You’ve probably heard about “biological” versus “chronological” age. The factor that determines biological cellular age is telomere length, and there are several companies now offering genetic testing that’s supposed to reveal your cellular age through measuring your telomere length. So, what is this important biomarker for aging, and how can we control it?
What Are Telomeres?
Telomeres are the last bits of a chromosome protecting our DNA, sort of like those plastic pieces at the end of shoelaces. They are instrumental in the process of cell replication. Our cells need to divide and replicate for our body to function properly and to heal itself. Each time a cell divides, a small amount of the telomere gets cut off and shortens until they are gone, like ends of shoelaces getting frayed with use. At the point when they are gone, the DNA cannot be copied anymore, and the cell is no longer able to replicate. This is aging.
Shorter telomeres are not only associated with age but also with the disease. In fact, shorter telomere length is associated with various diseases such as type 2 diabetes, depression, cancer, osteoporosis, and obesity.
Biological age is not the only factor. Environmental factors such as stress influence telomere length, and the rate at which they are shortening.
Can We Stop and Reverse Aging?
Slowing telomere shortening would, by definition, slow aging. Lengthening telomeres would reverse aging. No other anti-aging method can reverse aging if telomeres keep getting shorter. Science offers us some hope: According to the Telomerase Activation Sciences website, “an enzyme called telomerase can slow, stop, or perhaps even reverse the telomere shortening. The amount of telomerase in our bodies declines as we age…Exposing human cells to telomerase slows cell aging and allows cells to begin copying again, and longer telomeres cause gene expression to change to a younger phenotype which makes cells function as though they were younger.”
Wait. What?! Can we possibly drink/pop some telomerase and get younger? Not so fast, says science. Quoting the same organization, “telomerase is produced only inside functioning cells; it is not possible to take biologically active telomerase orally.” Too bad.
Boosting Telomeres Length Through Science
Finding a cure for aging is one of the holy grails of modern science. Several scientific teams are at work trying to create molecules and compounds effective in lengthening telomeres, or slowing down the rate of their shortening. Companies like TeloYears offer tests for telomere length as well as supplements for cellular health. However, the reliability of such tests is still considered controversial.
And then there is NAD+ which is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies that declines with age. You can take supplements from Elysium Health or TruNiagen that are supposed to boost NAD+ levels and help maintain longer telomeres.
For most of us, these tests and treatments are too unproven and way too expensive. So, is there anything we can do to boost our telomeres naturally?
Telomere Lengthening Naturally
Luckily, there are many lifestyle choices believed to offer significant benefits for telomeres and anti-aging, and they are quite logical and straightforward: reducing stress, not smoking, a proper diet, and maintaining a healthy weight and exercising.
Some studies suggest that foods rich in antioxidants, combined with a Mediterranean-type of a diet containing fruits and whole grains, can help protect telomeres. Foods such as fatty fish, flax, chia and sesame seeds, green tea, broccoli, red grapes, tomatoes, and other vitamin C-rich and E-rich foods are also a good source of antioxidants.
Caloric restriction and occasional fasting were also shown to be beneficial. No wonder so many religious and cultural traditions include fasting once or several times a year.
Moderate exercise also has a significant and lasting effect on telomere length. Aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, running) is proven to be the most effective. There are some studies that show strength training to also have anti-aging benefits through telomere lengthening (in addition to its effect on mitochondrial density). On another hand, excessive exercise (such as running triathlons) is negatively correlated with telomere length.
Meditation has also been shown to offer significant benefits for telomere length in several studies. A lot has been written about the effect of meditation on longevity in the press. Even if meditation is not for you, try other ways of stress elimination – being outdoors in nature, gardening and spending quality time with friends.
So it all comes down to good old-fashioned advice known by generations before us – exercise, eat healthily and lead a balanced stress-free life – cheers to that!