Doctor’s Tip: Fountain of youth? Tweak your telomeres
March 20, 2017
Each human cell has 23 chromosomes, each made up of two strands of DNA. At the tip of the chromosomes are caps called telomeres, that keep the DNA from unraveling and are analogous to the plastic tips at each end of your shoelaces. As soon as you're born, telomeres gradually shorten. As they shorten, you age, and when they're gone, cells die, and eventually you die.
A few years ago scientists were studying the oldest organisms on the planet, bristlecone pines in California, one of which is 4,800 years old and still going strong. Their investigation led them to an enzyme in the roots of bristlecones that rebuilds telomeres. The scientists named the enzyme telomerase, and the enzyme was subsequently found to be present in human cells as well. Levels of telomerase can be measured, and are related to the health and length of your telomeres, and therefore your health and the length of your life.
Although this is still evolving science, studies done so far show that the following hasten telomere shortening and therefore aging in humans:
• Smoking cigarettes triples the rate of loss of telomere length.
• Consumption of refined grains, soda, meat, fish and dairy.
• Chronic emotional stress: We've all seen people under chronic stress who age rapidly. Dr. Dean Ornish did a study of mothers of chronically ill children who aged by 10 years based on telomere length compared with a control group.
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Here's what has been shown to preserve telomere length and to even repair damage once it occurs:
• Antioxidant-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables are more effective than anything else in preserving telomere length.
• Dr. Ornish showed that stress reduction through activities such as mindfulness meditation increase telomerase levels and lengthen shortened telomeres, which he discusses in his latest book, "The Spectrum."
• Regular exercise
So if you want to stack the deck in your favor to increase your chance of living a long, healthy life, do what it takes to keep your telomeres long. To find out more, go to Dr. Michael Greger's website nutritionfacts.org and search telomeres, or read "The Spectrum."
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.