Anti-Aging Supplements You Don’t Want To Take (2023)
Despite their big and lofty promises, most anti-aging pills don’t slow down aging. Examples are most vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and herbs.
Luckily, there are science-based supplements that can slow down aging, extend lifespan and have a lot of science behind them to support this.
That most anti-aging supplements don’t work is already bad in itself. But it can get even worse: some of them can actually be unhealthy, accelerate aging and shorten lifespan!
We dug into the research to uncover “anti-aging” supplements you don’t want to take.
1. Most antioxidant supplements
Numerous large studies have shown that people who take antioxidants do not live longer, and in some cases even have shorter lifespans (R,R,R).
This makes sense, because when one takes antioxidants via a food supplement, the cells won’t make their own antioxidant proteins, which are in fact many times more effective than orally taken antioxidants.
Food supplement-based, external antioxidants lower the antioxidant defense and repair mechanisms of cells.
Other studies show that taking antioxidants after exercise blunts the beneficial effects of exercise (R).
2. Alpha-lipoic acid
Alpha lipoic acid is often touted as an anti-aging substance. Various studies show beneficial effects of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), mainly in rodents but also in humans. For example, ALA could perhaps reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (R) and improve metabolic disease like diabetes (R).
But what about lifespan?
Studies show that alpha-lipoic acid can actually reduce lifespan (R). Which makes sense. Alpha-lipoic acid can perhaps reduce some damage that is happening during, for example, Alzheimer’s disease (like oxidative stress), but as an antioxidant it lowers the cell’s own defense mechanisms, which might actually accelerate aging.
3. Beta caroteneBeta carotene is a carotenoid. Carotenoids are the healthy substances that give carrots, pumpkins and other fruits and vegetables their typical orange color. Carotenoids have been associated with various health benefits. But do they actually increase lifespan?
Not really. Large doses of beta carotene that you often find in supplements have been associated with reduced lifespan, increased mortality and a greater risk of getting cancer, and dying of cancer (R,R,R).One potential reason could be that if you take large doses of beta carotene, you actually hinder the absorption of other carotenoids (because the proteins in the gut that take up carotenoids get oversaturated with only beta carotene).
4. Vitamin EVitamin E is a much touted anti-aging substance. However, it’s an antioxidant, and as we have seen, most antioxidant supplements do not extend lifespan.
Vitamin E, given in various (well-conducted) studies, does not extend lifespan. In humans, high intake of vitamin E was actually associated with an increased risk of dying (R,R,R,R) and cancer (R). Some reasons for this is that vitamin E, as an antioxidant, lowers the cells own antioxidant defenses and enzymes, accelerating aging.Another reason is that there are different kinds of vitamin E, such as alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, alpha-tocotrienol etc. Most supplements only contain one form of vitamin E, namely alpha-tocopherol. Taking lots of this kind of vitamin E can hinder the absorption of other vitamin E’s (because they use the same transporter in the gut).
Also, the vitamin E in most supplements is synthetic vitamin E, and some scientists believe that synthetic vitamin E has different effects in the body than the natural vitamin E found in foods like hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, salmon, avocado and others.
5. Nicotinamide riboside (NR)
However, studies show that nicotinamide riboside (NR) does not extend lifespan (R).
The very little NR that is absorbed by the gut, first passes the liver and is also broken down into NAM (nicotinamide/vitamin B3).
So if you take NR, you in fact take expensive vitamin B3 (nicotinamide or NAM)!
Of course, many NR supplement sellers claim that NR increases NAD+ levels. And that’s true. Why?
NAM (nicotinamide/vitamin B3) is also a precursor to NAD+. If you take NAM (nicotinamide/vitamin B3) you indeed increase NAD+ levels. But this is not a great way to increase NAD+ levels. For example, NAM (nicotinamide/vitamin B3) inhibits sirtuins.
This makes sense, because in order to make sirtuins function well, NAD+ is converted into NAM (nicotinamide/vitamin B3). But if there is already too much NAM (nicotinamide/vitamin B3), this hinders the conversation of NAD+ into NAM, thus hindering the functioning of sirtuins, the important proteins that repair and maintain our DNA and epigenome.
This explains why when mice receive oral NR, levels of nicotinamide (NAM/vitamin B3) in the blood increase 16 times after 20 minutes and 40 times after 100 minutes (R). Other studies also show that oral NR mainly reaches the bloodstream and tissues in the form of nicotinamide (NAM/vitamin B3) (R).
6. Co-enzyme Q10Despite the innumerable companies selling co-enzyme Q10 as an anti-aging supplement, co-enzyme Q10 is also not a good anti-aging substance.
Yes, there are studies that show in very high doses it can perhaps somewhat reduce the progression of Parkinson’s disease or heart failure. But given co-enzyme Q10 is an antioxidant it can actually reduce lifespan (learn more here).
Various studies in animals show that co-enzyme Q10 does not extend lifespan and can actually shorten lifespan (R,R). In fact, studies show that mice or other organisms that have less or dysfunctional co-enzyme Q10 actually live longer (R,R,R).There are of course also some studies showing that co-enzyme Q10 can extend lifespan, but often these studies have not been well conducted, or they use organisms that are not ideal representation of normal aging, like using co-enzyme Q10 deficient mice – then of course giving co-enzyme Q10 will help.
7. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)
Other studies show that NAC actually shortens lifespan (R).
N-acetyl cysteine is a strong antioxidant. As we explained before, many antioxidants do not extend lifespan, and can sometimes even shorten lifespan.
Antioxidants like N-acetyl-cysteine mop up these oxidants, something which is very helpful for free-radical ridden cancer cells.
So to err on the side of caution, we currently do not advice to take N-acetyl-cysteine.
8. Growth hormone or substances that increase growth hormone
Growth hormone for anti-aging? If an MD or health guru advises this to extend lifespan, be very weary.
In the last twenty years, a large body of studies has shown that growth hormone actually accelerates aging.
This makes sense: the more “growth”, the harder cells have to work, and the faster they age. Growth hormone increases the risk of many aging-related diseases, like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s (R,R,R). In the short-term, growth hormone can make you feel better, but in the long term it accelerates aging.
Dozens of studies show that reducing the growth hormone (and other growth pathways, like insulin like growth factor, and insulin, and mTOR) increases lifespan.
Too much growth hormone can also accelerate hair loss.
9. Testosterone or testosterone boosters
Most male hormones shorten lifespan. If you give male animals extra testosterone, they age and die faster (R).
Testosterone can make men feel better, and perhaps they can lose a bit of belly fat in the short term, but in the long term testosterone accelerates aging.
This does not mean that having less sex will increase your lifespan, it means that animals that have lots of male sex hormones circulating, age and die faster.
These insights also explain why giving female hormones to male animals can actually extend lifespan (R).
Most anti-aging supplements don’t work, and some of them could actually shorten your lifespan.
It’s astonishing that in the light of so much scientific evidence to the contrary, many antioxidant, testosterone and growth hormone supplements are still being touted as anti-aging supplements.
Luckily, there are anti-aging substances that do have lots of science behind them, and that can actually extend lifespan, like alpha-ketoglutarate, fisetin, microdosed lithium, glucosamine, and others.These anti-aging substances often extend lifespan in very different ways than antioxidants. For example, they have epigenetic effects, or slow down the accumulation of proteins, or improve DNA stability, which are all important reasons why we age.