A telomere is a sequence of molecules (DNA in this case) that are at the ends of chromosomes to protect it from damage during replication. A long telomere equates to a more times it can replicate without errors. Shorter telomeres mean that each time a chromosome replicates it has more of a chance of errors. This is part of the aging process at the cellular level. Short telomeres equate to fewer possible cell replications and thus shorter survival. Long telomeres equate to more cellular replication and longevity.
Telomeres are designed to shorten as we age. Each time a cell replicates the telomere shorten. Telomeres are a way to make sure creatures (human and otherwise) do not live forever. It makes sure we age and eventually our cells die (programmed cell death is known as apoptosis).
Billy Joel sang that only the good die young. However a just released study entitled “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” refutes those concepts.
The above study shows that living a healthier lifestyle leads to longer telomeres. (Or to be more specifically longer telomeres in men with low risk prostate cancer.) Longer telomeres equate to longer life.
Granted this was a small pilot study with only 35 participants. But the results are really common sense. 10 of the participants engaged in a healthier lifestyle for 5 years and experienced a 10% lengthening of their telomeres. 25 participants did not change their lifestyle and experienced a 3% shortening of their telomeres.
The 10 participants ate a mostly-vegan diet rich in plant-based protein, fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, and legumes—with only 10 percent of their calories coming from fat. The men also were told to walk or get some form of exercise for 30 minutes, six days a week, and they attended hour-long support-group sessions on a weekly basis. In addition to all of this, they practiced an hour of stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga stretches, or progressive muscle relaxation every day, which probably also helped them sleep better. Twice monthly sessions with study support staff helped the men stick with these lifestyle patterns for five years, though some were more compliant than others.
We do not know what the lifestyle of the 10 participants was before the study. If they ate a lot of meat and potatoes (an conventional meat) then a vegan diet may do them well. But I doubt that a vegan diet would be good for most people. And I question how much the diet contributed to the lengthening of the telomeres. I would bet if all the lifestyle changes were the same and they ate a Mediterranean diet with meat they would get the same or even more significant improvement in the telomere length.
Although I am a nutritionist and know that food plays a significant role in our health I do believe the emotional and physical lifestyle changes played a larger role in the lengthening of the telomeres. There is data to back up this idea as shown in the videos below.
If you are under high stress then exercise is imperative. Studies show that exercise lengthens telomeres. Another study showed exercise for people under high stress had even more of a benefit than people that do not consider themselves under high stress.
I wonder about all these ‘smartphones’ and gadgets we have in the early 21st century. We already know that iPads and other computers can have negative consequences on sleep. All the stimulation we experience certainly does not reduce stress. I have a hard time believing the prediction that we will live a longer life in the future just because of all the high tech mental pollution.
So instead of taking a bunch of expensive “anti-aging” supplements and looking for “Life Extension” we can change our habits and emotional state without spending a dime and potentially having a longer and happier life.
Yours In Health
George Mandler CLT CNS LDN LicAc