Seven Ways to Slow Telomere Shortening
The future of antiaging is nigh with minds like Bill Andrews, Ph.D., and Isagenix Founder and Master Formulator John Anderson on the scene of telomere biology research.
Telomeres are non-coding sequences of repetitive DNA at the end of chromosomes that are linked to human lifespan — and Dr. Andrews and Anderson are seeking out natural compounds that will turn on expression of telomerase, an enzyme that restores the length of telomeres.
Keeping telomeres long by reversing age-related shortening can potentially slow the onset of poor health and increase human lifespan.
However, as we await the latest developments in antiaging strategies such as inducing telomerase activity, there are a few lifestyle changes we can make to slow down telomere shortening as much as possible.
In our interview with Dr. Andrews, a molecular biologist who has studied aging at a molecular level for more than 15 years, he shared seven of the best known ways science knows of now to slow down telomere shortening to live longer:
- Don’t ever smoke. Smoking is not only hazardous to your lungs and cardiovascular health, but is also found to increase rate of telomere shortening, which can lead to dysfunction and instability of chromosomes.
- De-stress your life. The more stress you have in your life, the greater risk of increasing the rate of telomere shortening and aging more quickly. How to slow it down? As simple as it might sound, the key is to always have a positive outlook on life. Plus, enjoy a vacation once in a while, enjoy friends and social activities, receive plenty of sleep every night, and try meditation.
- Exercise regularly. By increasing amounts of physical activity, especially intense physical activity, research shows you could keep your telomeres long and healthy, even buffering the effects of chronic stress.
- Get your antioxidants daily. When high amounts of free radicals attack cells (causing oxidative stress), they leave no stone unturned making chromosomes and their telomeres vulnerable to shortening. You can best protect yourself by getting plenty of antioxidants in your diet from eating fruits and vegetables daily and supplements.
- Never go without fish oil. Fish oil contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are well-known for being healthy to the heart, but recent evidence has shown that increasing amounts in the diet is associated also with slowing telomere shortening over time. You can get enough by eating fish a couple of times per week and by supplementing with long-chain omega-3s daily.
- Get enough of the “sunshine vitamin.” Several discoveries have made vitamin D the most popular nutrient of the decade because of its many benefits including an association with longer telomere length. You can make sure you’re getting enough by practicing safe sun exposure and supplementing with vitamin D daily.
- Practice safe weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to keep telomeres long. Incorporating Isagenix products into your weight-loss program such as cleansing and replacing meals with IsaLean shakes and bars is helpful for losing weight and slowing telomere shortening.
How Oxidative Stress Shortens Telomeres
Can you imagine entering the doctor’s office one day and obtaining a blood test that measures your biological age, as a better indicator of health than chronological age? That day could arrive soon with tests that measure the length of telomeres.
Substantial evidence has led to findings that premature aging and its core cellular mechanisms are governed by the onset of telomere shortening (1-5). In this article, we hope to help increase understanding of the relationship between chronic oxidative stress and telomere instability.
The glutathione (GSH)-dependent antioxidant system is the cell’s primary defense against oxidative stress, and plays a major role in detoxification and bolstering the body’s immune system. Emerging data are helping to explain the role of the GSH-redox cycle for preserving telomeres.
Structurally, telomeres are formed by non-coding DNA sequences along with specialized proteins that act as protective caps at the physical ends of chromosomes. Human telomeric DNA consists of repeated sequences of TTAGG and extends over several thousand base pairs. Because guanine-rich sequences are more sensitive and less capable of DNA repair, telomeres are more vulnerable to oxidation.
Telomeres fold back onto themselves in a loop to provide functional stability. The telomeric DNA is synthesized by the enzyme telomerase, the absence of which results in a progressive erosion. Evidence indicates that chronic oxidative stress not only causes progressive damage to cellular membranes, proteins, and molecules, but also induces the slowing down of existing telomerase activity and accelerates telomere shortening (1&2).
Chronic oxidative stress develops into a state of progressive telomere shortening induced by elevated homocysteine levels, and reduced glutathione, or an otherwise compromised GSH-redox cycle.
Lower amounts of reduced glutathione, and diminished activity of the enzymes GSH peroxidase and catalase, cause a failure to protect cell components from damaging peroxides (1-3). The mitochondriabecome dysfunctional, producing increasing amounts of free radicals and less ATP energy (1-3). Together, these effects lead the cell to cease division or appropriate function, known as replicative senescence.
Guarding the GSH-antioxidant System
Because the GSH-antioxidant system is the predominant guardian against oxidative stress, it is proposed that maintaining its integrity can support against telomere erosion and “stress-induced” premature onset of accelerated aging.
Scientific research suggests that a variety of consistent behaviors in humans in-vivo are available to alter the amount of oxidative stress placed on cells of the body.
Among factors thought to adversely affect telomeres are smoking, drinking heavily, obesity, and chronic psychological stress (1-3). On the other hand, meditation, socialization, and regular exercise are associated with longer telomeres (1-3).
In addition, studies suggest diet and supplementation habits can be help preserve telomere integrity. Some choices linked with longer telomeres are:
- consuming higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids
- obtaining higher amounts of vitamin D, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet higher in dietary fiber (particularly insoluble fiber)
- drinking green tea regularly
- and taking a quality multivitamin (containing sufficient amounts of B vitamins, vitamins A, C, and E) daily (4)
Whey to Glutathione
Another method to gain optimal protection against oxidative stress and telomere attrition is by using methods to naturally increase the levels of glutathione in the body by way of regular ingestion of whey protein, according to recent studies (5-7).
“Bioactive whey protein,” as one study calls it, provides a high concentration of the amino acids cysteine, glutamate, and glycine. These amino acid precursors are used in the synthesis of glutathione by the enzyme GSH-synthase. Several studies have shown that bioactive whey protein can dramatically raise the levels of glutathione in the cells of the body without side effects (5 & 6). Increases in levels of circulating glutathione from whey are associated with a stronger immune system and greater capacity of detoxification.
Whey also offers other anti-aging benefits such as protection against sarcopenia (the loss of muscle and strength with age) and by supporting weight management through increases of thermogenesisand satiety.
Supplementing to Optimize Telomere Protection
Supplementing with antioxidant vitamins and minerals supports activity of antioxidant enzymes that can assist in protecting cells and their components, including telomeres, against oxidative stress.
GSH peroxidase plays a major role using GSH as its reducing agent in detoxification of peroxides (types of reactive oxygen species, such as hydrogen peroxide), which can inflict harm to cell membranes, proteins, and telomeric DNA.
The oxidized GSH is then recycled by another enzyme, GSH reductase, which uses nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) as its coenzyme and reducing agent. Catalase is also an enzyme that acts as an efficient detoxifier of hydrogen peroxide, while superoxide dismutases (SOD) are a class of enzymes that act to quench superoxide, a highly reactive form of oxygen, and convert it to hydrogen peroxide or stabilized oxygen.
It’s notable that selenium, niacin, zinc, and copper are important dietary factors because these enzymes rely on them to function.
Interestingly, data are emerging that particular dietary factors and supplements could act to promote antioxidant enzyme activity further and thereby further support telomere integrity. These supplements will be subject of future blog posts.
- Kurz et al. Chronic oxidative stress compromises telomere integrity and accelerates the onset of senescence in human endothelial cells. J Cell Sci 2004. doi: 10.1242/jcs.01097.
- Tchirkov & Lansdorp. Role of oxidative stress in telomere shortening in cultured fibroblasts from normal individuals and patients with ataxia-telangiectasia. Hum Mol Gen 2003. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddg023
- Sahin E, Colla S, Liesa M et al. Telomere dysfunction induces metabolic and mitochondrial compromise. Nature 2011;470:359-65. doi:10.1038/nature09787
- Xu Q, Parks CG, DeRoo LA, Cawthon RM, Sandler DP, Chen H. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1857-63. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26986
- Kent et al. Toxicol in Vitro 2003 Feb;17(1):27-33. doi:10.1016/S0887-2333(02)00119-4
- Micke P et al. Eur J Clin Invest 2001 Feb;32(2):171-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2362.2001.00781.x
Is There a Link Between Telomeres and Dietary Fiber?
New evidence published in Archives of Internal Medicine has it that eating more dietary fiber, particularly from whole grains, could lead to a longer life. The large study found a high-fiber diet reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as infectious and respiratory illnesses.
This is great news for those eating diets high in fiber. What’s also interesting is that another reason why dietary fiber is protective to health is because of its influence on telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes, and their length is considered the closest way to measure lifespan in humans.
As reported in a prospective cohort study published in the March 2010 edition of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), telomere length is positively associated with higher fiber intake in women. Dietary fiber from whole grains appears to provide the strongest benefit.
In addition, in the AJCN study, the researchers found telomere length was negatively associated with increased waist circumference and higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet.
Because the study was only observational, the authors reported that further investigation is necessary to further illuminate the link between dietary fiber and telomere length.
Whole grains examples are rolled oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, and wild rice. The grains contain the entire grain kernel, which include the bran, germ and endosperm. Less than 5 percent of Americans consume the minimum recommended amount of whole grains, which is about 3 ounce-equivalents per day, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Americans barely receive half the amounts of dietary fiber recommended daily. How much dietary fiber is enough? The recommended amounts are 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams of fiber for men.
The AJCN study was among the first to document the relationship between diet and telomere length. The authors of the study concluded that the results provided more support that an improved diet and lifestyle would indeed help to slow the aging process.
“Telomere shortening is accelerated by oxidative stress and inflammation, and diet affects both of these processes,” the authors report.
Studies have also found that the following changes in diet and lifestyle are all positively associated with telomere length:
- not smoking
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a normal body weight
- healthy management of stress
- consuming sufficient long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from fish weekly
- maintaining a healthy vitamin D status
- consuming a quality multivitamin daily
- consuming antioxidants such as CoQ10 and green tea
1. Park Y, Subar AF, Hollenbeck A, Schatzkin A. Dietary Fiber Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Arch Intern Med 2011.
2. Cassidy A, De V, I, Liu Y et al. Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:1273-80.
Can Taking a Multivitamin Daily Protect Telomeres and Slow Aging?
Telomeres are protective, repeating sequences of DNA found at the end of chromosomes, and their length decreases with each cell division, making them a proposed marker of biological aging. Over time their shortening results in cellular aging and eventual cell loss increasing the risk of age-related breakdown of the body.
There are several diet and lifestyle habits known to help reduce the rate of telomere loss — such as quitting smoking, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough antioxidants, vitamin D and fish oil in the diet — but it was not known until just last yearwhether or not supplementation with a daily multivitamin would help protect telomeres and slow aging.
National Institute of Health researchers were the first to report, in a study published in the March 2009 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, epidemiological evidence that regular multivitamin use was associated with longer telomeres among women.
The study found that when compared to non-users of multivitamins, the women who used multivitamins had an average of 5.1 percent longer telomeres, which can translate to a difference of a potential 9.8 years of age-related telomere loss.
To eliminate any variables that might have confounded their results, the authors were careful to exclude women who smoked, were obese, suffered from diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or who had reported a “fair or poor” health status.
In their report, the researchers write, “sixty-five percent of the women had used multivitamins at least once per month, and most (74 percent) took multivitamins on a daily basis” and that the multivitamins accounted for a significant amount of their total vitamin and mineral intake.
The micronutrients most likely to have an important role in preserving telomeres, wrote the scientists, were vitamins C, D, E and most of the B vitamins.
Based on prior cell culture and animal studies, the authors suggest that the higher dietary intake of vitamins C and E is thought to have made an impact on slowing telomere loss due to protection against free radicals, which cause oxidative stress.
Vitamin D is thought to play a role in reducing telomere loss through protective actions involving gene expression of several cellular pathways.
The B vitamins (such as folate and B12) are thought to act on slowing telomere loss by reducing amounts of the amino acid homocysteine in plasma.
Previously, epidemiological studies have suggested multivitamins are helpful for obtaining the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intakes of several vitamins and minerals for long-term optimal health and wellness.
Currently, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, more than 35 percent of adults in the U.S. take multivitamin-mineral supplements.
However, not all multivitamins are the same — as the quality of multivitamins can vary.
A multivitamin should be designed with features for rapid disintegration and improved absorption. In addition, it should provide vitamins and minerals in dosages and forms considered optimal according to the latest science on healthy aging.
Telomere biology is an active area of research among scientists who are seeking to understand more about the aging process and how to improve the quality of life for older adults.
Xu Q, Parks CG, DeRoo LA, Cawthon RM, Sandler DP, Chen H. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1857-63.