There has been a lot of talk about telomeres and their effect on aging and health. You can even send your saliva to online companies and have your telomere length checked to determine what biological age your body is. So, what is a telomere? They are protein structures found at both ends of each chromosome which protect our genome from degradation. The longer the telomeric cap, the more youthful the cell. 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 begins to atrophy. Telomere length therefore serves as a biological clock in determining the lifespan of a cell and an organism. There are numerous studies being conducted on the causes of telomere damage; how it is incurred and what prevents it.
It is believed that aging and related diseases occurs when telomere caps begin to shorten The rate of aging is measured by the condition and length of our telomeres. It is also being studied whether this shortening may also be the cause of many health problems, including coronary heart disease diabetes and increased risk of cancer. As is usually the case, lifestyle and environment are explored to determine their impact on telomere length and its’ effects on health and aging.
IMPACT OF SMOKING
A study conducted in white blood cells of women smoking at least one pack per day concluded that on an average, women who smoked at this rate over a 40 year span lost 7.4 years of life. In summary, smoking increases oxidative stress, expedites telomere shortening and may increase the pace og the aging process. There seemed to be no difference between men or women when engaging in same amount of cigarette smoking.
Obesity is also associated with increased oxidative stress and DNA damage. Waist circumference and BMI seems to directly correlate to oxidative stress and cellular damage independent of age. This DNA damage appears to expedite telomere shortening, thus opening the door to aging and physical dysfunction. On average, both men and women shortened their lifespan by 8.8 years which is greater than from smoking.
Studies indicate that people who work in professions that expose them to chemical toxins had shorter telomeres as did traffic police officers who were exposed to higher amounts of carbon exhaust. These people seemed to have higher rates of lung cancer than people working office jobs or any job where they were not exposed to any type of toxic materials.
Stress and the glucocorticoid hormones it releases from the adrenal gland has been shown to cause oxidative damage to DNA and accelerate telomere shortening. Women under long term. highly stressful life situations incurred increased oxidative pressure and shorter telomeres than women not exposed to high stress situations. The difference in telomere length in these two groups was equivalent to 10 years of life. The affected group was much more at risk for the early onset of age-related health problems thus affecting health and longevity.
Some recent studies indicate that a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids is associated with reduced rate of telomere shortening, whereas a lack of these antioxidants correlates with increased rate of telomere attrition or shortening. Similarly, women who lacked these antioxidants in their diets over a 5 year period had shorter telomeres and a moderate risk for development of breast cancer. Women with diets high in vitamin E, C and beta-carotene appeared to have longer telomere length and less occurrences of breast cancer. Antioxidants can potentially protect telomeric DNA from oxidative damage caused by by extrinsic and intrinsic damaging agents.
Exercise can reduce harmful fat and help mobilize waste products for faster elimination, leading to reduced oxidative stress and increased protection of DNA and telomeres. It increases telomerase, the enzyme produced by the telomere and this enzyme reduces the rate of aging and age-related diseases.
Longer telomere length is critical to health and longevity. Smoking, pollution, a lack of physical activity, obesity, unhealthy eating and stress can cause oxidative damage to our DNA and incur age-related diseases. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, healthy protein and exercise can greatly contribute to longer telomere length and a longer and healthier life.