Telomeres are specific DNA-protein structures found at both ends of each chromosome. They play a vital role in preserving the information in our genome (our hereditary characteristics that determine who we are). During our lives, small portions of our telomeres are lost during normal cell division and eventually the telomere reaches a critical limit and the cell ages. Therefore our telomere length serves as a biological clock. The longer your telomeres the less biologically old you are.
So what it is that causes Telomeres to shorten ? And is it possible to slow down the process of Telomere shortening ?
Certain lifestyle factors increase the rate of telomere shortening, by inducing damage to DNA and therefore affect the health and lifespan of an individual. Such lifestyle factors are:
Smoking, which increases Oxidative Stress and the pace of the ageing process.
Obesity. The telomeres in obese women are significantly shorter than lean women of the same age group and their loss of telomeres could be calculated to be equivalent to more than 8 years less lifespan.
Stress hormones cause oxidative damage to DNA and accelerated telomere shortening, indicating that long exposure to stress increases the risk of early-onset age related health problems.
What can we do to slow down telomere shortening and therefore also the biological ageing process ?
Dietary fibre positively impacts telomeres, replacing some protein with soy protein, avoiding polyunsaturated fatty acids especially linoleic acid, increasing the consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and C beta carotene. Antioxidants can potentially protect the telomeres from damage, so lots of brightly coloured vegetables are helpful. Restricting food intake has a very positive impact on health and longevity, can reduce the onset of age-related diseases and may increase healthy lifespan. Regular, moderate exercise is associated with reduced oxidative stress and stabilises telomere proteins, reducing the pace of aging and age-related diseases.
Older people with shorter telomeres have 3 times the risk of heart disease and 8 times the risk of infectious diseases. Smoking, pollution, a lack of exercise, obesity, stress and an unhealthy diet increase oxidative stress and the rate of telomere shortening as well as increasing the risk of cancer .
By contrast, we can reduce our cancer risk, preserve telomeres and reduce the pace of ageing by considering eating less, include antioxidants, fibre, soy protein and healthy fats in our diet, stay lean and active, healthy and stress-free along with a Mediterranean style diet with lots of fish, berries, seeds, nuts, olive oil, green tea, and foods rich in Vitamins C and E .