Tell Me About Telomeres

My telomere

Which baby boomer doesn’t remember the television show which ran through the 70s and 80s called Days of Our Lives?  Even the most discerning viewer surely managed to be somewhere where somebody’s aunty was watching it.

So you might remember the intro line……”Like Sands Through the Hourglass are the Days of Our Lives”.

Yes, I know you started reading this to find out more about telomeres, but somehow this analogy is a simple way of describing the way telomeres work.  They are like the egg timers of our existence, but they’re not all calibrated the same.  The choices we make each day can alter the speed at which health and vitality rush away.  In this image of a cell, the telomeres are represented by the blue sections on the ends.  They will eventually shrink, but slowing down the rate at which this happens is the key.

So if telomeres are the key to longevity, maybe understanding how they work will help us turn back the clock.  As part of our genes, our DNA,  their function is to protect the information in our genes which is in danger of being diluted each time our cells divide.  The wear and tear of life gradually leads to negative changes in telomere length and expression.   Normal cell function can no longer be supported.  This is when we see the emergence of all types of chronic disease.

There would be a big prize for tapping into the elusive fountain of youth and it’s not surprising that scientists and geneticists are very interested in fiddling around with telomeres.   Not enough is known on this subject yet, although a likely link to cancer stands as a caution.  It’s a complicated subject.  Read more about the science here.

Causes of telomere shortening include:

  • High homocysteine levels can triple the amount of telomere length lost during cell division, effectively increasing your rate of aging by 300%.
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Ageing and decrease in hormone production
  • Gender (women’s telemeres tend to be longer)
  • Sedentary lifestyle (exercise preserves telomere length)
  • Oxidative stress
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Life stress, particularly chronic and psychological
  • Low levels of the enzyme, telomerase

Here are some ways to preserve your telomeres.  But it’s like the instruments in an orchestra: each step you take ultimately contributes to a more effective synergistic approach. Many different metabolic pathways need to be supported to successfully protect your telomeres, so the more healthy lifestyle choices you can make, the better.  Some possibilities include:

  • Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant which supports telomere length.
  • Vitamin C, another antioxidant which dramatically slows down telomere shrinkage.
  • Essential fatty acids, especially those found in fish oil, slow telomere loss.
  • A high nutrient density diet. Only eat good natural food with lots of nutrition and don’t overeat.
  • A diet free of refined carbohydrates and high in fibre.
  • Eat good quality protein in moderation.
  • Adequate vitamin D levels are essential for slowing telomere loss and can add years to your life.
  • Adequate exercise can actually make your telomeres longer and stronger.
  • Avoid drugs of all kinds.
  • Avoid hydrogenated fats and trans fats. Avoid highly refined polyunsaturated fats.
  • Maintain normal weight.  Lower total calorie intake. Consider occasional short fasts or light food/juice days.
  • Adequate sleep and stress management techniques.
  • Helpful herbal supplements include astragalus  and gingko biloba.   Also Chinese ginger root.
  • Additional helpful nutritional supplements include folate, B12, nicotinamide, multivitamins, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine),  alpha-tocopherol.

You can find out about the state of your telomeres by linking up with Spectracell Labs, Houston: www.spectracell.com

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