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Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Remember Forest Gump saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates.”? Well, it turns out that life is more like a shoelace. Health editor Janice Kerr explains why today. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. Life is like a shoelace according to scientists studying telomeres. And before you all start scratching your heads, telomeres are the stretches of DNA sequences at the  end of our chromosomes. Think of them as the little plastic ends that keep your shoelaces from fraying. When you lose that little plastic end piece, your shoelaces start to fray and unravel. In the same way telomeres keep your DNA sequences from fraying, which can cause genetic damage that often leads to cancer, other diseases, and even death.

As we age, our cells divide, thus shortening our telomeres. If our telomeres get too short, the cell can’t divide, and it will die. Older people will generally have shorter telomeres than younger people, but there’s lots of variation within age groups. It’s this variation that can determine the likelihood of age-related diseases and longevity. One study of people 60 and older determined that those with the shortest telomeres died an average of 4.8 years sooner than those with the longest telomeres.

So far scientists have no way of making our telomeres longer. However, there may be ways to slow down the rate of shrinkage. If they sound familiar, it’s because they’re the same recommendations many doctors already give for maintaining our health. So here’s yet another reason to follow their advice: to save our telomeres.

1. Eat more fish and nuts. One study found that people with diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids had less telomere shortening.

2. Get more sun or take more vitamin D. Another study determined that women with the most vitamin D in their blood had the longest telomeres.

3. Eat foods rich in vitamin C and E. Vitamins C and E are high in antioxidants, which fight free radicals. Free radicals harm telomeres.

4. Reduce the stress in your life any way you can, whether it’s by meditating, deep breathing, lifestyle changes, or even seeing a therapist. Several studies have found that women with high levels of stress hormones have telomeres that represent ten additional years of aging.

5. Exercise. Research has found people with severe stress such as PTSD, victims of childhood abuse, etc. all had poorer immune system health and shorter telomeres in their white blood cells. The study showed that vigorous exercise at least three times a week short-circuited the telomere shrinkage in these people.

Readers, save your telomeres to live longer. I’m off to run a few laps around the block right now. What about you? -- AP

1 comment:

Jane R said...

It is so easy to overlook the things that will keep us healthy. Thanks for the reminders. I think I'm going to add a few more things to my New Years resolutions list!