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Telomeres—the secret to healthy living and longer lifespans

January 21, 2020
Lily Moran

The article below was written by Tracey Roizman, DC. Learn more about Tracey and our other experts here.

The two strands of your DNAthe iconic double helix of genetic information coiled within the nucleus of every cell, are loosely held together with weak bonds so that, at any given time, sections can be carefully “unzipped” to produce needed molecules.

This makes for efficient genetic translation, but it also makes your DNA vulnerable to damage. The strands can become frayed at the ends and then recombine improperly, like a broken zipper. DNA is most vulnerable to fraying during cell division, when the entire molecule has to unzip. The result: an imperfect new cell with damaged sections of DNA that can accelerate aging and open the door for age-related diseases.

To prevent fraying, you have telomeres at the ends of each DNA strand (like the plastic tips at the ends of your shoelaces).

And each time a cell divides its telomeres become slightly shorter. After up to 20 cell divisions, the telomeres cease to function and the cell is no longer able to reproduce – it eventually dies off, a process known as senescence[1].

The longer your telomeres, the longer your life

Anti-aging scientists have been telling us for some time that short telomeres are a sign of advanced aging and that the trick to healthier cells and a longer, healthier lifespan is to keep your telomeres healthy—and long.

Research shows, in fact, that the length of your telomeres may be the most important factor tied to aging and healthspan.

This makes it even more important to protect your telomeres.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the 3 most important ways to protect your telomeres are:

  1. Avoiding exposure to toxins in your food, air, and water.
  2. Rest and relaxation.
  3. Optimal nutrition.

You can and should explore ways to reduce your exposure to toxins—but they’re essentially unavoidable. It would be nearly impossible to avoid them entirely.

As for rest and relaxation, managing your stress and getting a goodnight’s sleep should be a priority to great health but it’s easier said than done.

Your nutritional status, however, is something you have arguably greater control over and, in fact, more control than you might think. Here’s how:

Optimal Nutrition Promotes Longer Telomeres

Telomeres are primarily damaged by oxidation (free radical damage) and inflammation[4]. Therefore, the best nutrients for preventing telomere damage are—you guessed it—nutrients with the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

And, among those nutrients, are a few superstars that also protect telomeres by activating telomerase, an enzyme, made by your body, which helps preserve telomere length and strength.

A prime example is vitamin D. A large clinical study found that adults with the highest vitamin D levels had longer telomeres in their white blood cells than those who had the lowest levels…by the equivalent of 5 years of aging.

If vitamin D can do the same for the telomeres in the other cells in your body then, according to telomere science, it may translate to a longer and healthier lifespan!

Additionally, there is a veritable cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, and culinary and medicinal herbs with powerful telomere protecting benefits. And, while the research is extremely promising, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these studies are still in preliminary stages and, where that is the case, the results will need to be confirmed by additional human trials.

Some other examples of nutrients, botanicals, and extracts that can protect and extend your telomeres include:

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Coffee

A large-scale clinical study found that coffee consumption was associated with longer telomeres[5].

Berries

  • Acai—Prevented brain aging by increasing activity of telomerase in the brains of laboratory animals[6].
  • Chokeberry—May extend lifespan by protecting telomeres in your cardiovascular system[7].

Herbs

  • Ashwagandha—One of the most revered herbs in Ayurvedic traditional herbalism for its rejuvenative, calming, and anti-inflammatory benefits. Recent experiments on ashwagandha reveal it to be a potent activator of telomerase [8,9].
  • Turmeric—A robust immune system is important for a long, healthy life and this anti-inflammatory powerhouse has been found to increase telomerase activity in immune cells[10].

Of course, since oxidative stress and free radical damage are your telomeres’ number one danger, a diet high in antioxidants is one of your best weapons for protecting them.  

So, you now can design your healthy lifestyle through the lens of telomere protection to take maximum advantage of the most potent telomere-protective nutrients.

Clearly, the best “next generation” diet and lifestyle for telomere protection should contain as many of these antioxidant nutrients as possible.

Unfortunately, getting the nutrients you need to adequately protect your telomeres isn’t as simple as it might seem—even if you’re eating the “cleanest”, healthiest of diets.

Your “healthy” diet may not be enough to protect you

Decades of industrial agriculture, chemical fertilizers, and soil erosion have stripped the nutrient content from our farmlands. Additionally, agricultural scientists are devising higher yielding plants that grow faster and larger so farmers can produce more food per acre.

But, oftentimes, more intense growth results in plants with lower nutrient levels[11]. And if the nutrients aren’t in the soil they’re not going to be in your food. If they’re not in your food they are not going to be in you.

In just one 20-year window from 1975 to 1997 the nutrient value of 12 of our most common vegetables dropped by nearly one-third; a trend that had already been occurring for decades prior and has continued since.

That means, you would need to consume pounds and pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, every day, to make up for those lost nutrients. And even if that were possible it wouldn’t be realistic.

In other words, even the healthiest diet no longer provides the optimal nutritional value you need to keep up with the demands of modern living. And the conventional concept of a balanced diet is increasingly more elusive. As a result, supplementation is becoming essential to maintaining optimal health.

Forget yesterday’s multivitamins

Most multivitamins are designed around the RDA’s, which reflect the minimum levels of essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay alive. Maintaining the RDA is FAR from optimal—it simply means avoiding deficiency diseases like scurvy and beriberi. Diseases that are virtually unheard of nowadays.

Maintaining an active lifestyle in today’s challenging environment places higher demands on our bodies than at any other time in history. At the same time, pollutants and other stressors place greater demands on your cells, and nutrient-depleted foods fail to provide the replenishment your cells need.

Next-Level Multivitamins—the key to longer telomeres

Nutrition science has advanced considerably since the RDA’s were established, but those entrenched standards continue to set a low bar. And most multivitamin “recipes” haven’t changed in decades. If your goal is to optimize your health and experience all of the anti-aging benefits that nutrition science has to offer, then the RDA’s “just enough” philosophy is just not good enough.

A truly next-generation multivitamin is one that breaks away from these outdated paradigms. And, instead, uses the most up-to-date science to ensure you’re not just getting what you need to survive, but to thrive. A good multivitamin, over time, should actually make a difference in how you look and feel. Also, good multivitamin isn’t just a way to fill in the gaps and ensure against nutrient deficiencies. Through anti-aging science, your multivitamin can serve as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle that allows you to feel your best, living longer and healthier by focusing on protecting and extending the length of your telomeres.

References

  1. AP, S., Biology of Human Aging, 2nd ed.  . 1999: Prentice Hall.
  2. Telomeres are favoured targets of a persistent DNA damage response in ageing and stress-induced senescence. Nat Commun, 2012. 3: p. 708 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22426229
  3. Telomeres and Cell Senescence – Size Matters Not. EBioMedicine, 2017. 21: p. 14-20 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28347656
  4. Dietary total antioxidant capacity is associated with leukocyte telomere length in a children and adolescent population. Clin Nutr, 2015. 34(4): p. 694-9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25131600
  5. Coffee Consumption Is Positively Associated with Longer Leukocyte Telomere Length in the Nurses’ Health Study. J Nutr, 2016. 146(7): p. 1373-8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27281805
  6. Antidepressant and Antiaging Effects of Acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) in Mice. Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2019. 2019: p. 3614960 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31428223
  7. Anthocyans-rich Aronia melanocarpa extract possesses ability to protect endothelial progenitor cells against angiotensin II induced dysfunction. Phytomedicine, 2015. 22(14): p. 1238-46 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26655406
  8. Withaferin-A kills cancer cells with and without telomerase: chemical, computational and experimental evidences. Cell Death Dis, 2017. 8(4): p. e2755 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28425984
  9. Withania somnifera Root Extract Enhances Telomerase Activity in the Human HeLa Cell Line. Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology, 2016 https://file.scirp.org/pdf/ABB_2016041514495653.pdf
  10. Effects of water extract of Curcuma longa (L.) roots on immunity and telomerase function. J Complement Integr Med, 2017. 14(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28889732
  11. Ray, C.C. A Decline in the Nutritional Value of Crops. 2015; Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/15/science/a-decline-in-the-nutritional-value-of-crops.html?_r=0.

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