Size does matter: telomere length, DNA and aging

· Category: Blog, Longevity, Genetics

If aging with radiance is on your agenda, add the word telomere to your vocabulary.

My online dictionary defines radiance as “an attractive combination of good health and happiness.”

I want that.

A 2010 article in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry defines telomere as “the DNA-protein complex that protects the ends of human chromosomes. Telomere length is an indicator of biological aging. Telomeres shorten with normal aging, life stress, infection, inflammation, and chronic disease.”

I don’t want that.

So you see, size does matter—at least when it comes to telomeres. Not that we can easily measure or monitor ours, but one thing is becoming clear to the quirky scientists who study this stuff. Telomere length is epigenetically regulated by DNA (genetic information) and histone methylation (very confusing protein chemistry). That means we have some control over our telomeres. Epigenetic means external rather than genetic influences. Food is an external influence. Green leafy vegetables send good information to our genes. A Big Mac says, “screw you.”

Once again, those funky lifestyle habits don’t just show up as dull thinking, low energy, a tractor-size spare tire, and bloodshot eyes. It’s trickle down genetics. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and stress not only fray your nerves, they fray your telomeres as well. To make a long and way-too-complicated story short, tattered telomeres don’t do a good job protecting chromosomes.

Right now, I’m wearing a comfy, well-worn, Patagonia hoodie sweatshirt (the benefit of a home office). Imagine what a new hoodie sweatshirt looks like. Do you “see” the cord that hangs down from each side of the hood? The one you pull to tighten the hood around your head? You know those plastic caps on each end of the cord that protect it from fraying? That’s a telomere. Once that “plastic” cap is frayed, shortened, and worn-out, the cord loses its protective end and DNA integrity gets highjacked. In biology talk, that’s called senescence.

Telomere length is an indicator of biological aging and the development of many age-related diseases (heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s). That’s not good. Protect your telomeres. Studies show good nutrition influences telomere length and downstream cellular function.

According to researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, the following nutrients may influence telomere length and overall health. In most cases, I’m a fan of getting my nutrients from food rather than supplements, so I’m including a few food sources high in these nutrients.

  • Folate: lentils, pinto beans, spinach, collard greens, lima beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas
  • Vitamin B12: clams, sardines, turkey, wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef
  • Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, pumpkin
  • Vitamin D: herring, oysters, wild-caught salmon, sardines, trout
  • Vitamins C: papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, oranges, kale
  • Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, asparagus, bell peppers
  • Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, sesame seeds, black beans, cashews, almonds
  • Zinc: venison, grass-fed beef, scallops, oats, pumpkin seeds, shrimp
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: wild-caught salmon, sardines, grass-fed beef, halibut, flax seeds
  • Polyphenols: dark grapes, blueberries, cherries, apples, plums, blackberries
  • Turmeric: Indian spice



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