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Medical science has made incredible progress in understanding how the human body works. One area of research that has received a lot of attention is how the aging process works. Although the aging process is complicated and involves many facets, it appears the length of a cell part known as "telomere" plays a crucial role in determining whether or not a person may develop health conditions and/or diseases as they age. In addition to telomere length, many other factors associated with aging play a role in determining long-term health. These include free radicals that quicken the pace of aging within the body, diet, and the amount of exercise a person engages in as they grow older.
While humans cannot stop the aging process altogether, research suggests eating a healthy diet and supplementing with specific nutrients, along with routine exercise, can actually slow the human aging process. This, in turn, can provide a better quality of life for people living in their golden years.
Telomere Length, Aging Rate, and the Onset of Age-Related Diseases
A telomere is a repetitive DNA sequence located at the end of chromosomes in the human cell. A telomere acts as a protective cap that prevents damage to chromosomes as cells replicate. Chromosomes are molecules in cells that store DNA (genetic information) that is used by the cell as instructions for how to replicate. When telomeres are an adequate length, they allow chromosomes to make healthy copies of cells, which can prevent or delay the onset of age-related diseases and conditions.
There are a limited number of times (between 50 to 70) that telomeres can protect chromosomes in cells. This is because telomeres lose a bit of their protective DNA each time a cell replicates and, eventually, reach a length that is too short to protect chromosomes in cells. This renders a cell incapable of creating copies of itself, a condition called senescence. Once a cell reaches senescence, it is called a senescent cell. Such a cell remains alive but in a state of decay that leads to the aging of the cell.
Throughout most of a person’s lifetime, cell senescence and clearance (removal) of senescence cells by the body’s immune system occurs at a rate that is manageable and beneficial to a person’s overall health. It’s beneficial due to the senescent cell’s role in wound healing and cancer prevention, as senescent cells that could become cancerous are removed by the immune system and are replaced by healthy cells.
As a person ages, the number of senescent cells increases, and the ability of the body to remove them decreases, especially in people with poorly functioning immune systems. At this point, the healthy balance of senescent cells and their natural removal breaks down and senescent cells accumulate in tissues and organs. This is one of the causes of aging and age-related diseases. This is because senescent cells secrete proteins that cause inflammation in surrounding cells, which can then cause various cancers and age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries) and osteoarthritis (disintegration of protective cartilage in joints), as well as type 2 diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, degeneration of internal organs, and damage to DNA. Senescent cells also affect the immune system in a negative way and reduce its ability to fight infections.
Can We Slow the Rate of Telomere Shortening and the Aging Process
It is lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy diet, supplementing with beneficial vitamins and minerals, and exercise that are key to slowing the rate of telomere shortening. Making the right choices will subsequently slow the rate of aging on the cellular level, which will have positive ramifications throughout the body by slowing the aging process and delaying or preventing age-related diseases. Cells can only divide 50 to 70 times in a person’s lifetime. Reducing the rate of telomere shortening, which allows cells to continue to divide as a person ages can delay the onset of age-related diseases and result in a longer lifespan.
A study titled “Telomeres, Lifestyle, Cancer, and Aging” published in 2011 suggests that “Recent studies indicate that telomere length, which can be affected by various lifestyle factors, can affect the pace of aging and onset of age-related diseases.”
The specific findings of the study as they relate to human health include:
- The length of telomeres naturally shortens with age as cells replicate.
- The rate of telomere shortening decreases or increases in relation to specific lifestyle choices (e.g., the healthiness of diet, amount of exercise).
- The ongoing shortening of telomeres causes a negative transformation of cells within the body that affects the overall health and lifespan of a person.
- Short telomeres in elderly people have been observed to coincide with increased incidence of diseases and a shorter life span.
- Lifestyle choices, which include eating a healthy diet, supplementation, and staying active, can reduce the rate of telomere shortening, allowing cells to continue to divide as a person ages.
Slow the Rate of Telomere Shortening by Reducing Oxidative Stress
The following are some ways to delay the shortening of your telomeres by reducing oxidative stress, which will help you maintain good health into your senior years.
- Keep Your Weight at a Healthy Level. Obesity has been found through research to shorten telomeres, knocking years off the life of obese people. Research on mice found that overweight mice had higher levels of oxidative stress, which increases the rate of telomere shortening.
- Exercise on a Regular Basis. Exercise can reduce oxidative stress and decrease telomere length.
- Manage Chronic Stress. Take measures to reduce your overall stress level to slow telomere shortening.
- Eat a Healthy Diet. Foods that contain a lot of antioxidants, such as vitamin C (oranges, peppers), anthocyanins (blueberries, eggplant), and polyphenols (apples, dark chocolate, black and white beans) protect cell’s DNA from oxidative stress.
Key Nutrients to Potentially Slow the Aging Process
The following are key nutrients that are known to have beneficial impacts on telomere length in cells and the overall health of cells, which will help your body slow the natural aging process. Try to work these key nutrients into your diet.
Remember, if you choose to obtain these nutrients via supplementation, make sure you consult your doctor or medical professional to ensure they don't interfere with medications you are taking or negatively affect any health conditions you might have.
- Vitamin A
- Folate (Vitamin B9 / Folic Acid)
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Omega-3 (DHA)
- Curcumin (Turmeric)
- Ubiquinol (CoQ10)
- Probiotics (fermented foods or probiotic pills)
How Much Exercise Does It Take To Slow the Effects of Aging?
Childs, B., Gluscevic, M., Baker, D. et al. Senescent cells: an emerging target for diseases of ageing. Nat Rev Drug Discov 16, 718–735 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrd.2017.116
National Human Genome Research Institute. Telomere.
Shammas M. A. (2011). Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 14(1), 28–34. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1
YourGenome.org. What is a telomere?
Slowing Aging Process Poll
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2021 John Coviello