The Telomere Effect, A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier and Longer by Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD and Elissa Epel, PhD
Telomeres are the capping structure at the end of your DNA that make up your chromosomes. Telomeres contribute to the state of your brain, to your mood, to the speed of your ageing and to the risk for neurodegenerative diseases.
We can change the way we age at a cellular level through telomere science.
Telomeres, the ends of your DNA, affect how quickly your cells age and die. As your telomeres get shorter, your life gets clouded with disease.
A study has shown that comprehensive lifestyle changes may actually increase the length of our telomeres, thus beginning to reverse ageing on a cellular level.
Telomeres throughout the body shorten as we age, which contributes to most diseases of ageing.
There are other ways cells become dysfunctional or die early and there are other factors that contribute to human ageing but telomere attrition is a clear and an early contributor to the ageing process but it is possible to slow or even reverse this attrition.
Human ageing is a puzzle made up of many pieces. The understanding of telomeres has helped scientists see how the pieces fit together.
Why do people age differently?
Looking at our health at a cellular level then into the heart of the cell, into the chromosomes, where you’ll find telomeres, repeating segments of non-coding DNA that live at the ends of your chromosomes. Telomeres determine how well your cells age.
The way you live affects the way your telomeres age. The foods you eat, your responses to emotional challenges, the amount of exercise you get and whether you were exposed to childhood stress all play a part in telomere length.
Telomerase is the enzyme responsible for restoring the DNA lost during cell divisions. It makes and replenishes telomeres.
The more stress you are under, the shorter your telomeres and the lower your telomerase levels.
Studies have found that lifestyle changes can have an effect on telomere maintenance as soon as 3 weeks to 4 months.
Your cells are listening to your thoughts
If you feel challenged by stress rather than threatened by it and you recover quickly after an event rather than allowing it into the rest of your life you have ‘stress resilience.’
High fear combined with low coping resources turn on a strong hormonal and inflammatory stress response. Threat stress involves a set of mental and physiological responses that can, over time, endanger your telomeres.
There is high-quality evidence that meditation, chanting and other mindfulness practices can reduce stress, stimulate telomerase and perhaps even help your telomeres to grow.
Shorter telomeres = weaker immune system
Shorter telomeres = more inflammation
This refers to severe stress that lasts for years, not isolated stressful situations.
By distancing your thoughts from your emotions, you can convert a threat response into a positive feeling of challenge. Think of the situation in in terms of big picture.
Pessimism is a risk factor for poor health and when these people develop a disease it usually progresses faster.
Mindfulness meditation techniques produce a calm mind.
People with the strongest sense of purpose in life have a more resilient stress response. The purpose of life is not to be happy but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all. Having a life purpose helps telomerase.
One personality trait that is good for your telomeres is conscientiousness. Conscientiousness in children predicts longevity decades later.
Increasing your stress resiliency – through purpose in life, optimism, uni-tasking, mindfulness and self-compassion -l combats negative thinking and excessive stress reactivity.
Depression and anxiety are linked to shorter telomeres.
Help Your Body Protect its Cells
Personal wellbeing and lifestyle factors related to telomere length.
- Current major stressful exposures such as ongoing job stress, daily extreme stress, serving as a fulltime caregiver for an ill or disabled family member and feeling overwhelmed by it or regularly feeling unsafe in your neighbourhood.
- Clinical Levels of emotional stress (depression or anxiety)
- Social Support from significant others, family, friends and community members
- Poor sleep quality and shorter sleep durations (less than 6 hours a night) puts you at high risk
- People with sleep apnoea are at high risk of having shorter telomeres
- Getting at least 7 hours sleep or more is associated with longer telomeres, especially if you are older
- With sufficient sleep you will feel less hungry, less emotional and lose fewer telomere base pairs
- Telomeres do not need extreme fitness regimens to thrive
- Sedentary people have shorter telomeres than people who are more active
- Moderate cardiovascular exercise High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or having a moderate fitness level have significant telomere benefits
- A whole-food diet that features unprocessed meats, fish, fruit and vegetables, eggs and whole grains, legumes and omega-3 fatty acids gives an excellent protection
- People who follow the Mediterranean diet have longer telomeres
- Apart from Stevia all artificial sweeteners are toxic
Sugar and processed meats are linked to shorter telomeres and supplements such as antioxidants and vitamins are associated with longer telomeres
Homocysteine levels go up with ageing and many studies have shown that having high homocysteine is associated with having short telomeres.
B vitamins appear to reduce homocysteine
Oxidative stress damages telomeres – antioxidants give protection
Having optimal Vitamin D levels = longer telomere length
Being overweight is not linked to shorter telomeres. What really matters is your metabolic health. If you have three or more risk factors you get labelled with “metabolic syndrome”
Poor metabolic health
- Belly fat – people with belly fat develop shorter telomeres over the years
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
Weight cycling appears to shorten telomeres. Obsessing about calories is stressful and probably bad for your telomeres.
Telomeres are like the canaries in the mine. They are vulnerable to their chemical environment and their length is an indicator of our life long exposure to toxins. The greater the cumulative exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, the shorter the telomeres
- Exposure to pesticides and herbicides
- Traffic related pollution
- Heavy metals and other harmful ingredients in personal care products and make-up
- Household cleaning products
Reduce your toxic exposure
- Use ventilation when cooking
- Eat organic wherever possible
- Use safe cleaning products, including washing powder, dishwashing liquid and dishwasher powder
- Use safe personal care products including toothpaste, shampoo and make-up
- Use non-toxic house paints