What Are Telomeres and Why Are They Important?
Telomeres are the protective caps at each chromosome’s end whose primary function is to prevent chromosomal “fraying” when a cell replicates. Think of the plastic tip of shoelaces, protecting the shoelace. Telomeres protect chromosomes in the same way. As a cell ages, its telomeres become shorter. Eventually, the telomeres become too short to allow cell replication, the cell stops dividing and will ultimately die – a normal biological process.
Telomere length has been linked to aging and disease risk for many years. But recent research is uncovering just how important telomeres are in health and longevity.
Telomere length has been correlated with many aspects of aging and disease risk for several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, neurodegeneration, and other age-related disorders such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Read on to learn about what these little structures do for your cells, why their length matters so much, and how you can maintain or improve them!
How to Test Your Telomeres
Telomere testing measures the ‘biological age’ of your cells. It is one of the newest advancements in age management and anti-aging. It’s a simple blood test. Telomere testing determines the length of a person’s telomeres against their age.
Evaluation of telomere length is an indicator of how rapidly one ages relative to a normal population. Therapies directed at slowing the loss of telomere length may slow aging and age-related diseases. Therefore it has a role in any anti-aging/age management program.
There are two major ways to test your telomeres:
- Flow FISH
- Quantitative PCR (Q-PCR)
Flow FISH is a technique to measure telomeres that uses fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), combined with flow cytometry. Flow FISH is the standard and oldest method for telomere measurement.
A new way to measure your telomeres is available, and you can do it at home. These over-the-counter tests use a tool called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR).
The method pools the cells in blood samples and extracts DNA from them for analysis using an amplifying process that creates more precise results than before.
Then they measured how many repetitive sequences there were within each sample’s pool of extracted genetic material. This test takes about 10 minutes per person so don’t worry if yours doesn’t show up immediately.
The results they produced showed that people’s telomeres were inversely related to their chronological age.
Why Your Telomeres Matter So Much
Telomeres protect chromosomal ends from deterioration or fusion with other chromosomes. Telomeres are made of repeating sequences of DNA (TTAGGG) bound together by a specific protein complex, sheltering the DNA sequence of each chromosome.
When telomeres become too short, they essentially send out “SOS” signals to the cell. These signals tell the cell it is time to self-destruct or enter cellular senescence, which shuts down the cells’ replication ability.
When cells stop replicating, the body degenerates and starts to age. As cells reach senescence, they release chemical signals that cause chronic inflammation associated with most aging diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and others.
Short telomeres activate a cellular “suicide” mechanism called apoptosis. The shortening of telomeres is an error-prone process, and the cell will detect these errors and undergo apoptosis if they get too short or damaged.
The length of your telomeres determines how many times your cells can divide until they reach their “Hayflick Limit.”
“Hayflick Limit” is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide before becoming senescent. It shows that cells are genetically programmed to self–destruct because their telomeres get too short.
Telomere length is a biomarker of aging that reduces as you age. Scientific discoveries have found that telomeres are influenced by oxidative stress, lifestyle choices, stress levels, and nutrition. Scientists also believe stress hormones speed up the shortening process.
But no matter how old you are, there are steps you can take to maintain not only telomere length but also increase them.
The good news is that telomeres can lengthen and shorten, and this lengthening process is called “telomere elongation.” The process of telomere elongation allows your body’s cells to divide more times than they would have otherwise.
The following are six ways to lengthen your telomeres today.
1) Feed Your Body With Quality Nutrition
Eat plenty of fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, grains (like quinoa), legumes, seeds, and nuts. All of these goods can supply your body with the proper nutrition you need to look and feel young.
2) Practice Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFTs)
The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a form of psychological acupressure. It’s based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments but without the invasiveness of needles.
EFT is a simple, powerful self-help tool that anyone can learn. Once learned, it can be used for a wide range of emotional and physical problems.
Emotional Freedom Techniques is a modern psychological acupressure technique that uses touch to tap on specific meridian points on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem – releasing the disturbing thoughts and feelings associated with the stress or trauma that may be holding you back.
When your meridian points are stimulated, they unblock the emotional energy that’s trapped in your body, mind, and spirit. Through these blockages, stress manifests into physical symptoms that can damage your immune system and overall well-being.
Many people report feeling calmer after sessions of EFT, while others need more sessions to achieve the desired results.
3) Practice Yoga Daily
Yoga is a set of practices and beliefs developed thousands of years ago with one goal – to create wholeness within yourself. As a practice, yoga will help you maintain your balance and stability in times of change.
4) Practice Pranayama Daily
When you’re stressed, your breath becomes shallow and irregular, which in turn affects the flow of oxygen to your cells. This can lead to health problems depending on how long this stress is allowed to continue.
Pranayama (breathing exercises) regulates your breathing to maximize intake of oxygen, allowing more efficient processing of oxygen in the blood.
The result will be an increase in energy, a decrease in fatigue, and relief from stress.
5) Drink Lots of Quality Water
Drink enough water each day that will keep your skin tone healthy and glowing from within. Your cells need water to function properly, so you’ll need at least six to eight glasses of pure filtered water each day.
6) Enjoy a Laugh Everyday
The art of laughter is a powerful thing – it has been said that “laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter makes us feel good. It triggers the release of endorphins in the brain, which are neurotransmitters that give you a feeling of well-being and relaxation.
The Mayo Clinic reported that laughter helps your body combat stress by triggering changes in your nervous system that improve oxygen delivery to your muscles.
How to Stop Telomere Shortening
Telomere length is determined by genetics, but there are things that you can do to support telomeres and lengthen them.
First of all, limit stress! Since the main role of cells with short telomeres is to divide and replicate themselves quickly.
And because chronic stress causes cell division to speed up, it stands to reason that chronically high cortisol levels would affect telomere length.
Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and other stress-reducing activities are excellent ways to reduce stress.
You can also help your telomeres maintain their length by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.
Hormones and Telomere Length
Scientists have found that telomerase, the enzyme that repairs and regulates telomeres, is controlled and activated by hormones.
Therefore, to keep ourselves healthy and with a high quality of life, we must maintain all our hormones at optimal levels. Letting those hormones drop is to let the telomeres get short.
When telomeres get short, cells age. Aging causes disease, and death follows. Studies show that optimal levels of the hormones testosterone and estrogen levels help preserve telomere length.
Optimal Human Growth Hormone (HGH) levels are also associated with telomere length. A 2009 study published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism looked at 2744 men and found that telomere length was positively associated with serum IGF-1 levels.
IGF-1 is the indirect measurement of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the body. This positive association is reassuring to me when it comes to optimizing HGH levels.
Telomeres and Nutrition
An inflammatory diet, or one that increases oxidative stress, will shorten telomeres faster. This includes refined carbohydrates, fast foods, processed foods, sodas, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and saturated fats.
A diet with a large amount and variety of antioxidants that improve oxidative defense and reduce oxidative stress will slow telomere shortening.
Consumption of 10 servings of fresh and relatively uncooked fruits and vegetables, mixed fiber, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, cold-water fish, and high-quality vegetable proteins will help preserve telomere length.
I recommend consuming omega-3 fatty acids, cold-water fish like salmon or sardines, dark green leafy vegetables, and brightly colored fruit.
Good sources of omega-three fatty acids include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and organic free-range eggs.
I also recommend that you try to get at least one serving of fresh wild-caught seafood into your diet per week.
Telomeres and Lifestyle
Regular targeted aerobic and resistance exercise, using burst training to optimize human growth hormone release, sleeping for at least 8 hours per night to optimize hormones, stress reduction to optimize cortisol, and discontinuation of all tobacco products are strongly recommended.
Nutritional Supplements and Telomeres Length
Oxidative stress will shorten telomere length and cause aging in cellular tissue. Antioxidant supplements can potentially reduce oxidative stress very effectively, which will ultimately improve oxidative defenses, mitochondrial function, reduce inflammation, and slow vascular aging.
Targeted supplementation is key, as antioxidants work synergistically and must be balanced to work most effectively and avoid inducing a pro-oxidant effect. My favorite antioxidants are Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Melatonin, and Marine Krill Oil.
Vitamin D supplementation is also strongly recommended for most individuals.
Green tea extract is a great supplement that improves mitochondrial function, reduces inflammation and increases autophagy (cellular cleansing).
Fish oil supplementation is shown to help improve brain health, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Other antioxidants that are very potent in preventing oxidative damage to cellular tissues include CoQ-100, Resveratrol, Vitamin A, C, and E.,
When Should Telomeres Testing Be Considered?
Telomeres testing may be appropriate for individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, obesity, family history of early heart disease or cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus type II, and smoking.
The test also benefits patients who are seeking to optimize their health through diet and exercise.
Each patient’s overall quality of life must get the focus during treatment.
A personalized approach, using telomeres testing and a comprehensive evaluation to identify underlying causes where possible, will provide the optimal outcome.
I recommend testing once per year to evaluate the rate of aging and make adjustments in hormonal optimization, nutrition, nutritional supplements, weight management, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications known to influence telomere length.
The Bottom Line
Telomeres, the little “caps” at the end of each strand of DNA, protect the chromosomes. As you age, telomeres get shorter and shorter. Research has shown that initial telomere length is an indication of cellular health.
The goal is to preserve your health by keeping your telomeres long through lifestyle choices that reduce oxidative stress and increase telomerase activity.
Consuming a diet rich in antioxidant nutrients from plant foods, getting regular exercise, and managing stress are all factors that will help keep your telomeres as long as possible.
If you are interested in a full hormonal evaluation and consultation please call us at 323-874-9355 or email us at email@example.com.