Everything you do that ages you shortens your telomeres. Think of them like the hard bit at the end of your shoelaces, except these shoelaces are the spirally chromosomes that house your genes, the blueprint for making new, young cells. Every time you make a new cell your telomere length shortens. When you run out of sufficient telomere length the game is over.
Every month there are around 100 new studies into what shortens or lengthens telomeres, with over 20,000 studies to date giving concrete clues as to what to eat, supplement and how to live to stay young and healthy for as long as possible. The good news is that the advice is completely consistent with the advice I’ve been giving you over the past 40 years of studying optimum nutrition, confirming that supplementing nutrients at levels above the basic RDAs has a positive anti-ageing benefit.
The nutrients that, so far, have been associated with longer telomeres are B vitamins (especially folate and B12), vitamin C, D, zinc, magnesium and omega-3. Generally, the higher your intake the longer your telomeres. Also, multivitamin takers have longer telomeres and the longer the telomeres the less is the risk for cancer. Particularly key is your homocysteine level. The lower your level the longer your telomeres. A recent study in the European Journal of Nutrition gave 60 older people a supplement of vitamin B6, B12, folate, D and calcium versus just vitamin D. One year later those taking the B vitamins had lower homocysteine and longer telomeres.
Zinc and magnesium are key to slowing ageing. The ‘pen’ that copies DNA to accurately make new cells is called a ‘zinc finger’. Last year a cell study confirmed that boosting zinc levels lengthened telomeres. Magnesium is key to healthy telomers because it regulates their structure, integrity and function. A study of over 10,000 Americans finds that ‘Higher mineral and vitamin consumption is associated with longer telomeres among adults in the US.’
Another finds that the higher a person’s omega-3 intake (from fish and seeds) compared to omega-6 the longer the telomeres. . In older people with mild cognitive impairment supplementing omega-3 slows down telomere shortening. DHA, one of the key smart fats in omega-3 rich seafood, has the strongest positive association.
Foods that slow down ageing
What should you eat to slow down ageing? The latest research is completely consistent with my optimum nutrition advice. Eating a Mediterranean style diet, having more nuts and seeds and more foods high in antioxidants have all been linked to slower cellular ageing and longer telomeres. This kind of diet is known to reduce inflammation, Research shows that the more anti-inflammatory foods. a person eats the longer are their telomeres. Two studies in China and that those who eat more vegetables have longer telomeres. Wheat may not be so good – people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, have shorter telomeres.
Also, eating organic food may have real benefit. A ten year study finds that the higher the level of food-based pollutants, primarily from pesticides and herbicides and industrial non-biodegradable pollutants, the shorter the telomeres and the greater the level of inflammatory markers.
Anti-ageing lifestyle secrets
The better you sleep, the more you exercise and the less you stress the longer your telomere are likely to be. As far as longevity is concerned seven hours sleep seems to be the optimal. A study this year in the European Journal of Epidemiology finds that those in the top quarter of daily steps (ideally over 6,500 steps a day) had longer telomeres compared to those in the bottom quarter.
It pays to have a positive attitude and a low stress life. Post-traumatic stress disorder, childhood traumas, depression and a cynical attitude are all linked to accelerated ageing. Conversely two studies show that those who practice meditation regularly have longer telomeres. In one study, those with post traumatic stress disorder who exercised didn’t have the usual telomere shortening. Another study of women finds that both obesity and smoking are associated with shorter telomere length, as is heavy alcohol consumption in older people.
Those who have been following my anti-aging health advice over the years, summarised in Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing, will be heartened to see that the advice I’ve been giving is now being shown to affect your healthy lifespan at a really fundamental level. When I first came into this field the predominant concept was that you needed enough nutrients for enzymes to work, but now it is clear that optimising your intake of nutrients not only turns on and off the right genes, but may actually lengthen your healthy life by allowing more cell divisions to occur before your telomeres fray at the edges. This confirms the value of supplementing vitamin B, C, D antioxidants, zinc, magnesium and omega-3, which is exactly what I do everyday in my 100% Health Pack.
It’s also worth thinking about anti-oxidants. The more you eat, the more oxidants you make. This is because oxidants are by-products of turning food into energy. It is well proven that you can extend a healthy lifespan by eating a low-calorie diet, rich in antioxidant nutrients.
Bruce Ames, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, and one of the world’s leading experts on anti-ageing, was among the first scientists to propose that oxidation and a lack of oxidation is the main underlying mechanism of ageing. Furthermore. he proposed that guaranteeing an optimal intake, through diet and supplements, is the key to living a long and healthy life.
Theoretically, following my anti-ageing diet and lifestyle, plus daily supplements, should equate to longer telomeres, so a few years ago I decided to have mine tested. It turns out I have the average telomere length of a 29 year old, someone half my age! There are a number of places who do testing if you want to get tested too.
You can read more in my book Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing available from HOLFORDirect who also stock Age Antioxidant (also included in the 100% Health Pack with another formulation recommended for the over 50’s – Brain Food).