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Protecting Your Telomeres – the Key to Fighting Aging with Science

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 antioxidants.

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 damage.

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 permits.

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!

References

Starkweather AR, Alhaeeri AA, Montpetit A, Brumelle J, Filler K, Montpetit M, Mohanraj L, Lyon DE, Jackson-Cook CK. An integrative review of factors associated with telomere length and implications for biobehavioral research. Nurs Res. 2014;63:36–50. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000009

Sanders JL, Newman AB. Telomere length in epidemiology: A biomarker of aging, age-related disease, both, or neither? Epidemiol Rev. 2013;35:112–131. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxs008

Hoxha M, Dioni L, Bonzini M, et al. Association between leukocyte telomere shortening and exposure to traffic pollution: a cross-sectional study on traffic officers and indoor office workers. Environ Health. 2009;8:41. 

Epel ES, Blackburn EH, Lin J, et al. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004;101:17312–17315

Jackowska M, Hamer M, Carvalho LA, Erusalimsky JD, Butcher L, Steptoe A. Short sleep duration is associated with shorter telomere length in healthy men: findings from the Whitehall II Cohort Study. PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47292

Cherkas LF, Hunkin JL, Kato BS, et al. The association between physical activity in leisure time and leukocyte telomere length. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:154–158

Moores CJ, Fenech M, O’Callaghan NJ. Telomere dynamics: The influence of folate and DNA methylation. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2011;1229:76–88. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06101.x.

Furumoto K, Inoue E, Nagao N, Hiyama E, Miwa N. Age-dependent telomere shortening is slowed down by enrichment of intracellular vitamin C via suppression of oxidative stress. Life Sci. 1998;63:935–948. doi: 10.1016/S0024-3205(98)00351-8.

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