At the end of each of our chromosomes there is a non-coding,
repeating DNA segment called a telomere. Telomeres act in a similar way to the
protective cap on the end of a shoelace. Like the plastic or metal cap keeps
the shoelace from fraying and unraveling, telomeres cap each strand of DNA to
protect our chromosomes from damage.
There is significant research showing the correlation
between telomere length and lifespan. Prematurely shortened telomeres have been
linked to increased risk for a variety of health concerns and decreased
longevity. As we age, our telomeres will naturally shorten by 20 to 40 base
pairs each year but we do not have to be passive in this process.
So, what can we do to slow or reverse this progression? Indicators
that increase the shortening of telomeres include environmental factors,
stress, lifestyle and diet. Those whose professions require long-term exposure
to environmental toxins and pollutants have been shown to have significant
reduction in telomere length. The same is true for those with extended high
stress levels, lack of sleep, a sedentary lifestyle or a diet low in
Finding ways to reduce and manage stress is crucial to
maintaining telomere length. If you frequently find your stress levels
unmanageable, consider taking up yoga, practicing meditation and taking short
breaks throughout your workday. Talk to your health care provider about
supplements that may be able to help. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep
each night has also been shown to reduce stress levels and telomere
deterioration. Adequate sleep allows the body to regenerate and repair cellular
Research shows a correlation between exercise and the
biomarkers associated with DNA damage. While more research is needed to
determine optimal levels of physical activity as it relates to telomere
protection, there is evidence that exercise supports the genetic expression involved
in telomere stability and telomere length is found to be shorter in people who
are sedentary. There are many ways to add physical activity into your day: take
a brisk walk before work in the morning, use the stairs instead of the elevator
whenever possible, or ride your bike instead of driving when the weather
There is evidence
that eating a diet rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and
beta-carotene is associated with longer telomeres. Antioxidants can potentially
protect telomeres from oxidative damage caused by DNA damaging agents. Caloric
restriction has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on telomere
preservation. So, to reduce the pace of aging, we may consider eating fewer
calories overall, and including antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats from
avocados, fish and nuts in our diet. Foods such as broccoli, red grapes, flax and
chia seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea and tomatoes also help protect
telomeres. The inclusion of supplemental omega 3-6-9, probiotics, coenzyme Q10
and L-glutamine have also been shown to promote telomere length.
It would seem
that tiny telomeres play a large role in living a longer, healthier life.
Moreover, the best ways to preserve them are to limit exposure to environmental
toxins, stay stress-free, get regular exercise and eat an antioxidant rich
diet. Protect your telomeres and live to tell about it!
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