he wrote this series of articles on how to live A Longer, Healthier Life, Colin says:
"The following chart – created by the American Association for the Advancement of Science – is sobering.
"Why the steep increase in all these health threats after the age of say 55? Previously we might have muttered – “Just getting older, what can you expect?”
"But a mountain of recent research has uncovered the processes that are driving all these age-related diseases and how to counteract them for a longer, healthier life.
"That’s what I explore in this series."
Clearing zombie cells with natural senolytic nutrients
The most potent of the senolytic nutrients is fisetin found in the highest amount in strawberries, but which also occurs to a lesser degree in apples and onions.
A 2019 study (Ref.) at the Mayo Clinic titled: ‘Fisetin is a seno-therapeutic that extends health and lifespan’ stated that:
“Fisetin can exert numerous beneficial biological activities, including anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic, and has neuro-protective effects”. (Anti-angiogenic means the ability to starve cancer cells of the blood supply they need to proliferate).
Other studies indicate that fisetin can enhance memory in mice. A 2018 study from researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the Center on Aging at the Scripps Institute found it “extends health and lifespan” – at least in mice and in human tissue.
Fisetin is therefore desirable in your diet.
But it’s not the only natural phyto-nutrient that helps clear senescent cells. In December 2021 Nature Metabolism (Ref.) identified procyanidin C1 – a key nutrient in grapeseed extract – as:
"a natural seno-therapeutic agent with in vivo activity and high potential for further development as a clinical intervention to delay, alleviate or prevent age-related pathologies.”
The study confirmed that this grapeseed phyto-nutrient “alleviates physical dysfunction and prolongs survival” in old mice.
QUERCETIN, CURCUMIN and GREEN TEA
Another natural senolytic is quercetin (highest in apples, capers, red onions, berry fruits, kale, spinach and grapes). Quercetin has been found to help clear senescent cells from the lining of arteries (Ref.) and therefore improve cardio and brain function.
Curcumin (Ref.), and the compound called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) in green tea are other senolytics.
Fisetin, quercetin, grape seed extract and curcumin are also powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds and so have additional value (Ref.) .
The lead Mayo Clinic researcher on fisetin made an important point to remember when we consider what supplements to take to counteract the processes that drive ageing – and age-related illnesses:
"Polyphenols like fisetin and those in blueberry extracts (resveratrol) are found in fruits and vegetables and are related to each other chemically ... There is increasing evidence that they all work in combination against multiple diseases.”
No one nutrient – even Vitamin D3 (Ref.) – is going to make a huge difference on its own. The aim is to identify the combination that is likely to be maximally effective – which is the purpose of this Slower Ageing series.
GLUCOSAMINE - surprisingly
Researchers at the Scripps Institute researching glucosamine for joint health found that one of the ways it works is by supporting the elimination of senescent cells. They concluded that glucosamine be considered for “modifying aging-related cellular changes”.
Glucosamine is normally an ingredient in joint supplements. But in another study, glucosamine was found – to the researchers' (and my) surprise – to be associated with reduced overall mortality (Ref.).
Another newly discovered senolytic is spermidine (Ref.), a nutrient found in the highest concentrations in wheatgerm. If you eat wholegrain wheat flour products eg. wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, you will get all the components of the whole grain: wheat bran, endosperm, and wheatgerm. Wheatgerm can also be added separately to, for instance, breakfast cereals.
Summary – How to clear zombie cells
The older we get, the more senescent cells we produce and accumulate. Uncleared senescent cells are a key contributor to ageing. They need to be cleared by senolytics, through a process called ‘autophagy’.
Natural senolytics include the phyto-nutrients fisetin, grape seed extract, quercetin, curcumin, EGCG in green tea, glucosamine – and wheatgerm.
These natural ingredients are in the supplement NutriShield: NutriShield | Daily Nutritional Health Supplement from Uni-Vite Healthcare
Thanks for reading
I spend my time researching the new science of healthy, successful ageing. And how to extend health span rather than just lifespan.
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