The hot topic in the field of aging is telomere length. Telomeres are repetitive strands of DNA found at both ends of our chromosomes. Like the little plastic caps at the end of shoelaces, telomeres protect our chromosomes. If they get too short they can no longer protect our chromosomes leading to cell death.
According to the Hayflick Limit Theory of aging, each cell can only divide a certain number of times, which is felt to be around 50 times before the cell dies or quits functioning. Every time the cell divides the telomeres gets shorter and shorter. At some point the telomeres become too short to protect the chromosomes and our DNA. You can think of the telomere as a wick burning in the candle. Once the wick gets too small the flame goes out and the candle “dies”.
We now know that our lifestyle can dramatically affect the rate at which our cells divide and therefore how fast or slow are telomeres become shorter. A recent article “Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging” published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care (2011, 14:28-34) highlights the harm to telomeres from smoking, obesity, and stress.
Smoking accelerates telomere shortening. A person who smokes a pack a day for 40 years sees telomere shortening equivalent to 7.4 years of life. Obesity is even more harmful to our telomeres causing telomere shortening equivalent to 8.8 years of life. But guess what is even more harmful to our telomeres? Daily stress! Telomere shortening in stressed women was equivalent to 10 years of life.
On the flip side athletes have longer telomeres than non-athletes. Longer telomeres are also associated with diets high in antioxidants, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids. So, this should drive home the point that how we live influences how long we live.
Beyond Lifestyle: Improving Telomere Health
The authors of the book, The Immortality Edge (available on this website through Amazon) recommend several supplements that have been shown to slow the rate of telomere shortening through their antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. One of the authors of the book, Greta Blackburn, PhD received the Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres and telomerase.
- Fish oil: 3,000 mg twice a day of a high quality supplement
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine: 1,000 mg twice a day
- Anthrocyanins extract: 700 mg with each meal
- N-Acetylcysteine: 600 mg twice a day
- Coenyzme Q10: 200 mg to 600 mg a day (higher end of the range for those with heart disease)
- L-Carnosine: 1,000 mg daily
- Phosphatidylserine: 300 mg daily
- Alpha-Lipoic-Acid: 50 mg to 300 mg daily
- Vitamin D: 2,000 IUs to 8,000 IUs daily (dose determined by vitamin D blood levels with a goal reaching 50 ng/dl to 80 ng/dl).
Can Anything Be Done to Lengthen Telomeres?
Yes, TA-65 a nutritional supplement made by TA Sciences activates telomerase, an enzyme that lengthens telomeres. Individuals taking TA-65 for one year were found to have improved markers of immune function, improved total and LDL cholesterol, improved fasting blood sugars and insulin levels, improve blood pressure, improvements in memory and attention, and improvements in bone density. All of the above were statistically significant findings. In addition, some individuals reported better energy, better sleep, improved skin appearance, improved visual acuity, and improve sex drive.
More powerful telomerase activators are being developed.
Keep your telomeres as long as possible for as long as possible by eating well, getting plenty of exercise, managing stress well, achieving an optimal weight, and avoid smoking. Take telomere healthy supplements and for those of you who want to be more proactive consider taking TA-65.