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REST: New Research Reveals this Protein is a Key to Your Longevity

We know that too much stress can lead to a whole host of physical and mental health problems. This is well supported by science. Now, new research out of Harvard Medical School is offering scientists new clues regarding the association of mental relaxation and longevity.

The 2019 study out of Harvard suggests that excessive activity in the brain leads to a shorter life span. The key in these findings is a protein called REST which has been shown to protect the brain against dementia and other stressors.

The future applications of this study are numerous and exciting.

This discovery has the potential to help us extend our lives and decrease our chances of developing dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, which is profound. Beyond this, the opportunities for precision medicine are immense. The team at Harvard are particularly excited about the possibilities available for targeting Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder by pinpointing medications or behavioural therapies that focus on activating REST. These treatments could help to further extend our lifespan by helping to regulate the chemical activity of neurons in the brain.

More REST found in those 85 and older

The study included individuals without dementia, aged 60 to over 100 years. The results were striking between those who died at age 60 to 80 compared to those who lived to be over 85. The older cohort had a lower expression of genes related to neural excitation than those in the 60 to 80 group. This older group also had a higher REST in the nuclei of their brain cells. They determined that REST suppressed these genes involved in neural excitation.

REST plays a key role in longevity. This finding will encourage additional research and treatment development to precisely target this protein. By activating REST through precision medicine treatments, the possibility to slow down aging is  exciting researchers.

The same may be true for cancer. In numerous cancer studies, REST was found to affect the hallmarks of cancer, which scientists believe positions REST as a target for both treatment and diagnosis of cancer.  While this is still an area of discovery, it is captivating researchers and offers hope for the future.

Potential for REST in your care today

This research is new, and follow-up studies are necessary to validate how someone can proactively increase their REST protein. The lead researcher on this study, Bruce Yankner states there are “no conclusive actions one can take at this time to increase REST.” However, as a primary care physician, it’s important to take new information and find healthful ways to optimize our patients lives if we think there can be a long-term benefit.

For example, meditation and yoga haven’t been tied directly to REST, but have a variety of known mental and physical health benefits. Yoga has been scientifically shown to increase our quality of life by relaxing the nervous system and providing relief from stimulation. Other studies have also concluded that relaxation, specifically meditation, has been shown to lengthen telomeres, the DNA–protein structures found at the end of chromosomes. This is significant because telomere length is associated with aging and age-related morbidity.

The science at least seems to be pointing in the direction that decreasing stress in the body can increase these beneficial proteins.

Stress reduction in practice

 When I see patients’ health impacted by stress over an extended timeframe, it’s important to view them holistically and consider all aspects of their daily life. As research continues and we uncover proven ways to increase REST in the body, there are simple, evidence-based lifestyle modifications that we can make now to help reduce stress. Some obvious examples include, getting enough sleep, limiting caffeinated beverages, cutting out tobacco products and shutting off mobile devices a few hours before bed. Having a physician that understands your lifestyle, preferences, and what reasonable recommendations will be followed is critical to successful lifestyle change.

At Harrison, the extra time in our schedules allows our collaborative team to find the adaptations that will be successful and provide you the support needed to stick with them. We pride ourselves on remaining on the cutting edge of medical advancements, particularly precision medicine, so we can provide you with the best possible care, advice, and treatments as they become available.

We look forward to emerging research on REST and longevity. In the meantime, rest assured, the future looks promising.


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