Think of each strand of your DNA as being like a long shoelace. At the end of each shoelace is a cap or tip that prevents the shoelace from fraying, therefore protecting the DNA strand. This clever protective cap is called a Telomere. Without these guys protecting the ends, the shoelace begins to fray causing the DNA strands to disintegrate or get tangled and fused together and thats confusing to our cells and may cause malfunctions, cell death and premature ageing.
These small but very important components of DNA are vital to keep our bodies well and really functioning properly. Every single one of the cells in our bodies have telomeres and DNA, the genetic code that makes us who we are. Throughout our lives as our cells divide and replenish, the bits on the end, the Telomeres get shorter and shorter and eventually too short to do their job. This is part of the process of ageing.
So simply put:
Shorter telomeres = ageing
Longer telomeres = better, stronger, slows ageing
So we all naturally age but other factors of ageing come from lifestyle – stress has a major impact on shortening telomeres as does smoking, drinking and a poor diet. Over exercise can be a contributing factor. Interestingly skin and hair are more susceptible as those cells replenish more often and we can see that effect in greying hair and sagging skin.
Many studies indicate that the ageing of individual cells is central in the general decline of muscle function, our immune system, blood flow and metabolism when we grow older.A lot of research is being done around Telomerase, an enzyme responsible for lengthening telomeres. However a word of caution around Telomerase supplements – too much can be as bad as too little, causing adverse effects in certain conditions.
Understanding “healthy”ageing makes us more aware of ways to prevent age associated diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancers and so incorporating lifestyle methods can certainly help slow down this process.
Reduce stress. Stress can dramatically shorten telomere length causing cells to age and die prematurely; most people don’t realise how damaging stress is at a cellular level.
Moderate exercise – 3 times a week for 45 minutes will keep those telomeres as long as those of a marathon runner.
Diet – antioxidant rich foods and bioflavonoid “superfoods (including coconuts) give better protection to telomeres and maintenance from Omega 3 foods particularly fish oil and flaxseeds.
I love the way that nature, particularly from anti oxidant rich foods can slow down this ageing process and support your body at a cellular level. I have recently been reading a study around Enzogenol, an antioxidant rich natural extract from the bark of pine trees, which specifically shows that it protects Telomeres from the age related shortening process.
Needless to say, making good choices and caring for your body through a wholesome diet, regular exercise and stress reductions is the key to slowing down the ageing process.