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Demystifying Senescent Cells: Taking An Abstract Concept and Making It Real In Practice


Senescent cells, often referred to as zombie cells, are a fascinating aspect of cellular biology that plays a crucial role in the aging process and age-related diseases. Cellular senescence occurs when a cell undergoes irreversible growth arrest, ceasing to divide and carry out normal cellular functions. While this state initially serves as a defense mechanism against cancer by preventing the replication of damaged cells, the accumulation and the body’s inability to effectively clear out  senescent cells over time contributes to acceleration of aging and various age-related disorders.

From Abstract to Realism

In the clinical setting, senescent cells are very much an abstract concept.  In part because there is currently no commercially available method of testing the levels of senescent cells and, subsequently, a lack of an ability to pre and post test patients to assess efficacy of senolytic therapeutics.  In order to view cellular senescence with more clarity and through a clinically relevant lens, it could be helpful to understand the connection between senescence and inflammation. Senescent cells exhibit a unique secretory phenotype known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). This involves the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors. The SASP creates a microenvironment that resembles chronic inflammation, even though senescent cells themselves are not actively dividing, and has an equally damaging effect on surrounding tissue.

Cellular Senescence =Inflammation

From a clinical perspective, try looking at cellular senescence as something that mirrors inflammation.  The analogy between senescent cells and inflammation lies in that shared consequences on tissues and organs. Chronic inflammation is a well-established driver of aging and age-related diseases, and senescent cells contribute to this process by perpetuating an inflammatory environment. The SASP not only attracts immune cells but also disrupts tissue function and repair processes. The resulting chronic low-level inflammation essentially becomes a wrecking ball and can lead to tissue damage, impaired regeneration, and the onset of age-related pathologies.

The Inevitable Feedback Loop

Moreover, senescent cells and inflammation exhibit a reciprocal relationship. Inflammatory signals can induce cellular senescence, creating a feedback loop that further exacerbates tissue dysfunction. This interplay between senescence and inflammation underscores their intertwined roles in the aging process.

Layering Senolytic Therapeutics Onto Standard Approaches

Understanding the connection between senescent cells and inflammation is crucial for developing therapeutic strategies aimed at mitigating age-related diseases. Targeting senescent cells to reduce their burden and dampening the inflammatory response they induce may offer promising avenues for promoting healthier aging and preventing age-related ailments and enhancing clinical outcomes achieved through more established clinical protocols.

Curcumin, luteolin, resveratrol, and pterostilbene are natural compounds that have gained attention for their potential anti-aging properties, particularly in preventing the accumulation of senescent cells via autophagy support.

Curcumin, a bioactive compound in turmeric, showcases remarkable anti-senescence properties by intricately modulating various cellular pathways. This versatile compound not only inhibits the activation of factors that drive cellular senescence, thus lessening the burden of senescent cells, but also engages a key mechanism promoting cellular health. Importantly, curcumin’s impact on autophagy goes beyond its individual benefits, as it enhances the removal of potentially harmful cellular debris. Similarly, luteolin, another natural compound found in certain fruits and vegetables, shares a similar spotlight with curcumin. Luteolin, known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-senescence properties, complements curcumin by fostering an environment that supports autophagic activity. Together, curcumin and luteolin present a synergistic approach, promoting the removal of senescent cells and contributing to the maintenance of cellular youthfulness and resilience.

Resveratrol, found in red grapes and wine, along with its counterpart pterostilbene in blueberries, possesses notable anti-senescence properties with a particular emphasis on autophagy modulation. A central aspect of their influence lies in their impact on the mTOR pathway, a key regulator of cell growth and metabolism. Excessive mTOR activation is associated with aging and age-related diseases, and resveratrol has demonstrated its ability to inhibit mTOR signaling. By doing so, resveratrol fosters a cellular environment characterized by balanced activity, reducing susceptibility to senescence. More importantly, these compounds prioritize the enhancement of autophagic processes, thus optimizing the cellular self-cleaning mechanism that removes damaged components.

Fisetin and quercetin, on the other hand, are known for their senolytic properties, aiding in the elimination of existing senescent cells. Fisetin, a flavonoid found in strawberries and other fruits, has been identified as a senolytic agent, meaning it can selectively induce the death of senescent cells. Quercetin, abundant in onions, apples, and citrus fruits, also exhibits senolytic effects and can help clear senescent cells from tissues.

The combined actions of these compounds in preventing the accumulation and promoting the clearance of senescent cells highlight their potential role in mitigating age-related diseases and promoting healthier aging. While research in this field is ongoing, incorporating  all of these natural compounds into a balanced diet may offer a proactive approach to support cellular health and longevity.


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