06 Nov 6 Tips For Growing Young (Instead of Old)
The legend of a Fountain of Youth, the fabled wellspring that restores the youth of anyone who drinks or bathes in its waters, has been recounted the world over for many millennia, dating back to the 5th century BC. History books recount (incorrectly) the adventures of the 16th century Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de León, said to have travelled to the new world in search of the magic elixir (modern historians contradict this outdated tale, suggesting that old Ponce was interested not in longevity, but in political and financial gain).
Humans continue to search endlessly for the contemporary version of a fountain of youth. Green tea, Kombucha, hydration, exfoliation, Botox — the list grows with every new diet craze, juice cleanse or aesthetic treatment.
The irony of this centuries-long quest is that the answer to cheating the aging process cannot be found outside of us, but within us.
The key to deceiving the aging process is found in segments of our DNA called telomeres.
Telomeres are sections of DNA found at the ends of our chromosomes that allow chromosomes to be replicated properly. Telomeres have been compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces because they form a cap that keeps chromosome ends from sticking to each other and fraying (which would scramble and destroy precious genetic information). Without telomeres, important DNA would be lost every time a cell divides.
The tricky thing about telomeres is that each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter¾and short telomeres have been associated with premature cellular aging. When telomeres get too short, cells can no longer divide, which causes tissues to degenerate, which contributes to the distressing changes we see in aging.
Shorter telomeres can accelerate the pace of aging and onset of age-associated diseases
The good news is that there is mounting evidence suggesting that one can protect (or even lengthen) telomeres with simple lifestyle changes, thus turning back the internal clock.
6 things that you can do to help telomeres stay long and protective:
- Take Your Omega-3s! Research indicates that omega-3s, found in fatty fish may protect telomeres by reducing inflammation and oxidative damage. Since eating fish isn’t always the easiest (or even healthiest!) way of getting omega-3 fatty acids, supplementation sometimes becomes necessary to achieve the full anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits.
- Reduce stress. It’s no coincidence that people who are stressed over long periods tend to look worn-down and old. Research shows that psychological stress leads to shorter telomeres. Relaxation techniques have been shown to reverse telomere shortening. In a study of people who were highly stressed from caring for a loved one with dementia, calming yoga and meditation boosted telomerase activity (an enzyme that lengthens telomeres) by 43%.1
- Stop smoking. Yet another reason to quit: a study showed that for each pack-year smoked (defined as twenty cigarettes smoked everyday for one year), 18% of telomere length was lost.2
- Walking as little as 30 minutes a day, six days a week has been associated with increasing telomere length by approximately 10 percent.3
- Lose weight. Research shows that obesity may accelerate aging, and highlights the importance of maintaining a desirable weight in adulthood.4 Oxidative stress and inflammation have been suggested as an underlying mechanism for the association between obesity and short telomeres.2
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods. A recent study concluded that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with longer telomere length, a marker of biological aging.5 The traditional Mediterranean diet includes a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and unrefined grains, a high intake of olive oil but a low intake of saturated fats, a moderately high intake of fish, a low intake of dairy products, meat, and poultry and a regular but moderate intake of alcohol (specifically wine with meals).6
Ponce de León certainly would agree that this is a yummy way to preserve telomere length and is the new fountain of youth!
The takeaway: “Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate. So often people think ‘Oh, I have bad genes, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ But findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.” ~Dean Ornish, MD, UCSF clinical professor of medicine, and founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.
- Meditation Increases Telomerase Activity and Improves Mental Health, Natural Medicine Journal, June 2013 Vol. 5 Issue 6.
- Obesity, cigarette smoking, and telomere length in women, The Lancet, August 2005, Volume 366, No. 9486.
- Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging, University of California San Francisco.
- Obesity and Weight Gain in Adulthood and Telomere Length, Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
- Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study, The BMJ, 2014;349:g6674.
- Willett WC, Sacks F, Trichopoulou A, Drescher G, Ferro-Luzzi A, Helsing E, et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. Am J Clin Nutr1995;61(6 suppl):1402-6S.
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