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Telomeres: What Is It And Does It Influence Aging?

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Besides looking at the mirror, another objective way of telling how fast a person is aging is through telomere testing. Before anything else, what are telomeres? Telomeres are sections of DNA at the end of each chromosome that serves as a cap to your genetic material. Every time a cell replicates, its telomere will become shorter. Shorter telomeres imply a shorter life span for the cell.

What effect does telomere length have on my health and wellness? Age adjusted telomere length is the best method to date to assess biological age using structural analysis of chromosomal change in the telomere. Serial evaluation of telomere length is an indicator of how rapidly one ages relative to a normal population. Therapies directed at slowing the loss of telomere length may slow aging and age-related diseases.

Does diet have any effect on telomere length and repair? An inflammatory diet, or one that increases oxidative stress will shorten telomeres faster. This would include refined carbohydrates, fast foods, processed foods, sodas, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and saturated fats. A diet with large amount and variety of antioxidants that improve oxidative defense and reduces oxidative stress will slow telomere shortening. Consumption of 10 servings of fresh and relatively uncooked fruits and vegetables , mixed fiber, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, cold water fish and high quality vegetable proteins can prevent premature shortening. In addition, caloric restriction is advised combined with an exercise program. Fasting for 12 hours each night at least 4 days per week may also be protective.

What lifestyle modifications are likely to be helpful? One should achieve ideal body weight and body composition with low body fat (less than 22% for women and less than 16% for men). Decreasing visceral fat is very important. Regular aerobic and resistance exercise for at least one hour per day, sleeping for at least 8 hours per night, stress reduction, discontinuation of all tobacco products and bioidentical hormone therapy may decrease the rate of telomere loss.

How do you measure telomere length? The Patient Telomere Score is calculated based on white blood cells (T-lymphocytes). This is the average compared to telomere length on lymphocytes from a sample of the American population in the same age range. The higher the telomere score, the “younger” the cells. A Telomere Score that is above the average line is desirable.

What can I do to reduce my rate of telomere loss? Shorter telomeres have been associated with metabolic abnormalities, obesity, and several degenerative diseases including cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. In vitro studies have shown that telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which will shorten telomere length and enhance cellular aging. Minimizing associated risk factors that are linked to shortened telomere activity is recommended and include:

Reduce oxidative stress

Correct micronutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin D

Change sedentary lifestyle, increase physical activity

Avoid weight gain or obesity

Correct insulin resistance

Germs can make you fat!

That’s a strong statement! Well, it’s only one of the possible reasons behind getting fat besides overeating and being lazy (c’mon, let’s call a spade a spade rather using the PC term, sedentary lifestyle). According to studies, germs such as viruses and bacteria could actually make you gain weight. One study implicated the role of viruses in causing obesity, thus making it contagious. This study was mentioned in the January 2006 issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, published by the American Physiology Society. Another study done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that the human adenovirus Ad-37 causes obesity in chicken. Then, there’s another study mentioned in an article on Newsweek magazine. This time, it’s a “bacteria-made-me-fat” idea that Jeffrey Gordon and colleagues of Washington University reported in Nature magazine stating that obese and slim mice have different populations of gut bacteria. These germs are the “fat-causing” Firmicutes and the “slimming” Bacteroidetes. The article mentions how each of these bacteria can also be found in humans causing a person to lose weight or gain weight, depending on which one is the predominant gut bacteria. Interesting, huh? Anyway, this is still a relatively new concept behind (an infectious source) the causes of obesity. If you think about it however, 15-20 years ago, people would never think of an infectious cause of ulcers (H. pylori) but now, it’s a well-accepted fact. Same thing with C. sanguineum causing calcifications and other organisms causing “non-infectious” diseases. Anyway, as one researcher put it succinctly, “Eat right, exercise, wash you hands.” I toast to that!

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