In 1961, a biologist named Leonard Haflick discovered how the human body ages. Most of our cells make copies of themselves over and over again until they die. This is called cellular senescence. Here are a few important facts about cell divisions:
- Some cells can divide quickly and as often as necessary.
- Some cells have a maximum limit of cellular divisions of approximately 50.
- Most cells have less potential divisions than 50.
Taken together, Haflick found that the average person had enough cellular divisions to last approximately 120 years. This is called the Haflick Affect. Cells all contain DNA material called chromosomes, which is the genetic material that determines things like hair or eye color, as well as our predisposition to disease, which has been passed down to us over millennia.
These chromosomes have tips on them like shoe lace tips. And with each cellular division, these chromosomes, and their tips, get shorter. These tips are called telomeres. Here is what we know so far about telomeres:
- All cells do not experience telomere shortening at the same pace. Any organ or system can deteriorate more quickly if we don’t maintain equally good health for all cells.
- We can slow cellular aging and even reverse it slightly in some cases. However, we are only as healthy as our least healthy cells.
What can influence health and aging?
Below is a partial list of the known factors that can improve cellular health and keep telomeres from becoming shorter:
- Some people are born with longer telomeres.
- Threatening or negative situations shorten telomeres.
- Too little or too much exercise can shorten telomeres.
- Eat whole organic foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy oils from omega fish, avocados and coconuts to help keep telomeres longer.
- Processed food shortens telomeres, as does fried foods, red meat, dairy, sugar and poorly digested food.
- Not enough sleep shortens telomeres.
- Too much stress shortens telomeres.
- Good relationships can lengthen telomeres.
- A strong purpose in life can lengthen telomeres.
- Exposure to toxins in air, water or food shortens telomeres.
If this list sounds familiar, that’s because you have probably seen similar lists hundreds of times. What you may not have realized is that each negative factor shortens your telomeres, and each positive factor slows telomere decline, or can even extend or lengthen some telomeres.
What can I do to lengthen my telomeres?
First, it is important to remember that telomeres are just a reflection of your life decisions, a way to measure how well you are aging. More importantly, telomeres can indicate how healthy you will be in the last years of your life. In other words, telomeres are a reflection of the decisions we make, not the causes.
Here are some causal factors that can impact our health:
- Genetic mutations can cause illnesses, but remember most of these mutations are predispositions and not absolutely certain.
- Biochemical differences are different than genetic mutations. Some people simply need more enzymes, minerals or vitamins then other people do. Dr. Roger Williams explains this in his book, Biochemical individuality.
- Lifestyle decisions involving tobacco, alcohol and being overweight can result in many serious illnesses.
- Being overly reliant on conventional medicine can also be dangerous to your health. Prescription medication side effects and some unnecessary tests or surgeries can be life threatening. Gary Null illustrates this in his book, Death By Medicine.
- Previously mentioned factors, such as diet, exercise, stress, sleep and toxins all play a role in how healthy we are throughout our life.
Over fifty years ago only 10 percent of the adult population was chronically ill. Now that figure exceeds 60 percent. The generation born after the year 2000 will be the first generation in the history of mankind to not live as long a life as their parents. And, by the year 2065, healthcare could consume over 100 percent of the GNP of the United States. This country’s collective telomere length is going down at the exact same rate as the growth of chronic disease and the cost of healthcare is going up. (The Beginning of the End of the War on Medicine, GreenMedInfo, Dec. 7, 2016).
Your personal role
If you wait for your doctor, your employer or your government to address this problem, I wish you well. If you want to take matters into your own hands, here are some suggestions:
- Get your telomeres tested. Use a blood test or our telomere assessment tool attached to this article.
- Get your genes tested, if you can afford it. Or take a good look at your family history and pay attention to it. (23 and me—is a good test to start with).
- Take a good look at what you eat. Ignore the flawed USDA Food Pyramid and opt for the Harvard or Mediterranean Food Pyramids.
- Find some exercises that you really like and do them every day for at least one hour. You have the time if you just stop doing a few less important things.
- Use stress management tools, like meditation, yoga or deep breathing, at least twice a day for 20 minutes each time.
- Stop tobacco use. Read The Healthy Smoker by Charles Bens, PhD.
- Stop consuming too much alcohol. Read Seven Weeks to Sobriety by Joan Mathers Larson, PhD.
- Find a doctor who practices Holistic or Functional Medicine and read an article entitled, "The Beginning of the End of the War on Medicine," by Dr. Bens.
Nutritional Supplements For Longer Telomeres
Here are the nutritional supplements that have been proven to protect, and in some cases, even lengthen telomeres. These should be consumed along with the very best diet you can possibly eat.
Astaxanthin—Very strong antioxidant that has antiinflammatory benefits and protects against DNA damage. Crosses the blood brain and the retinal barriers to protect the brain and the eyes.
Vitamin B Complex—Especially vitamin B6, B12 and folate, which are methylators important for making hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as DNA molecules.
Vitamin C—A strong antioxidant that can reduce telomere shortening by up to 62 percent. Strong cardiovascular protection and able to rescue aging cells from premature death.
Vitamin E—A strong antioxidant with the ability to delay telomere shortening, especially by increasing the natural production of telomeres (telomere lengthening enzyme telomerase).
Multiple Vitamin and Mineral—Provides the nutritional base for proper absorption due to the inclusion of micronutrients. However, a multiple vitamin and mineral does not have sufficient dosage for other key nutrients mentioned here.
Omega 3 oils—Has very high anti-inflammatory properties and softens the cells membranes to facilitate nutrient intake and waste removal.
Curcumin—Boosts immunity and has antiinflammatory properties. Has very effective anti-cancer properties.
Zinc—A strong antioxidant; especially good for throat and stomach cell protection.
Co-enzyme-Q10—Recycles other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. Protects the cells DNA and is especially protective of organs with high levels of mitochondria, such as the heart, brain, liver and kidney.
Probiotics—Promotes healthy intestinal flora, which is where many immune system nutrients are made. Helps the body eliminate harmful external agents, such as negative bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Magnesium—This mineral is vital to the production of energy inside the cell. It plays a key role in DNA replication and repair, as well as RNA synthesis. Deficiency causes genome instability and induces chromosome abnormalities.
Most people are so busy with their hectic lives that they forget about what could happen to them during the end of their life. Who plans to be in a hospital or a nursing home? No one. And yet, these are the two fastest growing businesses in our economy after pharmaceutical sales. Review any list of the most popular chronic illnesses. Which chronic disease do you want to avoid, and, how do you plan to do that? If you have no plan, then your genes, telomeres and lifestyle will decide for you.
Telomeres Aging Assessment Questionnaire
Dr. Bens has created the following downloadable Telomere Score Card to help you understand the impact of the various areas of your life on your own telomeres.
Click Here to download
Charles K Bens, PhD
Charles K. Bens, PhD is an author, speaker and wellness consultant specializing in the prevention and reversal of chronic disease. He is the founder and president of Healthy @ Work, Inc. a wellness education and consulting company focused on improving the health of employees. The company provides workshops on a wide range of health topics. He has written nine books including Healthy at Work: Your Pocket Guide to Good Health, The Healthy Smoker: How To Quit Smoking By Becoming Healthier First and over 200 articles. Dr. Bens lectures all over the world on organizational change and improvement as well as on wellness and health improvement. And was selected by Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation as the Vail Visiting Professor for 2013.