Telomeres are protective “helmets” found at both ends of your chromosomes. It’s a pivotal part of your base DNA that offers protection from deterioration.

Each time your cells divide and replicate, these tiny caps gradually shorten until they disappear entirely. They limit how many times a cell can divide.

When the protective benefit of telomeres is lost, the cell itself is supposed stop replicating or succumb to apoptosis (cell suicide) because it is no longer protected from mutation, fusion, and abnormal replication.

One example of this biological system going wrong is cancer cells that manage to avoid this universal coding of the human cell. They bypass the ingrained directive and do what they want.

How We Sabotage Telomere Benefits

Young people have longer telomeres because they’re new to cell division and replication. As we age, our telomeres are shorter from a lifetime of this process and the cells also replicate far more slowly.

As the body’s largest organ, skin cells are replaced rapidly. It’s such a complex system of regeneration that the top 20 layers are dead skin cells waiting to flake away and be replaced.

This cell-replication process gradually slows with age and impacts hair growth, effectiveness of taste buds, brain function, and so much more.

Some parts of your body regenerate so slowly that scientists didn’t believe the cells were replaced at all. Your heart is a prime example of this. By the time a person reaches their 70s, fewer than half of the cardiomyocytes (cells that represent your heart tissue) have been replaced.

It is the understanding of this process that led to several fascinating breakthroughs in anti-aging science. Over time, the rate of dying cells outpaces how quickly new cells form. This leads to the signs and symptoms of aging and shortens overall mortality.

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Telomere benefits can be preserved.

Over the last decade, researchers discovered that humans can directly impact the length of our telomeres. The longer one of these protective caps is, the better for the life of the cell, and the less likelihood of a cell bucking the system and making itself vulnerable to abnormalities. Shorter telomeres are associated with an increased risk of disease, rapid aging, and early death.

How can you safeguard these tiny cellular guardians?

A Harvard Cancer Institute study found that diet and lifestyle choices directly affect the length and longevity of your telomeres and, by association, your cells.

The authors state in their findings, “Telomeres play a vital role in preserving the information in our genome. As a normal cellular process, a small portion of telomeric DNA is lost with each cell division. When telomere length reaches a critical limit, the cell undergoes senescence [deterioration] and/or apoptosis. Telomere length may serve as a biological clock to determine the lifespan of a cell and an organism.”

According to the results, gender didn’t play an active role in determining telomere length but other factors definitively did.

Primary Risks that Accelerate Telomere Shortening

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Exposure to pollutants (environmental or professional)
  • Stress
  • Poor diet

They went on to outline the significantly elevated risks to elderly people with shorter telomeres for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, infectious disease, and osteoporosis.

“Rate of telomere shortening is critical to an individual’s health and pace of aging. Smoking, exposure to pollution, a lack of physical activity, obesity, stress, and an unhealthy diet increase oxidative burden and the rate of telomere shortening,” wrote Masood A. Shammas, lead author of the Harvard study.

As with almost every risk factor for major disease, you have the power in your own hands. By making a focused effort on your diet and lifestyle, you can slow down the aging process and enjoy good health into oldest age.

5 Simple Steps to Preserve the Benefits of Telomeres

  1. Stop smoking and using all tobacco products
  2. Exercise (even low impact) for 15-30 minutes daily
  3. Work to achieve (and maintain) a healthy body weight
  4. Do what you can to minimize mental, emotional, and physical stress.
  5. Eat a delicious diet filled with whole foods and packed with antioxidants.

Choosing the right lifestyle habits and eating right might take some getting used to. It might be difficult at first (especially if you have a high fat, high sugar, or high carb problem). Sleeping, hydrating properly, getting rid of stress, and eating good foods takes commitment.

The benefits are already proven.

Study after study has shown without a doubt that adding foods to your daily eating plan that include healthy fats, complete proteins, and plenty of vitamins and nutrients will change how you feel from head to toe.

Preserving the benefits of telomeres is just the beginning. In fact, it’s the very beginning! We’re talking about the building blocks of your DNA (and what protects them from harm). You can’t get more basic than that.

For more information on how to enjoy “How to Live Beyond 100 Years,” I hope you’ll read my book and take the time to apply these simple (and effective) practices to your daily life.