Do you watch the Biggest Loser? If so, you have seen each contestant visit a doctor at the start of the season and many times they'll learn their actual ‘biological' age. This usually ends up being a shocker, such as a 28 year-old whose physical condition is that of a 55 year-old or something drastic like that. Telomeres are a tool that can be used to fairly accurately identify your biological age.
I recently participated in a webinar hosted by Spectra Cell Laboratories and lead by Dr. Mark Houston discussing telomeres.
What is a telomere?
Telomeres are a DNA sequence that appears at the end of each chromosome. Chromosomes comprised of DNA are in each cell of our body. Our DNA is protected at each end by telomeres. Dr. Houston describes a telomere as a safety cap or ball cap on the end of each chromosome. They protect the chromosome and DNA from things like oxidative stress. As the telomere becomes damaged the chromosome and cell function ineffectively the cell begins to die.
As a normal part of aging, telomeres become shorter. Once a telomere becomes shortened there is no way to lengthen the telomere.
There are many factors that influence how quickly telomeres shorten. Here are some of the factors that impact telomere length:
1. Aging (as I just started, telomeres shorten as a normal part of aging)
2. Coronary heart disease
3. Hypertension (high blood pressure)
7. Increased pulse pressure
8. Aortic stenosis
9. Oxidative stress
11. Decreased nitric oxide
12. Lack of arginine
13. Lack of estrogen (women tend to age slower than men becomes estrogen protects the telomere)
Why Telomere Length Matters
Studies have shown a link between telomere length and hypertension, diabetes, insulin resistance, atherosclerosis, obesity, and heart disease.
A study published in a 2007 issues of the American Journal of Epidemiology found shortened telomeres to correspond with a threefold increased risk for myocardial infarction and stroke. The study results support the hypotheses that telomere shortening may be related to aging and the disease associated with aging through such factors as oxidative stress, inflammation, and progression to cardiovascular disease.
Shortened telomeres are now recognized as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. What does this mean? Let's say you have no risk factors for heart disease - no family history, your weight is within the ideal range, your cholesterol levels are healthy, etc. BUT, you smoke. Smoking is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Even if everything else is perfect, your risk for developing cardiovascular disease is still increased because you smoke. The same is true for telomeres. If you have no risk factors for heart disease, but your telomere length is shortened, you are at increased risk.
How to Slow Telomere Shortening