Telomere length – key to your fountain of youth

Hope you’ve had a good couple weeks!  A friend of mine (& business associate) & I are working on some big changes coming soon to this website & we will be launching a PODCAST in the very near future!  I mean, today, you’re no one unless you have PODCAST…. but at least then you can be no one who has a PODCAST… or something like that!

Today, I want to take some time to discuss with you the topic of longevity & health specifically through one of the most relevant biomarkers/predictors of longevity (length of life) in the form of Telomere length (TL).  Please bear with me here, this is a complex topic & I am doing my best to avoid my Geek genetics & totally geek out on this topic, and therefore I will be skimming over some of the specific details.  This is necessary to simplify my post for the masses, but I assure you if you have a hankering to totally geek out then be sure to click on the references I’ve cited through out & Geek away!

Our genetic material contained with in the nucleus of our individual cells is passed on through the process of DNA replication and telomeres are a critical part of this. Telomeres are repetitive nucleotides (components of DNA strands) at the end of each chromatid that protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration & fusion with nearby chromosomes.  Furthermore, every time a cell replicates its DNA replicates & a tiny section of the Telomere breaks off.  Eventually, there is nothing left & that cell is targeted for self-destruction by a process called autophagy.  This limited number of replications is known as the Hayflick limit.  Telomerase (aka Telomere terminal transferase) is an enzyme that adds DNA sequence repeats to the ends of chromatids.  Some cancers have evolved the ability to hyper-activate telomerase & avoid the usual shortening of TL, therefore bypassing cellular self-destruction & resulting in uncontrolled growth (Tumor).

Studies have begun examining how our epigenetics (lifestyle behaviors & environment) effect our TL.  Obviously, if our goal is to live longer (& healthier) then we would want to try to reduce the rate of cellular replications that occur over time & also do things that could stimulate telomerase to help re-elongate our telomeres after
each replication, while still allowing for programmed cell death (apoptosis).

Epigenetic effects on Telomere length & Telomerase

One recent study over a 1 year period in healthy older women found that stress was associated with further decreased TL.  Of interest, in that same study, they found a non-significant finding of statin use & TL.  Furthermore, this study found that healthy behaviors (crudely defined but encompasses diet, exercise & sleep quality) helped to mitigate the reduction in TL.  Another study examined the effects of weight maintenance or gain in a 10 year period found no difference in TL change based on whether someone lost, maintained or gained weight over the 10 years of the study.  Another study explored TL as a biomarker for adiposity changes in overweight/obese teens after multidisciplinary intervention.  The results showed that TL lengthened in individuals during intensive phase, with greater increases in overweight/obese teens.  Furthermore, longer baseline TL was associated with greater weight loss during the program.  This study from earlier this year explored associations of ghrelin with TL (and other outcomes) in overweight and obese women and the authors concluded that in overweight women ghrelin was positively correlated with TL, while it was not correlated with TL in the obese group.

Adapted from Marin C et al. 2013.

Another recent study examined the longitudinal association of TL & obesity in an intervention study using a Med diet.  They found that higher TL at baseline predicted greater decrease in body weight, waist circumference & waist to height ratio.  Furthermore, changes in TL during the 5-year intervention were inversely associated (opposite direction) with changes in the 4 anthropometric variables.  One review study examined if the Med diet could modulate endothelial aging associated with oxidative stress.  The authors found that the Med diet with greater omega-3 fat content and lower omega-6 fat content (lower n-6:n-3 ratio), as well as it’s higher intake of fresh vegetables & fruits in combination with physical exercise and not smoking were associated with greater TL maintenance & decreased rate of shortening.

A clinical intervention pilot study showed that a lifestyle intervention similar to a Med diet was able to slow the decrease in Telomerase activity and increased TL over the 5 year duration of the study.  Interestingly, one study examined a 1 year intervention using either calorie restricted diet or calorie restricted diet + aerobic exercise in post menopausal women & found no changes in TL over the year’s intervention.  Importantly, this intervention was a low calorie, low fat, higher carb diet & did not focus on REAL FOOD.  Another study examined men with low-risk biopsy diagnosed prostrate cancer who underwent a 3 month lifestyle intervention and showed that Telomerase activity increased over that time with the lifestyle intervention.  This intervention focused on fresh plant foods, whole foods, low refined foods & also supplemented with fish oil.

Overall, the studies show that there are certain lifestyle habits that seem to more strongly influence TL & subsequently health & longevity and that it can take at least 6 months – 1 year to see positive outcomes.  Additionally, the severity of the obesity could make it a bit more challenging to see the positive outcomes (i.e. likely will take even longer).

What does this all mean to me?

Well, it means that we should be able (at least slightly) lengthen our life- & health-span by choosing regular lifestyle habits that decrease the shortening of Telomeres & some that increase Telomerase activity (essentially re-lengthens Telmoeres), both of which act to increase the longevity of our cells.

Interestingly, many of the lifestyle habits that I would recommend for this are those I have covered in previous posts.  Specifically, I did a post on living to support your healthy genes as much as possible (here), which outlines the backbone of the healthy habits that seem to have the biggest impact on health, performance & longevity.

I would add to those the following guidelines to guide you to your own personal “fountain of youth”.

1) Eat 70% fresh & minimally processed plant matter daily – of this make about 3/4 of it low carb vegetables (highest nutrient density).

2) Aim for 1 g / lb of your ideal body weight in protein daily – you likely won’t hit this because you will fill up from the protein, vegetable & healthy fats.  Don’t worry, by aiming for this you will get enough protein to be able to maintain your lean body mass while still burning fat.

3) Do NOT restrict healthy fats & define them properly – despite conventional wisdom, saturated fats are essential & good for us (up to about 25 g daily), be sure to get 1.5-2.5 g daily of omega-3 fats (from animal sources if possible I.e. fatty fish).  Consider a fish oil supplement (1.5-2.5 g/ day of DHA + EPA for adults) if you don’t eat fish.

4) Don’t eat processed foods – this means no grains or sugar at all, minimally processed legumes & nothing in a box or wrapper!

5) Choose to buy & eat sustainable & healthy animals (i.e. pastured animals that can move around & eat what they were born to eat are best)!

6) Exercise daily – a) walk every day; b) lift heavy things 2-4 times/week depending on your goals -this could be weights, body weight, water work, bands, whatever you can do; c) Sprint 1-2 times/week – aim for 10-30 s of work with 3 x the rest per rep & repeat it 5-10 times in the workout; warm up for 5-10 mins before as needed.

7) Meditate daily – sharpen your mind & focus you on your goals, as well as manage your stress response.  This gives you permission to spend some time with your own thoughts – often missing in this digital world.

These guidelines are not all encompassing, but they will help you get leaner, healthier & also at least slow the shortening of your Telomeres that occurs as we age.

Give them a try! You’ve got nothing to lose, except looking your age!

I hope you find this post helpful!

Till next time…

In Health & Fitness.

Dan T

Photo Credits:

Flow chart of Telomereswhat we lose with ageOxidative stress & cellular senescence.

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