Food and Nutrition

The Underrated Anti-Inflammatory Nutrient That Will Help You Live Longer, According to a Functional Medicine Doctor

Emily Laurence

Photo: Getty Images/Lumina Images

As one of the top functional medicine doctors in the country, Frank Lipman, MD, is asked a wide range of health-related questions every single day. Sometimes they’re tied to something specific trending in the wellness space: Is collagen overrated? (Nope.) Is oat milk? (Possibly.) Other times, it’s about how to get a better night’s sleep. But all the queries seem to be rooted in an even bigger question: how to live a long, healthy life.

Longevity seems to be at the heart of every question he’s asked, so Dr. Lipman decided to write a whole book dedicated to the topic: The New Rules of Aging Well: A Simple Program For Immunity Resilience, Strength, and Vitality ($20), out October 27, 2020. Tucked in the pages are some “rules” you’re likely familiar with, like cutting back on sugar and having a strong sense of purpose. But there are also some surprising things that have been scientifically linked to longevity that aren’t as widely talked about. One of those truth bombs is centered around an anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin.

Never heard of it? Quercetin is a polyphenol derived in plants that is connected to lowering inflammation, supporting the immune system, and, yes, longevity. “Besides curcumin, quercetin is one of the most important supplements for both immunity and longevity,” Dr. Lipman says. Looks like turmeric has some competition.

What is quercetin?

Before we dig deep into all the benefits quercetin boasts, it’s helpful to know what the heck it actually is. Dr. Lipman explains that quercetin is a type of polyphenol, which are micronutrients with antioxidant properties found in plants. Some foods that have this particular type of polyphenol are apples, onion, raspberries, red grapes, and cherries.

Quercetin has lots of benefits, but Dr. Lipman is most excited about its connection with longevity. “One is that it affects longevity gene pathways in a positive way, specifically activating AMPK [a protein enzyme],” he says. AMPK helps regulate cellular metabolism; when cellular energy is low, AMPK is called in for backup to keep the body running as it should. It also controls cellular autophagy, aka the clearing out of damaged cells. And recent research suggests that the enzyme can potentially delay the aging process as well. One paper published in the journal Discoveries states that AMPK activation increased the life of fruit flies by as much as 30 percent.

“Quercetin is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and immunity-boosting,” Dr. Lipman adds—properties that are important for longevity. To his point, chronic inflammation is associated with many age-related health problems, including cognitive decline and cancer, so managing inflammation is often seen as crucial for living a longer, healthier life. Meanwhile, the immune system weakens with age, making it harder for the body to fight off illness, so keeping it in tip-top shape is critical. Quercetin also supports gut health; since a huge portion of the immune system lies in the gut, “keeping your gut healthy is very important to immunity,” says Dr. Lipman.

Don’t worry curcumin, we still love you. Watch the video below to see why it’s so powerful: 

Despite quercetin being in such a wide range of plant-based foods, Dr. Lipman says most people don’t consume enough of it to truly benefit. Part of this is because most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, but even foods that naturally contain quercetin don’t have very high doses of the polyphenol. This is why Dr. Lipman often recommends a quercetin supplement. (He actually has his own, Superpowder, $54, which he created for The Well as its chief medical officer.)

Other tips Dr. Lipman wants everyone to know about longevity

While certainly more studies need to be done on quercetin (particularly on humans, not fruit flies or rats), the evidence that suggests its connection to longevity is compelling. But Dr. Lipman reiterates that it, like anything else, certainly isn’t a silver bullet for being a healthy octogenarian.

“One of the most important things for longevity is getting enough sleep,” he says. “We have a lymphatic system in the brain, which is the brain’s self-cleaning mechanism, and it only works when you’re asleep.” Not getting enough sleep makes it harder for the lymphatic system to do its clean-up job, which over time can lead to cognitive decline, Dr. Lipman says.

He also emphasizes the importance of having a sense of purpose, regular exercise, and eating healthy overall. Doubling down on apples and onions or popping a daily quercetin supplement is no replacement for a healthy diet. “When you look at Blue Zones, where people regularly live into old age in good health, they eat foods that are close to nature and not overly processed, they have a good support system, and aging is actually revered,” Dr. Lipman says. “These things matter.”

When it comes to longevity, it’s not only about what you put into your body, but is also about what’s in your heart. While the benefits may be outward-facing, when you get down to it, longevity truly is an inside job.

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