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Health, Longevity and Telomeres

By Devin Wilson, ND

As we age our cells age, and although we cannot slow, stop or turn back time, it may be possible to slow cellular aging by slowing the shortening of our telomeres.

Telomeres are protective proteins located at the ends of chromosomes which serve to promote general chromosomal stability and aid in DNA replication. They are further protected by the enzyme, Telomerase, which acts to minimize their shortening, which is a normal process during cell division.

For over two decades, researchers have known that telomeres shorten with age,5 but emerging studies are demonstrating association with lifestyle choices including smoking cigarettes, physical inactivity, poor diet and stress management.

Here are the findings: Smoking one pack per day for 40 years is equivalent to losing 7.4 years of life due to impact on
telomeres;4 high body mass index and obesity 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

Why is this important? Shortening of telomeres has also been linked with numerous diseases including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease. In fact, individuals with shortened telomeres have a three-fold higher risk of developing heart attack.3 Telomere shortening has also been associated with chronic kidney disease, psychological stress, high blood pressure and the development of various types of cancer including bladder, head and neck, lung and colon cancers. Furthermore, degraded telomerase has been documented to exhibit pathophysiological states related to cancer and aging. 3

As poor lifestyle decisions can shorten telomeres, healthy life style 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 Exercise has also been 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 by making healthy lifestyle changes such as consuming a well-balanced Mediterranean diet, engaging in frequent exercise, reducing stress, stopping smoking, and losing weight.

Now that you know what shortens your telomeres, what is your plan to slow cellular aging?

Dr. Devin Wilson is a naturopathic primary care doctor with a focus on cardiometabolic and digestive health at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. He is also a trained and certified Ozone Therapist. For more information on improving eye health and Ozone Therapy visit us at livewellclinic.org or call (760) 771.5970.

References: 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.; 5) http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/chromosomes/telomeres/

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