By Elisa Adams and Joyce L. Faiola
The Natural Market in Groton
Part 1 of a 2-part column
Research in nutritional science has been increasing in its ability to demonstrate just how nutrition works to benefit human health and to slow the rate of aging. One aspect of this focuses on what we can do to improve our telomeres, which slows the ticking of our biological clock.
Telomeres were first discovered in 1973 by Alexey Olovnikov. He found these tiny units of repeating sequences of DNA at the ends of each chromosome. Each time a cell replicates and divides, the telomere becomes a little shorter, like a string of pop beads as beads slowly fall off and are lost. In
1962, Leonard Hayflick presented a theory based on the loss rate of telomeres, which gave humans a maximum potential lifespan of about 120 years, the point at which too many cells have shortened their telomeres to a critical point and where cellular division is no longer taking place.
A half-century later, scientists are learning ways to slow the shortening our telomeres, and with the discovery of the enzyme telomerase, even potentially repairing these vital ends to our chromosomes. We now know that there are various stresses that increase the rate at which our telomeres shorten, including a larger waistline, diabetes and inflammation.
Telomeres have two basic needs; a high quality multiple vitamin (that contains a mentholated B-12), and an adequate amount of sulfur-rich proteins, such as those found in whey protein, eggs, cottage cheese, chicken, duck, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Healthy telomeres also need methylation, which is the process of donating a methyl group (a carbon with three hydrogens) to the genetic material of the telomere, enabling it to function properly. The primary methyl donor for this purpose has now been named SAMe, which is created from nutrients like MSM and choline. The three vitamins needed for this creation are B-6, methyl B-12, and folic acid, incidentally the same three that reduce homocysteine in the body. (Keep reading for more on homocysteine.)
Your brain requires a good supply of methyl donors to maintain a good mood. Stress and depression tend to indicate a lack of methyl donors, meaning telomeres are undernourished and prone to accelerated aging. This is a basic reason why stress ages people physically and mentally.
This simple fact can help you determine your personal minimum daily requirement for methyl donors. By adding a methylated B vitamin or doubling up on your regular daily multi-vitamin along with good protein intake and possibly other co-factors like MSM, you will experience a boost in energy and mood. You can deduce that if you have enough methyl donors for healthy brain function, you will likely have adequately nourished telomeres.
A recent study found that men with the highest levels of folic acid in their blood had longer telomeres than those with lower levels. Another study of 586 women who took a multi-vitamin regularly had 5 percent longer telomeres compared to a control group of non-vitamin-takers. An implication of these findings is that high homocysteine has a major impact on the shortening of telomeres and this is what controls hardening of the arteries. Folic acid, the most important single nutrient for lowering high homocysteine, prevents telomere shortening and improves the quality of the remaining telomeres.
Several other nutrients have also shown impressive results in this fight against shortening and damaged telomeres. A special form or co-factor for Vitamin E, called tocotrienols, has been shown in fibroblast cells to actually restore the length of telomeres, while also reducing DNA damage. The vitamin that works closely with tocotrienols is Vitamin C, which works to boost the activity of the telomerase enzyme, which is able to lengthen telomeres.
Under conditions of inflammatory stress, cells increase their rate of replication, which actually increases telomere loss due to increased cellular turnover. Clearly, we need to do everything we can to reduce inflammation; including managing low-grade chronic infections in our sinuses, gums and the GI tract. The most basic supplements to address the inflammatory aspect of telomere damage are Vitamin D and one of the Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, the brain protector.
With a lack of Vitamin D, it is easy to suffer from systematic inflammation, as in the case of fibro-myalgia and any other case of chronic pain. With this chronic pain comes a host of free radicals, ready to damage our precious telomeres.
Our ability to tolerate stress and fight infection is based in no small part on our Vitamin D status. One study using 2000 IU of Vitamin D per day in overweight adults helped to heal their telomere length despite their metabolic stress! Another study using twins showed conclusively that the twin with the highest level of Vitamin D had the longest telomeres, and the lowest Vitamin D levels were linked with the shortest telomeres.