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Telomeres: Biomarkers of Aging

How fast are you aging? Telomeres can tell.

Telomere Biological AgeUnlike chronological age, the biological age defines a patient¬īs physiological state which is determined by development and age-related degeneration.¬†Throughout life, in a person‚Äôs body numerous cells constantly divide, and ¬†after many cycles of cell division, the caps at the end of each chromosome become shorter. Those caps are called telomeres, and their length has been linked to cell aging. Although many¬†cells have the ability to rebuild the telomeres using the enzyme telomerase, this ability diminishes with age and it may be lost even faster due to exposure to factors that damage cells.

Can telomeres be used as markers of aging of the entire person?

Shortening of telomeres has been found in patients affected by conditions in which premature aging occurs.  There is also evidence that longer telomeres are associated with longevity and better health.

How is telomere length used to assess my health and wellness?

Age adjusted telomere length is the best method to date to assess biological age using structural analysis of chromosomal change in the telomere. Serial evaluation of telomere length is an indicator of how rapidly one ages relative to a normal population. Therapies directed at slowing the loss of telomere length may slow aging and age-related diseases.

Does diet have any effect on telomere length and repair?

An inflammatory diet, or one that increases oxidative stress, will shorten telomeres faster. This would include refined carbohydrates, fast foods, processed foods, sodas, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and saturated fats. A diet with a large amount and variety of antioxidants that improves oxidative defense and reduces oxidative stress will slow telomere shortening. Consumption of 10 servings of fresh and relatively uncooked fruits and vegetables, mixed fiber; monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, cold water fish and high quality vegetable proteins can prevent premature shortening. In addition, caloric restriction is advised combined with an exercise program. Fasting for 12 hours each night at least 4 days per week may also be protective.

What lifestyle modifications are likely to be helpful?

One should achieve ideal body weight and body composition with low body fat (less than 22% for women and less than 16% for men). Decreasing visceral fat is very important. Regular aerobic and resistance exercise for at least one hour per day, sleeping for at least 8 hours per night, stress reduction, discontinuation of all tobacco products and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy may decrease the rate of telomere loss.

How do you measure telomere length?

The Patient Telomere Score is calculated based on the patient’s telomere length on white blood cells (T-lymphocytes). This is the average compared to telomere length on lymphocytes from a sample of the American population in the same age range. The higher the telomere score, the “younger” the cells. A Telomere Score that is above the average line is desirable.

What can I do to reduce my rate of telomere loss?

Shorter telomeres have been associated with metabolic abnormalities, obesity and several degenerative diseases including cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease. In vitro studies have shown that telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which will shorten telomere length and enhance cellular aging. Minimizing associated risk factors that are linked to shortened telomere activity is recommended and include:

  • Reduce oxidative stress
  • Correct micronutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin D
  • Change sedentary lifestyle/increase physical activity
  • Avoid weight gain or obesity
  • Correct insulin resistance

What are additional benefits of telomere testing?

Studies have shown that telomere length is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk, nutritional deficiencies (particularly antioxidants) and cancer and testing may be a useful biomarker for risk assessment.