How to Increase the Length of Your Telomeres Through Lifestyle Changes

Even though our life expectancy is getting significantly higher, the quality of our life is not following the same trend. 

These are naturally the global averages, but there are simple lifestyle changes you can make that will significantly improve the quality of your life and slow down the aging process.

In this article I will discuss telomeres and how the influence longevity. 

Telomeres are an essential part of our DNA and can be the key to effectively slowing down the aging process. [1]

What Are Telomeres?

Telomeres are a specific sequence in our DNA (consisting of hundreds of repeats of the same short DNA sequence) that form a sort of cap at the end of the pairs of our 23 chromosomes. These caps provide a buffer that protects the chromosome regions that bear our genes. We say a cap because it essentially keeps the chromosome from unraveling every time it replicates.

Mainly, if the telomeres weren’t there, the chromosomes would shorten significantly with each round of cell division resulting in lost genes with each round of replication. This would lead to damaged cells which age that die more quickly, which inevitably would lead to an older and less resilient body.

Every time a cell divides to reproduce, the telomeres get shorter. 

The DNA sequence repeats that make up a telomere are slowly eaten away slowly over many division cycles.

Shorter telomere length is associated with advancing chronological age and also increased disease morbidity and mortality because as time passes and the telomere get too short, the corresponding cells stop reproducing, became diseased and die out. This leads to aging and inevitably, death. 

Since telomeres are essential to our DNA, scientists have been doing extensive research on them. It has become evident that shorter telomeres connect with many diseases of aging like cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. On the other hand, longer telomeres link with a longer lifespan. [2]

However, this doesn’t mean that you want your telomeres to be as long as possible because too-long telomeres have been proven to bring a different set of health issues including a higher risk of melanoma, lung cancer, some types of leukemia, and brain tumors. 

So, how can you reach an optimal length of your telomeres?

Reaching an Optimal Length of Telomeres with Certain Lifestyle Changes

The primary way for telomeres to get longer is through a process in our bodies with the use of the protein called telomerase. Telomerase is an enzyme whose purpose is to repair telomeres. 

The enzyme telomerase also depletes and degrades as we age, which is why telomeres degrade as well. 

However, research has shown multiple times that positive life changes can improve the telomerase process and effectively lengthen your telomeres. [2] [3]

A 2018 study has shown that weight loss interventions can lead to telomere lengthening in breast cancer survivors. [4]

But weight loss is not the only lifestyle change you can make to increase telomere length. Another research has shown that being physically active can also significantly lengthen your telomeres. [5]

Many research studies show that high levels of psychological stress severely shortens telomere length. Stress also drives the replication of several herpesviruses that are found dormant in over 90% of the population. Stress reduces the cellular immune response and this reduces the control of viral latency. So these viruses, mainly Cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr Virus start to replicate having a major effect on our health by reducing telomere length and telomerase activity. [6]

Stress reduction methods such as meditation will also lead to the lengthening of telomeres, just as sufficient and good sleep. Even naps during mid day energy drops are very helpful in maintaining telomere length. A short nap on a regular basis during this time of the day will increase telomere length.

Furthermore, a healthy diet is also crucial. Foods that are rich in antioxidants protect your DNA from oxidative stress, thus protecting the telomeres as well. Antioxidant rich foods include foods rich in Vitamin C (peppers and kale), foods rich in polyphenols (like cloves, moringa), and anthocyanin (blueberries, and green grapes). [7]

Another dietary change associated with longer telomeres is the ratio between Omega 3 fatty acid rich foods and Omega 6 fatty acid rich foods. When the ratio is balanced between omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids we find longer telomeres. [8, 9] Anthropological findings suggest that ancient humans consumed these fats at a ratio of around 1:1, while in modern times, the ratio is about 16:1. For this reason, reducing omega 6 fatty acid rich food from your diet is important including vegetable oils (canola, safflower, sunflower, and corn oil), processed foods and most meats.

Supplementation can be beneficial as well. Even though there are no detailed studies on the connection between dietary supplements and telomere length, there are studies that connect certain supplements with natural anti-aging processes in the body by enhancing our body’s ability to use and make antioxidants. [10]

These supplements include Glutathione, Lemon Balm, Licorice Root, Spirulina, Turmeric, and Vitamin B12. Advice from a wholistic nutritionist can help you determine which supplements will help you in your unique situation for supporting longevity. 

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Galit Goldfarb

References:

  • [1] Ewen Callaway. Telomerase reverses the aging process. Nature. November 28, 2010. doi:10.1038/news.2010.635
  • [2] Masood A. Shammas. Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Jan; 14(1): 28–34. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1
  • [3] Prof Dean Ornish, MD, Jue Lin, PhD, Prof June M Chan, PhD, Elissa Epel, PhD, Colleen Kemp, RN, Prof Gerdi Weidner, PhD, et al. Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. The Lancet. September 17, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8
  • [4] Sanft, T., Usiskin, I., Harrigan, M. et al. Breast Cancer Res Treat (2018) 172: 105. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10549-018-4895-7
  • [5] Eli Puterman, Jordan Weiss, Jue Linc, Samantha Schilfd, Aaron L. Slusher, Kirsten  L. Johansen, Elissa S. Epeld. Aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres and reduces stress in family caregivers: A randomized controlled trial. 2 August 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.08.002
  • [6] Glaser R, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress-associated immune modulation and its implications for reactivation of latent herpesviruses. In: Glaser R, Jones J, editors. Human herpesvirus infections. Dekker; New York: 1994. pp. 245–270. 
  • [7] David R Jacobs, Jr  Myron D Gross, Linda C Tapsell. Food synergy: an operational concept for understanding nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 1543S–1548S, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736B
  • [8] Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Epel ES, Belury MA, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2013;28:16–24. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2012.09.004
  • [9] https://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Article/2012/10/10/Provocative-and-exciting-New-study-shows-omega-3s-may-slow-biological-aging?utm_source=copyright&utm_medium=OnSite&utm_campaign=copyright
  • [10] Rushworth GF, Megson IL. Existing and potential therapeutic uses for N-acetylcysteine: the need for conversion to intracellular glutathione for antioxidant benefits. Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Feb;141(2):150-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2013.09.006