Have you heard about the tiny components that protect the chromosomes in the cells of our body from aging? These little miracles are called telomeres. Did you know that there is a definite relationship between telomere shortening and aging? If you want to learn more and stay younger longer then keep reading.
What Are Telomeres? – The Easy Explanation
You don’t need to know all the complicated technical stuff about telomeres to understand what they do and how you can use this information to your advantage. Telomere structure and function is one of the hottest areas of research today, and with good reason. Telomeres directly affect the aging process and have been liked to the development of certain types of diseases, including cancer! Doesn’t that make telomeres the scientific equivalent to our internal fountain of youth?
Telomeres are short repeating areas called nucleotides that are found at both ends of each of the chromosomes in a strand of DNA. They prevent chromosomes from getting damaged or sticking to each other when a cell divides. This protects our genetic blueprint and ensures that each new cell is an accurate copy of the one it came from.
With me so far? So, DNA is our genetic material and chromosomes make up the building blocks of our DNA. These building blocks specifically determine our unique physical characteristics and play a role in the development of our personality and thought processes. Therefore, protecting the integrity of our genetic material is one of the most important things we can do to slow down the aging process.
Here is a video from Bulletproof that provides a graphic representation of telomeres.
In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostaks were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for their understanding of the role that telomeres and the enzyme telomerase played in cell division and the aging process.
If you are interested in reading more about how telomeres can affect the way your body ages and what you can do to slow down your aging process then The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel is the number one book I recommend you purchase!
The Problem With Telomeres
Each time a cell divides it’s telomeres become shorter. At some point, the cell will need to stop dividing to avoid creating new cells with damaged chromosomes. If the cell continues to divide then the new cells will be poorly functional or non-functional and can produce “inflammatory proteins” that can further damage the body and accelerate the aging process. Even worse, the damaged cell can transform and become cancerous!
Telomerase To The Rescue!
Our cells have a way to protect the structure and function of their telomeres. They utilize an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase adds repetitive sequences of genetic material to telomeres to make them longer.
So, as a cell’s telomeres progressively shorten as it continues to divide, telomerase partially reverses the process, thereby keeping the telomeres functioning properly. This delicate balance of telomere shortening and lengthening is important because it helps to keep our cells healthy.
Telomeres And The Aging Process
Unfortunately, nothing ever works out perfectly in life. Eventually, a cell’s telomeres will shorten to the point where it will stop dividing. The dormant cell may die or enter a state of senescence (a state of age-related damage), during which it begins to deteriorate.
As a senescent cell begins to make inflammatory proteins they can accelerate the aging process and cause or worsen many age-related diseases.
Generally, the rate of aging is proportional to the rate of telomere shortening. However, elderly people with a history of underlying medical problems can have an even bigger chance of developing illness or having an earlier death. For example, those with a history of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes can be up to three times more likely to die of heart disease than someone who is otherwise healthy.
Things That Can Shorten Telomeres (speed up the aging process)
In addition to utilizing telomerase to lengthen telomeres, there are a number of things we can do that will prevent their shortening. In a research paper published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, several areas of daily living and activity were identified as opportunities to avoid shortening telomeres and slow the aging process.
Unhealthy diet and overeating– Have a diet that is high in antioxidants and fiber. Avoid fats like polyunsaturated fatty acids (especially linoleic acid). Eat protein derived from soy and fats that come from fish, nuts, and avocados. Follow a Mediterranean-type diet with whole grains and fruit. Eating small portions is better than large meals.
Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle)– To stay healthy and young try to exercise every day. Aerobic exercise is best, combined with a workout using light weights for additional muscle toning. If you find it difficult to stick to a regular schedule of exercise on your own then sign up for an aerobics class or join a gym to keep you focused and committed.
Obesity – Avoid obesity by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Obesity increases oxidative stress on DNA and puts a strain on all the body’s internal organs. Since obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are commonly related this makes close attention to each of them especially important. Weigh yourself weekly and calculate your body mass index (BMI). This is a measure of your body fat based on your weight and height. For a basic program to get you started, see Fast Weight Loss Exercises – 5 Easy Ways To Lose Fat Quickly!
Chronic stress and anxiety – Anxiety can begin early in life, even in childhood. It takes its toll on the body and mind. It can interfere with metabolism and biochemical reactions right down to the cellular level. Stress has been shown to be associated with the release of hormones (glucocorticoids) from the adrenal glands. Elevated glucocorticoids can decrease antioxidant protein levels, which can accelerate telomere shortening and result in oxidative damage to DNA.
Things like mindful meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi can help reduce stress. Try to schedule a time for you to relax and do the things you enjoy each day. Severe stress may lead to depression if it is not treated appropriately. Consider seeking the help of a professional counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. For more information see Mind Relaxation Techniques – A Healthy Escape From Reality and How To Deal With Depression Alone – A Rejuvenating Self-Help Guide.
Nature of profession – Stressful professions typically require long work hours. They may demand a high level of responsibility and accountability. People in these positions commonly develop poor eating and sleep habits as well as increased anxiety levels. Finding a profession that you enjoy or derive gratification from can be less taxing on your mind and body. Adding vacations and time off to your work schedule can give you the healthy break you deserve.
Cigarette smoking – If you smoke cigarettes then you should be trying to quit for a variety of reasons. Smoking can cause problems with your lungs (emphysema and lung cancer) and heart (heart attack) as well as cancer of the urinary bladder. Cigarette smoke progressively poisons every cell in your body. Check with your health care provider, who can recommend the best way to help you kick the habit.
Exposure to harmful agents or pollution – Exposure to harmful chemicals as an occupational hazard can progressively damage the organs and tissues of your body on a cellular level. If you work in this kind environment be sure to follow all the recommended Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards. Pollution can affect our air, water, land, and the food we eat. For more information on pollution law and policies see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Diseases accelerated by short telomeres
In addition to premature aging, numerous research studies have shown an association between telomere shortening and the development or worsening or multiple diseases. Scientists are just beginning to define the relationship between abnormal cell division and disease. Here are some of the commonly known health issues.
Immune system problems– As we age and our telomeres continue to shorten, diseases of the immune system like diabetes (type 1), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease can develop or worsen. This can happen when chromosomal damage ultimately leads to the development of immune system abnormalities that attack normal tissue in our body (autoimmune diseases). For more information see How To Build A Strong Immune System Naturally – 8 Simple Steps For Rapid Results!
Dementia – If we live long enough, dementia (a decline in memory and cognitive function) is usually a progressive disorder that is an inevitable part of the aging process. There is, however, some preliminary evidence that shortened telomeres could play a role in the decline of the human thought process. Vitamins may play a role in slowing dementia. For more information see Vitamins Help Memory Loss – Think About What You’re Missing! and Improve Memory Loss – Supercharge Your Mind!
Cardiovascular Disease – Shortened telomeres have been shown to be associated with several types of cardiovascular disease. These diseases include coronary artery disease (CAD), congestive heart failure (CHF), peripheral artery disease (PAD), and sudden cardiac death (SCD). To help offset your risk of developing heart problems it’s important to always pay close attention to your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Cancer – Cells with damaged genetic material can begin to rapidly divide and become cancerous. This rapid division is powered by very high levels of telomerase within the cell, which keeps the telomeres from getting too short and allows the cancerous cells to continue dividing. Chromosomal damage from short telomeres has been linked to cancer of the head, neck, lung, GI (gastrointestinal) tract, kidney, and urinary bladder.
The aging process is closely related to cellular division. The structure and function of the cells in our body depend, to a large extent, on the integrity of their chromosomes. Chromosomes contain our “genetic blueprint”, and are protected from damage during replication by their telomeres. Medical research is uncovering more and more associations between telomere shortening and a variety of diseases.
Knowing how telomeres can help keep your cells young is not enough. You need to take steps to keep them working properly. The best approach to slowing the aging process and keeping yourself young is to take good care of your body and mind in every way possible. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Get a good night’s sleep. Minimize things that will damage your cells such as cigarette smoking and exposure to harmful chemicals.
Taking good care of yourself may require professional input. Make appointments for well-visits with a qualified health care provider and seek help if you are not feeling well.
Tell Us What You Think
Please let us know what’s on your mind in the comment section, or if I can help you with anything.
- Were you previously aware that short telomeres can accelerate the aging process?
- Did you find this information useful?
- What lifestyle changes will you make based on this information?