Caring for Your Telomeres May Be Like Finding the Fountain of Youth

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Reaching middle age means you start thinking about the Fountain of Youth. Does it exist? Obviously Ponce de Leon didn’t find it, but researchers may have.


    Scientists point to telomeres, which can be found at the ends of twisted, double stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. According to the University of Utah, these telomeres protect genetic data and make it possible for cells to divide. Researchers also believe that telomeres hold secrets to how we age and even how we get cancer. “Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces because they prevent chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would scramble an organization’s genetic information to cause cancer, other diseases or death,” the University of Utah website authors said. “Yet, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell no longer can divide and becomes inactive or ‘senescent’ or dies. This process is associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. So telomeres also have been compared with a bomb fuse.”

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    University of Utah researchers have found that shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. However, they do not know whether shorter telomeres are a sign of aging or actually contribute to aging. And some members of the medical community question the impact of telomeres on aging. Dr. Mark Stibich pointed out that Swedish researchers have discovered some people’s telomeres actually get longer as they age. “It could mean that those people have an amazing cellular anti-aging mechanism or it could be that they have an early sign of cancer (researchers tried to rule this out) or it could be fairly meaningless,” Stibich wrote. “What we do know for sure is that aging is a lot more complicated than simply looking at the shortening of telomeres.”

    Still, some doctors encourage you to be proactive in trying to protect your telomeres. Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen, who wrote the series of You! books, believe that managing stress is the biggest factor in maintaining telomeres. They noted that telomeres of people who feel more stressed are approximately 50% shorter than people who believe they are less stressed.

    The Daily Beast featured an article on Thea Singer’s new book, “Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How to Rejuvenate the Body and Mind.” Singer recommended 10 ways to preserve or lengthen telomeres, which include:

    • Don’t diet since it is biologically stressful. Instead, strive to seat a healthy diet and be mindful of what you eat.
    • Get rid of abdominal fat. The waist hip ratio is more important than body obesity or body mass index.
    • Add pistachio nuts to your diet since they seem to relax blood vessels and cause blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides to drop.
    • Be sure to take Omega-3s, which may help telomeres grow.
    • Exercise regularly doing some activity that you enjoy, which can preserve and sometimes lengthen telomeres.
    • Meditate, which can help lengthen telomeres.
    • Avoid pessimism, which can lead to shorter telomeres.
    • Socialize with friends, which can help slow aging.
    • Get your sleep in order to limit elevated levels of stress hormones.
    • Dance, which provides a mental and physical workshop, as well as social interaction.

    This is great advice in living a full life, even if it doesn’t impact telomeres. I’m going to try to embrace these habits and I hope you do too!

Published On: November 08, 2010