Modern medicine and science are helping us to extend our life spans, but within our life spans are 2 different phases: your “health span” and your “disease span.” The first part of life is filled with health and wellness. Many of us will at some point in our life switch over to our “disease span” which is the time period where we manage or suffer from chronic diseases. After the age of 60, chronic diseases skyrocket – heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease. The goal of an anti-aging practice is to start early in life to extend the health span – not to manage multiple medications during the disease span.
What are the causes of aging and disease? The nitty gritty causes of aging are systemic inflammation, telomere shortening, mitochondrial impairment, and an accelerated epigenetic clock. Today we’re going to talk about telomeres.
Telomeres are the caps at the end of our chromosomes that provide protection for our DNA. The longer the telomeres, the healthier our cells. Similar to the way the plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces prevent laces from becoming unraveled, telomeres prevent our DNA from becoming unraveled. Our cells will stop dividing and replicating if the telomeres become too short. Telomeres are sensitive to oxidative stress and are predictors of most diseases of aging. Longer telomeres predict a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
One caveat to keep in mind is that cancer is simply the state of cells dividing out of control. If we lengthen the telomeres of cancer cells, we may allow those cancers to divide and grow unchecked. Longer telomere length is known to be associated with a few cancers, eg glioma.
The average life span for a man is 78 years and for a woman is 83 years. Females are born with longer telomeres. When we measure women’s telomeres, they are on average 8 years “longer” by telomeric aging. Estrogen may play a role in this beneficial characteristic. Estrogen is an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory and protects telomeres and mitochondria.
Telomerase is a repair enzyme that helps to rebuild and lengthen the protective telomeres. Estradiol (one form of estrogen) and testosterone increase the activity of telomerase. Research shows that the later a woman’s menopause, the longer her telomeres. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have shorter telomeres than healthy control subjects.
How can I lengthen my telomeres (extend my health span)?
Eat whole foods – lots of vegetables and fruit, and give your liver a break by limiting sugar and alcohol.
Get at least 6 hours of good quality sleep per night
Exercise. High intensity interval training seems to be the best for telomeres, but any movement is good.
Avoid stress. OK, so I know this is another “duh” moment. And of course we often have no control over stressors thrown at us, but…. We can at least try to manage our reactions to stress by utilizing tools such as rest, meditation, good sleep, regular exercise, and avoidance of media that hurts our hearts.
Nurture your social network. Research shows that adults over the age of 65 have longer telomeres when they have good solid social support systems. We also know that loneliness is as harmful to our health as smoking.
Avoid endocrine disruptors found in BPA (bisphenol A) and plastics which lessen the biologic advantage women have from estrogen. Plastics that mimic and block estrogen receptors cause shortening of telomeres. Natural estrogen protects telomeres.
How can I sabotage my telomeres (ensure my disease span starts sooner)?
Sit all day
Drink lots of sugary sodas. Eat processed meat.
Stay up too late to get my 7-8 hours of sleep
Allow harmful thoughts, concepts and images into my life via screens.
We have one life to live, so let's love it and make it last!
Lecture by Dr. Elissa Epel, co-author of The Telomere Effect