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How Functional Nutrition Can Support Healthy Aging

Medically reviewed by 
How Functional Nutrition Can Support Healthy Aging

The human lifespan has increased steadily in the last several decades, despite a slight decrease during the pandemic. Many of us are living into our 80s, if not our 90s, with an average life expectancy of 76.1 years. Given that we are living longer, naturally, we want to do things to improve our quality of life, and our health is fundamental to that. Engaging in practices that support the health of our bodies and minds helps promote healthy aging and increased vitality. While aging is a natural biological process, we have the potential to exert a powerful influence over it with nutrition and lifestyle factors.


What is Functional Nutrition?

Functional Nutrition is an approach to health that takes a root cause perspective regarding dysfunction in the body. Functional Nutrition addresses health in a comprehensive, holistic, and multidimensional way. This approach recognizes the many factors that influence our health, from genetic predispositions, nutrition, and lifestyle, to our environment and other stressors that may impede our body's functioning.

Common Signs of Healthy Aging

Signs of natural and healthy aging include physical and biological observations over time in a gradual and subtle way. For instance, we may notice changes in our metabolism, energy levels, or skin renewal as we grow older. While many of these processes are normal, they can be modulated substantially with how well we care for ourselves regarding our nutrition and lifestyle.

Causes of Unhealthy Aging

Causes of unhealthy aging include mitochondrial or cellular dysfunction, oxidative stress, hormonal imbalances, insufficient nutrition, chronic inflammation and stress, gut microbiome imbalances, and compromised processes in the body, such as digestion and detoxification.

Compromised mitochondrial function and detoxification can result in the accumulation of toxins in the body, which compromises and impedes the functioning of our cells, tissues, organs, and, therefore, our body's systems. Inflammation, rapidly accelerated aging in our skin, and compromised digestion and detoxification are signs of unhealthy aging. Additionally, cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurodegenerative conditions are also evident in unhealthy aging.

Compromised autophagy and mitophagy are natural processes of aging. However, they can also contribute to unhealthy aging depending on our nutritional intake and other lifestyle and environmental factors. Autophagy is an important process in terms of aging as it allows for the degradation and recycling of damaged or worn-out cells. Mitophagy is a subset of autophagy that targets the selective degradation of mitochondria to promote and support healthy aging.

Functional Medicine Labs to Support Healthy Aging

The following functional medicine labs can help uncover underlying issues related to unhealthy aging:

Organic Acids

Assessing mitochondrial function is imperative to the health and functioning of our cells and therefore is significant to healthy aging. Organic Acids provide insight into the body's nutritional status as well as cellular and metabolic health. This test also evaluates key inflammation and oxidative stress markers, all of which influence healthy aging.

Methylation Panel

If methylation is compromised in the body due to genetic variants or insufficient nutrition, it can affect many processes in the body that are imperative for healthy aging. Among many factors, methylation is needed for cellular renewal and detoxification.

Gut Health Testing

If our gut health is out of balance or compromised relative to function or microbiome imbalance, this can greatly cause metabolic distress in the body and further contribute to toxic load and accumulation.

Glutathione Status Testing

Glutathione is a major antioxidant, having numerous protective roles in the body, including sufficient detoxification. This can be assessed via whole blood glutathione or urinary organic acids by looking at detox markers.

Hormonal Balance

Hormone health is essential to our overall health. This comprehensive hormone test assesses hormonal status in females and males while also addressing cortisol and adrenal function. Hormones naturally shift as we age, so monitoring their status is beneficial for understanding healthy aging.

Typical Conventional Treatments for Aging

Some typical conventional treatments for aging may include insulin, high blood pressure medications, aspirin, and hormone replacement therapies, depending on the specific degeneration that may be occurring or common conditions that may be arising as we age. While all of these serve a purpose and have value, especially for those with genetic predispositions, many of these may be avoided by addressing health from a holistic root cause perspective with nutrition and lifestyle factors.

Functional Medicine Nutrition for Healthy Aging

Optimizing our health from a cellular level with support from nutrition and lifestyle approaches and bringing awareness to our unique biochemical make-up is a functional medicine approach to healthy aging. The following recommendations help address aging from a root cause perspective.

Intermittent Fasting

This type of fasting may be recommended as it assists with metabolism and autophagy, an important process for cellular renewal. There are different intervals for fasting, so you should consult with your health practitioner before beginning fasting to ensure that you are fasting at appropriate intervals for your health status.

Digestion and Gut Microbiome Health

Without sufficient digestion, we can't absorb our nutrients or rid the body of waste, all crucial to healthy aging. The health of our gut microbiome is also significant as it influences hormones, metabolic health, nervous system functioning, and levels of inflammation in the body.

Ensuring we are consuming a nutrient-dense, whole-food diet that is in support of our microbiome, therefore, is essential to healthy aging. Being mindful of our relationship to stress and our microbiome is also significant as both contribute to inflammation, wreaking havoc on the body's systems regarding aging.

Inflammation Support

Inflammation can be damaging to the body and manifest as signs of rapid aging. Following an anti-inflammatory diet helps reduce and modulate inflammation. Refraining from refined carbs and processed foods also helps reduce inflammation.

Detoxification Support

Foods with high sulfur content, such as dark leafy greens, and adequate sources of antioxidants are supportive of phase 1, phase 2, and phase 3 of liver detoxification. The use of saunas is great for excreting toxins, as well as for regular exercise. Hydration is key to detoxification and is important for aiding in the many biological processes relative to aging. Adequate hydration also keeps our skin healthy.

It is also essential to be mindful of our exposure to environmental toxins such as pollution and lifestyle toxicants such as alcohol consumption and smoking, as the build-up of these toxins negatively affects how we age.

The Best Anti-Aging Foods

While numerous foods can support healthy aging, depending on one's bio-individual needs, the foods below may be a good place to start, given their properties and roles in healthy aging.


Berries are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which have strong anti-aging properties. Blueberries, for instance, contain anthocyanin, other polyphenols, and have antioxidant roles in anti-aging. Raspberries are a rich source of Vitamin C, fiber, and proanthocyanidins that support oxidative stress, inflammation, and cardiovascular health. They also contain ellagic acid, helping to move bile through the liver helping to modulate healthy levels of cholesterol. These super fruits also contain quercetin and catechins, helping to remove toxins from the body.

Green Vegetables

Spinach supports healthy methylation, and it contains Vitamin C and high levels of chlorophyll, an alkalizing and cleansing property important for cell health and energy.

Swiss Chard has protective antioxidant properties, including proanthocyanidins for circulation and heart health. This superfood also contains vitamin C, among other antioxidants, for skin health.

Gut Healing Vegetables

Sauerkraut is a fermented food with a high amount of glutamine, an amino acid that is important for GI health. It also supports oxygenation in the body and detoxification, as it contains sulfur compounds. Sauerkraut also supports microbiota diversity, having far-reaching implications for many aspects of our health.

Healthy Fats

Avocados are full of antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fats such as vitamins A and E, essential for skin health, amongst other bodily functions. They also contain Vitamins C, B, and copper, all important for collagen production.

Fatty Fish is a rich source of Omega-3s, among other nutrients that help support inflammation and skin aging. These fatty acids are also important for healthy hormones as we age.

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats and are rich in vitamins E and C that, support healthy aging.

Supplements & Herbs

Glutathione (GSH) is the master antioxidant in the body, with strong implications for healthy aging. While it can be supplemented, practitioners often recommend N-acetyl-l-cysteine, or NAC, instead, the precursor for the amino acid (l-cysteine), which is required to produce glutathione (GSH). Vitamin C also supports the synthesis of glutathione, along with its assistance in many processes in the body that support healthy aging.

Garlic aids digestion and detoxification as it also contains sulfur, helping to remove harmful substances from the body. While you can certainly add garlic to your diet, supplementing is also an option.

Alpha Lipoic Acid is a compound that has been found to have protective anti-aging support as it is a direct scavenger of free radicals and helps to regenerate important antioxidants in the body.

Vitamin E also supports skin health and several other cellular functions supporting aging, such as inflammation.

Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound found in plants that provides antioxidant support and reduces inflammation and oxidative stress.  

ECCG is a polyphenol often found in green tea with strong antioxidant and restoring properties for our cells as it helps aid in autophagy. This crucial cellular function clears away damaged cells.


Complementary and Alternative Medicine For Healthy Aging

Yoga is recommended for healthy aging as it increases vagal tone and blood flow, among a number of other processes that support balance and restoration in the body. Yoga also helps us regulate stress, improve physiological function in the body, and may even support tissue regeneration.

Deep breathing has also been suggested to support healthy aging through its exhibited physiological and psychological effects. Deep breathing promotes parasympathetic nervous system dominance (notably exhalation), stimulates the vagus nerve, and helps promote blood flow and circulation throughout the body.  

Vitamin therapies have become increasingly popular regarding healthy aging, with most research supporting Vitamin C IV therapy in promoting and modulating immunity.

Forest Bathing consists of engaging in all senses while walking in the forest. While this may seem simple, forest bathing can induce several physiological benefits in the body to support healthy aging, notably in terms of hypertension, stress, and anxiety, as well as modulating immunity, inflammation, and cardiovascular health.

Cold exposure, such as an ice bath or cold shower may also be helpful in anti-aging as it supports the production of GABA, stimulates the vagus nerve and has been found to increase brown adipose tissue fat having implications for metabolic health and longevity. It has also been suggested to have beneficial benefits on immunity and circulation.

There has also been some research to support stem cell therapies in terms of aging as they help to modulate immunity and inflammation.

Chiropractic care helps to support healthy aging by improving blood flow and inflammation in the body. It has been suggested to release neurotrophins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor.


We all can age gracefully if we prioritize caring for ourselves - body and mind. While genes play a role, nutrition and lifestyle factors also significant;y contribute to healthy aging. Remember to consider the foundations of a healthy lifestyle, including adequate rest, hydration, movement, and nourishment. Modulating stress is also important and foundational to healthy aging, digestion, and sufficient detox. Finally, taking measures to counteract pollution and other environmental toxicants is also valuable for healthy aging.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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