How long are your telomeres? And why should you care? Let’s go back a step and start with – what are we talking about?
What’s a telomere?
This is the name given to a type of cap at the end of our chromosomes. The cap protects our fragile DNA cells from damage.
Longer telomeres help cells to avoid deterioration. Shorter telomeres reduce this protection until the cell eventually dies.
Research has identified that some people have shorter telomeres due to a gene variant called rs12696304 on the chromosome 3q26. To be precise.
The study, involving several thousand people, suggested that shorter telomeres result in faster ageing. These people lived on average about 3.6 years less than people with longer telomeres.
Experts say this gene variant is just one of several reasons for shortened telomeres. So, we don’t need dodgy genes to trim our telomeres.
Longer telomeres and the holy grail?
It would seem then that longer telomeres could result in marginally longer life. Is there anything we can do to encourage this?
Startlingly, the answer does seem to be yes. Seeking effective treatment for diseases, such as severe obesity, has been shown to increase telomere length.
A study showed that 60% of the severely obese people studied who’d had bariatric surgery had telomere regrowth after three to five years. This corroborates and improves on an earlier study that found telomere growth ten years on after this type of surgery.
It seems that, left untreated, severe obesity speeds up the pace at which cells age. If the obesity is taken out of the equation, the cells can start to operate again in the way that they should, protected by lengthened, post-surgery telomere caps. It seems likely this could be applied to other diseases.
Is this science going to prolong all our lives? Ageing depends on several factors, the telomere being only one of them. But there are some useful messages emerging for improving our health and vitality.
The 2009 Nobel Prize winners Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak found that a substance called telemorase builds up telomere caps and that certain inherited diseases have defective telemorase and damaged cells.
As a result of their findings, strategies are now being investigated to understand whether lengthening telomeres can help or even reverse such big killers as heart disease and other neuro-generative diseases.
Whilst the jury remains out, as ever, when it comes to diet, Elizabeth Blackburn’s suggestions in her book, The Telomere Effect, are not likely to cause harm and could help us to help ourselves. The Huffington Post reports her suggestions to:
· Avoid foods that may shorten telomeres – the usual baddies such as red meat, white bread, sugar, saturated fat and excessive alcohol
· Eat foods that could lengthen telomeres – the usual goodies such as unrefined whole grains, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seaweed, fruit and coffee.
If you have time between foraging for seaweed to look for help with your weight and diet, do get in touch.
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