Mark Hyman

These 9 Simple Habits Can Help You Live Longer, Says Functional Medicine Doctor Mark Hyman

Giving up sugar isn’t even on the list.

What you eat today fuels your health. But the food on your plate also helps to optimize your healthspan, so you can live better for longer. That ethos is at the heart of functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D.’s “food as medicine” mantra—and it’s advice you should heed.

Hyman, the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center and author of the upcoming Young Forever believes that adopting the right health habits can help you live longer and even reverse the hallmarks of aging.

The Head of Strategy and Innovation at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine is a good poster boy for what he preaches. At 62, Hyman is still tackling the physical challenges of men half his age—he rang in 2023 by climbing the notoriously challenging Table Mountain in Cape Town.

From following a Pegan diet to plunging in an ice bath, here are Hyman’s longevity-boosting tips worth stealing.

Follow 3 Basic Food Principles

1. Limit Processed Foods

Hyman’s experience speaking at churches influenced his first rule, though you don’t need to be religious to follow it: When shopping, ask yourself: did God make this, or did man?

“Did God make a twinkie, no. Did God make an avocado, yeah,” Hyman said on The School of Greatness Podcast.

Ask this question of every item you’re thinking of dropping in your grocery cart, he says, making most of your purchases whole foods.

2. Go Plant-Based

Hyman believes you should eat what he calls a “plant-rich” diet. Around 70 to 80 percent of the food on your plate should be vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and fruit, he says.

3. Include Healthy Fats

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids help lower your risk of heart disease, improve cholesterol levels, control your blood sugar, and reduce inflammation.

“We need a lot of good fats [including] avocados [and] olive oil,” he said on The School of Greatness Podcast. He also leans on nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and grass-fed animal products for good fats, he wrote on his blog.

HEALTHY EATING

Consider Peganism

That’s short for Hyman’s self-coined paleo-vegan diet which he introduced in The Pegan Diet.

Hyman says the Pegan diet can lower your blood sugar and reduce inflammation—which up the ante for health conditions like heart disease—and is environmentally friendly because its focus is plant-based and sustainable foods.

What does eating Pegan look like? Hyman breaks down the basics this way:

  • Eat healthy fats including omega-3’s, coconut, avocados, olive oil, and nuts and seeds (“They are full of protein, minerals, and good fat,” Hyman says.)
  • Make sure 75 percent of your diet comes from plants. “I usually make two to three vegetable dishes per meal,” he says.
  • Let veggies be the star of the show. Protein should be an essential side dish—Occasionally eat gluten-free whole grains and beans.
  • Avoid dairy, gluten, and vegetable oils, including canola and corn.
  • Save sugar for an occasional treat (so you don’t have to give up that twinkie after all).

Swallow the Right Supplements

Hyman doesn’t think you need supplements—as long as you’re ticking some pretty hard-to-hit boxes.

“One, you have to hunt and gather your own wild food. Two, you have to drink pure, clean water. Three, you have to have no chronic stress. Four, you have to exercise all the time as part of your lifestyle. Five, you have to sleep nine hours a night, going to bed with the sun and waking with the sun. And six, you have to be exposed to no environmental toxins or external insults,” he said on his podcast, The Doctor’s Farmacy.

If this is you, kudos—you don’t need to empty your wallet at GNC. But for the rest of us, supplements may improve health.

In a Facebook post, Hyman listed some of his daily supplements and why he takes them:

Multivitamin

This supplement contains basic vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal balance. “Some people may have unique requirements for much higher doses that need to be prescribed by a trained nutritional or functional medicine physician,” he says.

The National Institutes of Health says you should take a multi designed for someone your age and sex, but take the second half of Hyman’s advice and talk to your doctor about the necessity of a multi.

Vitamin D3

The sunshine vitamin “improves [your] metabolism by influencing more than 200 different genes that can prevent and treat diabetes and metabolic syndrome,” Hyman says.

Research backs him up, at least about diabetes. One 2020 review published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found vitamin D played a role in controlling diabetes risk (1).

Another study found daily vitamin D reduced HbA1c levels—your average blood sugar levels over two to three months—in people with type 2 diabetes (2). While the researchers suggest vitamin D can reduce the risk of oxidative stress, metabolic syndrome, and heart-related events in people with type 2 diabetes, they note the need for further research.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Hyman says omega-3s may improve insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and lower your risk of heart attacks by preventing blood clots.

Researchers believe omega-3s can prevent inflammation in your blood vessels and stop blood clots from forming, which play a major role in heart attacks. Studies also show omega-3s increase insulin sensitivity (3), reduce cholesterol (4), and tackle inflammation (5,6).

Coenzyme Q10

“[CoQ10] has potent antioxidant properties to help support cell function, healthy blood pressure, energy production, and overall cardiovascular health,” says Hyman.

Research suggests that because CoQ10 is involved with energy production, it may improve physical performance. Studies also show CoQ10 supports cell function through mitochondrial maintenance and fighting free radicals (7), and may improve quality of life and decrease mortality in people with heart and metabolic conditions (8).

One study found CoQ10 reduced systolic blood pressure (SBP) in people with cardiometabolic diseases (9). Lower SBP levels reduce your risk for stroke, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)

NAC fights free radicals and boosts your immune system, Hyman says.

He’s right again. Studies show NAC may neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress (which is caused by free radicals) (10,11). NAC can also boost your immune system, slow viral replication, and reduce inflammation (12).

Curcumin

This turmeric-derived compound supports your body’s natural inflammatory response and promotes healthy liver, colon, musculoskeletal, and cell function, says Hyman—all claims supported by science.

Studies show curcumin has anti-inflammatory benefits and can help manage or improve symptoms in conditions including arthritis, psoriasis, and atherosclerosis (13,14). One 2021 study also found it improved knee pain in people with osteoarthritis (15).

Evidence of curcumin’s effect on liver and colon function is still under investigation but has some promising research. One 2019 study found a high dose of curcumin may improve liver function in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (16), and one 2021 review found curcumin was beneficial in managing gastrointestinal diseases, including IBS (17).

While Hyman doesn’t note specific brands for each product, he mentions Metagenics, Pure Encapsulations, and Thorne as trusted companies he uses.

Consider Taking NAD+ Daily

In an Instagram post, Hyman touted the “power of NAD+” including benefits like blood sugar control, liver function support, and healthy aging.

“I take NAD+ on a daily basis along with a few other vitamins, healthy diet, and movement to fully support my mitochondrial production,” he says.

NAD+ is a coenzyme found in every cell of your body and low levels are linked to diseases including diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and premature aging. While NAD+ is linked to hundreds of reactions in your body, one key role is to maintain healthy mitochondria. And since most age-related diseases involve your mitochondria, maintaining their youth is vital.

Like all good things in your body, NAD+ production slowly declines with age. Stress, too much booze, and poor eating can accelerate the loss, but NAD+ therapy can restore your levels.

As Hone Health’s Chief Medical Officer Jack Jeng, M.D., previously told The Edge, NAD+ has “the potential to reduce disease and suffering while helping us live healthier and longer lives.”

Level Up With NAD+

NAD+ may boost energy, increase lifespan, help with weight loss and improve brain function. Now available through Hone.

 

Take a Break From Sugar

“Most Americans are biologically addicted to sugar and flour,” Hyman told CBS This Morning, “and we’re learning from the science that it hijacks your brain and your taste buds and your metabolism.”

The average American adult consumes 77 grams of sugar per day, adding up to 60 pounds of added sugar per year. Excess sugar intake leads to high blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, and diabetes, all of which increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Excessive sugar consumption can also lead to headaches, digestive issues and joint pain; a constellation of symptoms Hyman calls FLC (“Feel Like Crap”) Syndrome.

Hyman’s solution: a 10-day detox diet, which he outlines in The Blood Sugar Solution: 10-Day Detox Diet. The gist is straightforward: Nix sugar and focus on whole fresh foods to reset and reboot your brain chemistry.

Track Your Blood Sugar

Like biologist and longevity specialist Rhonda Patrick,Ph.D., Hyman tracks his blood sugar with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to avoid insulin resistance, which is when your body stops responding to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.

Keeping your blood sugar in check prevents or delays long-term health problems including heart disease and kidney disease, and improves energy and mood.

“I’ve been really surprised by some of the things I’ve found because I think I’m pretty healthy but then when I eat certain foods or if I eat too much, I’ll see my blood sugar go out of whack,” he said in a video.

Try Contrast Therapy

That is, switch from hot temps to cold. Hyman regularly spends time in a sauna, steam bath, or hot bath—then hops in an icy shower, ice bath, or cold plunge.

This routine is centered around the idea of adversity memetics, or hormesis, meaning, “you stress your body a little and it bounces back stronger,” Hyman said on his podcast.

“That resets your [autonomic] nervous system, it flushes out all the toxins from your lymph system, increases your blood circulation, increases blood flow to your brain, and has the amazing ability to boost your immune system,” Hyman says.

He typically does a 10-minute steam shower followed by an icy plunge into his bathtub.

Clock 8 Hours of Sleep

Hyman makes sleep a priority. “I give myself a goal to get seven or eight hours of sleep every night,” he says. “By experimenting, I figured out that when I get eight hours of good sleep, I feel much more alert and focused.”

Which checks out. Short-term effects of poor sleep include reduced alertness, impaired memory, and mood changes. In the long term, poor quality slumber can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, obesity, and a lower sex drive.

Hyman’s top sleep tips: Settle on a regular schedule, get 20 minutes of sunlight first thing in the morning (à la Andrew Huberman), meditate, and avoid screens before bed.

Lean on Friends for Support

When people overeat, they’re often feeding their feelings, not their hunger, Hyman said on The School of Greatness Podcast.

“Food has such an effect on mood. It’s so connected to how we think and feel. And so when we’re feeling sad or depressed, we can stimulate our biology through food whether it’s caffeine, or alcohol, or sugar, or other chemicals in food that stimulate our brain to feel better for a minute.”

Hyman says the easiest way to break this vicious cycle is to have a strong support network.

Changing your diet—and ultimately your lifestyle—takes work, but with people to help you, “it’s so much more fun, it holds people accountable, it inspires people to change, and it works,” he said.

You don’t have to phone a friend before every meal, but consider a health coach or a trusted friend to take the journey with you, he wrote in a blog post. You can also find a group in your local community or get involved with an online group to keep you accountable and on track with your goals.

1. Pittas, A.; et al. (2020). Vitamin D Supplementation for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: To D or Not to D?
2. Cojic, M.; et al. (2021). The Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Metabolic and Oxidative Stress Markers in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A 6-Month Follow Up Randomized Controlled Study.
3. Gao, H.; et al. (2017). Fish oil supplementation and insulin sensitivity: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
4. Yanai, H.; et al. (2018). An Improvement of Cardiovascular Risk Factors by Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids.
5. Natto, Z.; et al. (2019). Omega-3 Fatty Acids Effects on Inflammatory Biomarkers and Lipid Profiles among Diabetic and Cardiovascular Disease Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
6. Souza, P.; et al. (2019). Enriched Marine Oil Supplements Increase Peripheral Blood Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators Concentrations and Reprogram Host Immune Responses: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study.
7. Manzar, H.; et al. (2020). Cellular Consequences of Coenzyme Q10 Deficiency in Neurodegeneration of the Retina and Brain.
8. Zozina, V.; et al. (2018). Coenzyme Q10 in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases: Current State of the Problem.
9. Zhao, D.; et al. (2022). Dose-Response Effect of Coenzyme Q10 Supplementation on Blood Pressure among Patients with Cardiometabolic Disorders: A Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE)-Assessed Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.
10. Tenório, M.; et al. (2021). N-Acetylcysteine (NAC): Impacts on Human Health.
11. Marco, F.; et al. (2022). Where are we with the use of N-acetylcysteine as a preventive and adjuvant treatment for COVID-19?
12. Shi, Z. and Puyo, C. (2020). N-Acetylcysteine to Combat COVID-19: An Evidence Review.
13. Hewlings, S. and Kalman, D. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health.
14. Peng, Y.; et al. (2021). Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Curcumin in the Inflammatory Diseases: Status, Limitations and Countermeasures.
15. Lopresti, A.; et al. (2022). An Investigation into the Effects of a Curcumin Extract (Curcugen®) on Osteoarthritis Pain of the Knee: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.
16. Mansour-Ghanaei, F.; et al. (2019). Efficacy of curcumin/turmeric on liver enzymes in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.
17. Atefi, M.; et al. (2021). A Systematic Review of the Clinical Use of Curcumin for the Management of Gastrointestinal Diseases.

LIVE LONGER