What if it is possible to turn back the internal clock? What if we do have some control on how quickly we age? Nobel Laureate and molecular biologist, Elizabeth Blackburn, claims that the key to slowing the aging process lies within our cells- specifically in telomeres, which are cap-like regions at the ends of our chromosomes.
HOW DO WE AGE?
It turns out that telomeres play an important role in health and aging. Telomeres are the tips at the ends of our chromosomes that protect our DNA from deterioration. They are like the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces, or like the erasers at the end of pencils. Over time, as our cells divide over and over again, the telomeres become shorter and shorter. When the telomeres get too short to work properly, cells in your body start to malfunction or die, and the diseases of old age set in. Shorter telomeres are associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including various forms of cancer, stroke, dementia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Accelerated telomere shortening, which leads to premature aging, can occur with stress, poor dietary choices and inflammation. But increasing telomere length is also possible- In 2015, Stanford researchers found that extending telomere length turns back the internal clock in those cells. And growing evidence is pointing to certain lifestyle behaviours, aspects of nutrition and nutraceuticals/ herbs that can increase telomere length and essentially slow down the aging process.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
- Get adequate sleep. One study found that telomeres were on average 6% shorter in men sleeping 5 hours or fewer compared with those sleeping more than 7 hours per night. In another study, insomnia was found to be associated with shorter telomere length in older adults. Click here for tips on how to get a better night’s sleep.
- Regular exercise. A 2008 study involving more than 2400 twins compared the telomere length in those that exercised regularly versus the sedentary ones. The researchers found that after 1 year, based on telomere length, those who exercised in their leisure time on a regular basis were biologically younger than those who didn’t.
- Intense, unmanaged stress can cause rapid, premature aging. Long work hours, excessive school or work pressure, life crises and relationship issues are among the many stressors we often face in life. A number of studies have linked stress to shorter telomeres. To combat the detrimental effects of stress, try taking adaptogens. Adaptogens are medicinal herbs that help our bodies adapt to stress, resist fatigue and reduce anxiety. They have been used for many centuries in Asia (mainly China and India) to strengthen the body, improve energy and boost resilience in the face of stress. Adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola and Astragalus have been reported to prevent telomere shortening and even lengthen telomeres, thereby decelerating the aging process and promoting longevity.
- Take your omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids not only protect your heart, play a crucial role in brain function (memory, cognition) and benefit eye health, but it turns out this essential nutrient also affects telomere length. Studies have shown that higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a slower rate of telomere shortening. One particular study showed that in patients with coronary heart disease, those with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had longer telomeres.
- A Lancet study in 2013 showed that changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support can result in longer telomeres, even in patients with a history of cancer. In the study, men who had prostate cancer were divided into two groups. After 5 years, the group that adopted the following lifestyle changes experienced an increase in telomere length of approximately 10%:
- a plant-based diet
- moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week)
- stress reduction exercises (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation)
- Weekly support group session
The men in the control group who were not asked to alter their lifestyle had measurably shorter telomeres. “Telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases,” co-senior author Dr. Peter Carroll said. “We believe that increases in telomere length may help to prevent these conditions and perhaps even lengthen lifespan.”
Click here to read more about natural anti-aging strategies.
A healthy lifestyle and diet are vital to preventing premature aging. But often times, it’s easier said than done. If you need help in restoring optimal health or are interested in personalized anti-aging solutions, talk to your licensed naturopathic doctor. Click here to learn how Dr. Yik can help you.