Telomeres and Slowing Down Aging Process
In the movie City Slickers, Curly (played by Jack Palance) asks Mitch (played by Billy Crystal), “Do you know what the secret to life is?” Pointing his index finger, Curly then goes on to answer, “One thing. Just one thing.” Well, Curly might be onto something as the secret to aging (life) may be “one thing” – preventing your telomeres from getting too short. Keep your telomeres long is the key to slowing down aging process.
What are Telomeres?
What’s the definition of telomeres? Telomeres are repeating sequences of DNA found at both ends of each chromosome. Just as the aglet or plastic cap found at the end of shoe laces, which protect the lace, telomeres are DNA caps at the end of chromosomes that “protect” chromosomes. A portion of telomeres is lost with each cell division. When a critical limit is reached the telomere can no longer protect the chromosome. When that happens the cell dies or becomes senescent or non-functional. Short telomeres are associated with cancer and chronic disease like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and others.
Telomeres are measured by their number of base pairs. At conception telomeres are 15,000 base pairs long. At birth they are 10,000 base pairs long. So we lose one-third of our telomere length developing in-utero. Once telomeres get to 3,000 to 5,000 base pairs long cells begin to die. In a sense telomeres represent a wick burning in the candle. Once the wick gets too short the flame goes out.
Short Telomeres – Shorter Life
Telomere length affects the rate of aging and the onset of age-related diseases. Lifestyle can greatly affect telomere length. Shorter telomeres are associated with increased incidence of diseases and increased mortality. Older individuals with shorter telomeres are three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease. Also, individuals with short telomeres are 11 times more likely to die from cancer than those with the longest telomeres.
Lifestyle and Telomeres
While the original length of your telomeres is genetically determined, how you live greatly affects the rate of telomere shortening. One thing for sure – living a lifestyle hard on the body accelerates telomere shortening. Oxidation and inflammation or some of the factors that contribute to telomere shortening. Below are other important factors related to excessive telomere shortening.
Lifestyle Factors That Accelerate Telomere Shortening
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Exposure to pollutants/toxins
Lifestyle Factors That Can Slow the Rate of Telomere Shortening
- Dietary restriction
- Proper diet (high fiber, plenty of antioxidants, lean protein)
- Regular exercise
Telomere Healthy Diet
In addition to not smoking, exercising regularly, controlling stress, achieving ideal body composition, adhering to a telomere healthy nutrition program is a must to reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, and infectious diseases.
Consider eating fewer calories, consuming foods high in antioxidants, eat foods high in fiber, include soy protein and lean protein sources, and eat foods filled with healthy fats like avocados, fish, and nuts. Antioxidants are high in fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, berries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes, olives, and most fruits and vegetables.
Preserving telomeres is another reason to focus on making healthy food choices with each meal. Vitamin D has been shown to preserve telomere function, too. So be sure to get some sun, eat vitamin D fortified foods, or take a vitamin D supplement.
Medications and Supplements to Slow Telomere Shortening
Anything that reduces oxidative stress and inflammation can slow telomere shortening. Below are examples.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K2
- Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (used for high blood pressure)
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (used for high blood pressure)
- Metformin (used for diabetes)
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Statin drugs for cholesterol