No one is getting any younger. As we age, our cells age and although we cannot stop the process of aging, it may be possible to slow it down by supporting our Telomeres and other cellular functions!
Telomeres are protective proteins located at the ends of chromosomes and serve to promote general chromosomal stability and aid in DNA replication. Telomeres are further protected by the enzyme, Telomerase, which acts to minimize telomere shortening. Since telomere shortening is a normal process during cell division the length and rate of shortening indicate cell age (5).
Researchers have known for over two decades that telomeres shorten with age, but emerging studies are showing associations among lifestyles, various diseases, and cancer.
Lifestyle choices including smoking cigarettes, physical inactivity, poor diet, and stress have all been associated with decreased telomere length. It is widely accepted that tobacco has negative health consequences, most notably, lung cancer. Furthermore, smoking one pack per day for 40 years is equivalent to losing 7.4 years of life due to the impact on telomeres (4). A high body mass index (BMI) can be an indicator of obesity, which significantly correlates with oxidative stress and shortened telomere length. In fact, the loss of telomeres in obese individuals was calculated to be roughly 8.8 years (4). In 2004, biochemist and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn became the first to demonstrate that psychological stress can shorten telomeres. Since then many studies have suggested that experiences of traumatic and chronic stress are related to telomere shortening (2).
The shortening of telomeres has also been linked with numerous diseases. Multiple studies in the last 20 years have shown a link between shortened telomeres with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Coronary artery disease is associated with shortened telomere length and that individuals who have shortened telomeres have a three-fold higher risk to develop a heart attack (3). Telomere shortening has also been associated with chronic kidney disease, psychological stress, high blood pressure, and others.
Several studies have shown that shortened telomeres are a significant risk factor for developing various types of cancer. Bladder, head and neck, lung, and colon cancer have all been repeatedly correlated with significantly shortened telomeres. Furthermore, degraded telomerase has been documented to exhibit pathophysiological states related to cancer and aging (3).
As poor lifestyle decisions can shorten telomeres, healthy lifestyle decisions can protect telomeres and decrease cellular aging.
In 2008, Dean Ornish, et al., published a pilot study to assess the effect of a 3-month intensive lifestyle change on telomerase activity in patients with low-risk prostate cancer. Their findings suggest that lifestyle changes including nutrition, natural supplements, and stress management were significantly associated with increased telomerase activity and decreased psychological stress (1).
Proper nutrition is imperative for general health as well as for protecting telomeres. A diet containing antioxidants including omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene has been associated with longer telomeres due to their protective effects on telomerase (3).
In 2009, exercise was shown to increase telomerase activity and reduce telomere shortening, presumably by reducing oxidative stress (3).
Although we cannot slow, stop or turn back time, it may be possible to slow cellular aging, reduce the risk of cancer and various diseases by making healthy lifestyle changes such as consuming a well-balanced, Mediterranean like diet, engaging in frequent exercise, reducing stress, cessation of smoking and weight loss.
Now that you know about them and what shortens them, what is your plan to slow cellular aging?
1. Ornish, Dean, et al. (2008). Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Lancet Oncol, 9: 1048–57.
2. Peres, Judy. (2001). Telomere Research Offers Insight on Stress-Disease Link. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 103, Issue.
3. Shammas MA. Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2011;14(1):28-34. DOI:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1.
4. Valdes AM, Andrew T, Gardner JP, Kimura M, Oelsner E, Cherkas LF, Aviv A, Spector TD. Obesity, cigarette smoking, and telomere length in women. Lancet. 2005 Aug 20-26; 366(9486):662-4.
Author Devin Wilson ND, CCT
As an integrative doctor, I utilize all appropriate treatment tools in managing my patients. Using the therapeutic order as a guide for naturopathic treatment stratification, we find that removing obstacles to cure and dietary modifications are pillars of a comprehensive plan. Contemporary society and modern science alike have witnessed the effects of the western diet such as obesity and type two diabetes epidemics, but can diet have an additional effect on health and diseases.
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