In the past articles, we tried to answer these questions. But now it’s time to finish this!
In the end, we all want to know what’s the best strategy to stay fit and healthy. To listen to your body is actually a very good idea. A much better idea, however, is to listen to your body and reading scientific articles in between. Nevertheless, even in this case, you must be very careful. To prevent trouble, please take into consideration to
- read the right articles
- find the right conclusion
To be honest this is sometimes not that easy. Very helpful in this case are meta-analyses. Meta-Analyses are statistical analyses in which various studies are pooled and reassessed. This enables you to prevent misleading information from single studies based on a small sample size or bad data handling. An example of a very nice meta-analysis is the paper of Fardet & Boirie from 2014 . Unfortunately, this paper is not Open Access and therefore not accessible to everyone. Nonetheless, I took the basic information I had from this paper and made my own Chapperstyle overview just for you.
The goal of this study was to find out which food is good for your health and which is not. To realize this, they took studies from over 60 years. Viola!
Fig.1 Food ranking, the greener the better for you! (All statements without guarantee!). In the "good" column: The more articles with positive results are available the greener the color. In the "bad" column: The more negative studies exist, the more red you will find. Made by Chapper - unrestricted use allowed
Now it’s up to you to choose “your food”. But beware of milk! In fact, 93% of all milk studies are financed by the milk industry. Therefore, you can’t rely completely on the most studies about milk . Cheers!
In summary: Fingers away from meat, sugar, alcohol, and milk. Instead, eat as many plants as you can. At least if you want to enjoy your retirement.
Ok, I think you understood the purpose of meta-analyses.
So, let’s get to the main topic: How to save your telomeres!
Just to remember what telomeres are: Telomeres are the endpoints of your chromosomes which are getting shorter and shorter within your life. The shorter your chromosomes are the higher the risk to your health. However, the shortening depends on various factors, therefore, you have only limited control over your telomeres.
But what can you do?
For a better insight, I read a lot of studies, meta-analyses, and reviews to give you a brief summary of the "Dos and Don’ts" for your telomeres.
One of the famous researchers in the field of telomeres is the Australian biologist Elisabeth Blackburn. In an interview recently published in a German science magazine (Spektrum der Wissenschaft), she said that the notion of telomeres as a “cellular clock”, is misleading . Nevertheless, many companies offering services to assess your biological age based on telomere measurements. But this is nonsense because of various reasons. For instance, most cells which are used for telomere measurement display a remaining telomerase activity. Because of this, the telomere length fluctuates anytime. This means that if a company find short telomeres in your blood cells it’s not necessarily an indicator for health problems. Nonetheless, it was shown that the shorter the telomeres are the higher is a potential risk of death [3, 4]. But you can’t do a single measurement and that’s it. It’s a statistical matter where many different aspects should be illuminated.
At the end, of course, you can imagine the telomeres as a “Canary in the coal mine”: He makes you aware of potential risks but is not responsible!
You must see the big picture of your body and your health.
For a better understanding, maybe we should talk about why the telomeres are getting shorter.
Problem number one: Cell division!
The more the cells divide the more likely is potential damage at the ends of your chromosomes.
But what causes a high cell division frequency?
[For this also see my other articles, an overview is shown here]
Well, multiple factors: Especially your lifestyle is a major risk factor for the stability of your chromosomes. Especially proteins from animals and energy-rich nutrients are severe cell cycle drivers. In this context, it is striking that these foods are in the category of “bad” food according to Fardet & Boirie (check Fig.1 for more information).
Other triggers which are also correlated to your cell cycle are certain hormones and other messengers. These substances are often released upon stress and also have a cell cycle promoting potential (please see also here and here).
Moreover, your telomeres can be attacked even without cell division.
You probably heard about the term oxidative stress or free radicals before!?! The main source of oxidative stress in your cells are the mitochondria . Mitochondria are the power plants of your cells responsible for energy supply. By doing this they also producing free radicals . The more your cell is challenged with imbalances, the more “errors” are made by the mitochondria. The consequences are free radicals which are capable to attack your DNA. In articles by @justtryme90 and @sco they already described the effects of oxidative stress on DNA (please see here and here). Especially, the base guanine is highly sensitive to oxidative stress. As you remember the telomeres are repetitions of the sequence TTAGGG (G for guanine). Therefore, telomeres are easy targets for oxidative stress. Once guanine is oxidized the cellular repair mechanisms try to fix this . For this purpose, they must “open” the DNA and removing some parts, thus making errors. This, in turn, makes the telomeres highly accessible for further damage. Remember that a whole armada of proteins are recruited to seal the telomeres.
But oxidative stress is not just caused by mitochondria
Other triggers of oxidative stress in your body are :
• Cigarette smoke
• Toxins (fumes, heavy metals)
• Acute stress
That means there are numerous factors which can come together and harm your cells, challenging your your mitochondria and subsequently your telomeres. Further, the consumption of huge amounts of unhealthy food further prevents your autophagy to tidy up your cells. And with a lack of physical activity and stress and many more you mix a life destruction cocktail.
The next figure will illustrate this for you again.
Fig.2 Mechanism of telomere shortening. Telomeres are protected by binding proteins, but mechanisms, such as "The Ghosts", which promoting cell division and/or the induction oxidative stress increase telomere instability. Since the autophagy ("Packman") is under intense attack, the drama takes its course and ends in a bloody chromosomal massacre. Made by Chapper - unrestricted use allowed
Ok, so I think it has become clear that the problems with the telomeres start with the banalest things. But what can you do? And is there a scientifically proof?
Here are a few, scientifically well-documented, aspects which can help you to protect your telomeres:
1. Stop smoking
Smoking is, in my opinion, an absolutely bad idea. It costs a lot of money. It has no contribution to nothing. It stinks, and it harms your fitness and health in any case. Taken together: Smoking is a total catastrophe!
It was shown that the consumption of just one package of cigarettes every day will shorten your telomeres in a way that after 40 years you have lost 7.4 years . Therefore, on average you will lose up to 10% of your lifetime. 10%!!! And for everyone who says “I’m not interested to live that long”: Take into consideration that the remaining years are full of sickness and pain.
2. Healthy food
I don’t want to say that much about food. Please check my other articles about this here, here and here. Maybe just one thing about food. Eat fresh and cook your own meal. Don’t eat this fast food stuff, at least not every week. There are so many hidden calories and artificial ingrediences inside. This can’t be good for you. Further, you have a higher risk to become overweight and this, in turn, is also a severe risk factor for shortening of your telomeres .
Know your food!
3. Avoid stress
Stress is probably one of the biggest problems in our modern society. Furthermore, stress has been shown to be one of the major risk factors for telomere shortening. In combination with other health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases you are in big trouble . Stress is a huge problem that already affects the telomeres of your children . In a large-scale meta-study carried out by Stanford University, it was found that stress is definitely associated with short telomeres . The study covered all kinds of stress: Soldiers who have experienced gruesome things or victims of violent crimes, people who work in stressful professions (such as nursing) or caretakers for seriously ill family members. Furthermore, also people with mental illnesses such as depression or patients who have survived serious illnesses were also included.
Find stressors in your life and eliminate them!
4. Choose a healthy environment
Humans need nature! Living in urban areas means a lot of stressors your body has to deal with. These include, above all, pollution, noise and aspects, we already discussed in point 3. If you have the opportunity, then try to move into a region with more nature. Although studies on this subject are still very rare, it is also obvious that living in a big city will not add significant value to your health .
Back to nature!
5. Get physically active
Sports is probably one of the best things you can do. Sports is not only clearly associated with telomere length . Moreover, sports are useful for almost any aspect of your health. But the joke is that sport also causes oxidative stress! This mechanism is the so-called mitohormesis. Mitohormesis paradoxically has a health-promoting effect [11, 12]. I've discussed this in detail elsewhere.
Oxidative stress is, therefore, a double-edged sword: It depends on where oxidative stress comes from and how long it lasts!
You can find a very interesting article on this topic here . The author argues that oxidative stress is rather the consequence than the real cause of many diseases. There is again the famous hen or egg problem. Thus, the damage caused by oxidative stress on the telomeres would rather be an inevitable consequence. The “tip of the ice iceberg” if you want. After reviewing other articles by the author Robert K. Naviaux I came to the conclusion that the cell itself generates oxidative stress for protection. Of course, this would explain why the intake of antioxidants sometimes has disadvantages for the consumer . I have already discussed this here. Incidentally, researchers are not completely sure what kind of sport is best for you . In principle, endurance sports seem to be the best choice.
Everything is better except for sitting around!
6. Sleep enough!
Yes, I admit I don't sleep enough. Actually, I'm glad, if I have crossed the 7h-hurdle. Do not get me wrong. I have no problems falling asleep at all. The only problem with me is that I am an extremely early riser and if I go to bed later than 10 pm, it gets tight. But you should always aim at 7h sleep minimum . Women definitely more. There are numerous studies on this subject and even by Mrs. Blackburn herself . These studies show that the duration and quality of sleep is a key criterion for preserving your telomeres . Please do not underestimate this! A lack of sleep is a severe problem that negatively affects many of the above-mentioned parameters.
Sleep to stay healthy!
Well, I think that's enough for the moment. Finally, here is a little checklist to get healthier in the future. That the abuse of alcohol or drugs is not recommended, hopefully, needs no further explanation.
Ok, I think that’s definitely enough for the moment. I hope it’s now clear that by combining your gut feeling, your experience, your common sense, and scientific facts, you can improve your health and well-being.
But keep in mind that everyone is different. This holds at least true for the nutrients you eat, the time you go to bed, the kind of sports you prefer and so one. Therefore, find your way but avoid major obstacles as I described.
I hope it helps you to make better decisions next time.
Stay alive and kicking.
- Fardet, A. and Y. Boirie, Associations between food and beverage groups and major diet-related chronic diseases: an exhaustive review of pooled/meta-analyses and systematic reviews. Nutr Rev, 2014. 72(12): p. 741-62.
- Kast, B., Der Ernährungskompass: Das Fazit aller wissenschaftlichen Studien zum Thema Ernährung - Mit den 12 wichtigsten Regeln der gesunden Ernährung. 2018: C. Bertelsmann Verlag.
- Schubert, E.B.i.G.m.M.M.-M.F., Telomere sind keine Kristallkugeln. 2018, Spektrum der Wissenschaft.
- Shammas, M.A., Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2011. 14(1): p. 28-34.
- Starkweather, A.R., et al., An integrative review of factors associated with telomere length and implications for biobehavioral research. Nurs Res, 2014. 63(1): p. 36-50.
- Naviaux, R.K., Oxidative shielding or oxidative stress? J Pharmacol Exp Ther, 2012. 342(3): p. 608-18.
- Valdes, A.M., et al., Obesity, cigarette smoking, and telomere length in women. Lancet, 2005. 366(9486): p. 662-4.
- Cawthon, R.M., et al., Association between telomere length in blood and mortality in people aged 60 years or older. Lancet, 2003. 361(9355): p. 393-5.
- Mathur, M.B., et al., Perceived stress and telomere length: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and methodologic considerations for advancing the field. Brain Behav Immun, 2016. 54: p. 158-169.
- Arsenis, N.C., et al., Physical activity and telomere length: Impact of aging and potential mechanisms of action. Oncotarget, 2017. 8(27): p. 45008-45019.
- Ristow, M., et al., Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2009. 106(21): p. 8665-70.
- Ristow, M. and K. Schmeisser, Mitohormesis: Promoting Health and Lifespan by Increased Levels of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). Dose Response, 2014. 12(2): p. 288-341.
- Jackowska, M., et al., Short sleep duration is associated with shorter telomere length in healthy men: findings from the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS One, 2012. 7(10): p. e47292.
- Prather, A.A., et al., Tired telomeres: Poor global sleep quality, perceived stress, and telomere length in immune cell subsets in obese men and women. Brain Behav Immun, 2015. 47: p. 155-62.