The image on the right might look like holiday lights, but it’s actually a view of human chromosomes under a fluorescent light microscope. The telomeres are stained with fluorescent dye that appears green under the scope. What are telomeres? How do they predict our future health and even our longevity, and how are they connected to cancer?
What Are Telomeres?
Each one of us has inherited a blueprint—our DNA—that determines things like our height; the color of our eyes, skin, and hair; our tendency toward certain diseases; and millions of other little bits of information that make us who we are. Inside each cell, our genes are positioned on a twisting, double-strand molecule of DNA called chromosomes. At the end of each chromosome are lengths of DNA which are called telomeres (pronounced TEE-loh-meers). These telomeres look like the little plastic tips at the ends of shoestrings. They essentially prevent the chromosome ends from fraying or sticking to one another, the result of which would be catastrophic scrambling of our genetic information, and they make it possible for our cells to divide. If we had no telomeres, our genes would become lost with each cell division. We would be unable to grow new skin, bone, or blood. In essence, we would die.
The Importance of Telomeres
At birth, the average human blood cell contains about 8,000 base pairs of telomeres; this drops to approximately 1500 in the elderly. In all, a chromosome contains about 150 million base pairs of telomeres. The body does not manufacture more telomeres; in fact, they become shorter over your lifetime until they are so short they cannot allow the cell to which they are attached to divide. When that happens, the cell either becomes inactive or the cell dies. A normal cell divides between 50-70 times, and each time the telomeres become progressively shorter. Therefore, telomeres play a very important role in the aging of our cells.
You can see that the length of ones telomeres is a mirror of ones biological age: the shorter the telomeres, the older the individual. This may or may not correlate to ones chronological age, as lifestyle choices can affect the speed at which telomeres become shorter. Researchers are hot on the trail to learn more about telomeres, in hopes to lengthen our lives and to identify the role of telomeres in cancer. An enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres, called telomerase, has been identified. While researchers are eager to see if, via the use of telomerase, human lifespan can be increased, they have also discovered that in almost all cancers, telomerase is present.
How Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Telomeres
We know that oxidative stress, or damage to DNA, is a primary cause of aging. Oxidants, produced when we breathe, are also produced from inflammation, infection, poor diet, consumption of excess alcohol, and from smoking. Scientists in one study exposed worms to substances that neutralized the oxidants; the result was an average increase in lifespan of 44%. This underscores both the importance of avoiding oxidative stress and the potential to neutralize it sometime in the future, as scientists discover ways to do so.
Another contributor to aging is something called glycation. Glycation happens when sugar from food binds to DNA, resulting in cell aging due to the production of free radicals and inflammation. As we age, the cumulative effects of oxidative stress and glycation take their toll on our bodies in the form of age-related diseases. This may be the reason that some scientists and physicians advocate a very low calorie diet (i.e., 20-40% lower than normal), as rodent studies show increased longevity averaging 40% when mice and rats are fed 20-40% less calories than would be considered normal. Consuming fewer calories means less glycation.
How to Save Your Telomeres & Lengthen Your Life
Since we know that glycation and oxidative stress contribute to the shortening of telomeres, it’s logical to assume that avoiding the behaviors that cause glycation and oxidative stress would be in our best interest, wouldn’t you agree? Here are some tips for you:
1. Identify your current telomere status.
This is done via blood testing at our Beverly Hills cosmetic surgery practice. Call us at 310-276-4494 to schedule.
2. Telomere length is influenced by nutrition.
Take a high quality multiple vitamin that includes B12, folic acid and B6. Folic acid and B12 play several roles in supporting telomere stability, as does SAMe and sulfur-rich proteins, such as whey protein, eggs, meat, nuts, legumes and seeds.
3. Find ways to deal with stress.
Chronic stress ages us. When under stress, increase your vitamin intake, particularly the B vitamins, to improve your mood and increase energy. Learn to meditate, take up jogging, go for a daily walk, whatever it takes to decrease your stress! Part of our Anti-Aging Treatment Program here at Rejuvalife Vitality Institute is to help our patients manage stress.
4. Visit the dentist.
Studies show that chronic inflammation, in the form of gum disease, AKA periodontal disease, damages telomere length. Studies also show that over 80% of all Americans have some level of gum disease. That makes it likely that you are one of them. Make a point of visiting your dentist every six months to ensure that your teeth aren’t aging you!
5. Increase your intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Most of us get plenty of Omega-6s, but not enough Omega-3s, which are found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and some oils. Omega-6 fatty acids are primarily found in oils, such as canola, safflower, sunflower, corn and soy. Avoid them, as consuming these oils increases the amount of inflammation in your body. If you aren’t getting enough Omega-3s in your diet, supplement with krill oil capsules. Although krill oil contains less EPA and DHA than does fish oil, recent studies suggest that krill oil is absorbed between 10-15 times better than fish oil, due to its molecular composition.