Home' Nova National : July 2010 Contents HEALTH NATUROPATHY
© NOVA JULY 2010
TELOMERE TIME IS a newly understood
concept shedding light on many aspects
of our health and vitality as we grow
older. The length of your telomeres is
related to how youthful you look for your
actual age, how well or badly you might
cope with a stressful or toxic lifestyle,
your tendency to gain weight, and even to
how long you are likely to live.
Telomeres are pretty special (last
year, Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Geider
and Jack Szostak shared the Nobel Prize
in Physiology or Medicine for their
discovery of how chromosomes are
protected by telomeres and the enzyme
telomerase) and we are only just realising
how the support and maintenance of
your telomeres can play an extremely
important role in your health and
Telomeres are the caps which sit
at the ends of our chromosomes,
assisting and supporting chromosomal
integrity during cell division and serving
a structural protective role. They also
have the important functional role
of regulating ageing and age-related
diseases, including preventing the
development of cancers. Made up of
thousands of repetitions of DNA base
pair sequences, telomeres shorten with
each cell division, marking how much
time we have left like some kind of
genetic clock, ticking away. Each time they
shorten, we apparently become more
susceptible to ageing and disease.
Cell division can occur for only a finite
number of times (roughly 40-100) for
each cell and when the number of
divisions available to that cell is complete,
then it simply dies of old age. This is
called the Hayflick Limit after the
researcher Leonard Hayflick who
discovered this phenomenon in the early
1960s and is also known as senescence.
The length of your telomeres dictates
how many times a cell may divide.
While I am sure that by now you are
thinking, "I must stop my telomeres from
shortening at all costs", you should be
aware that this same telomere shortening
process helps prevent the development
of cancers by allowing mutated cells
in your body to go through apoptosis,
otherwise known as programmed cell
death. Apoptosis helps you prevent
cancer by killing off mutated cells, which,
if left unchecked, may have gone on to
become potentially deadly cancer cells. In
most active cancers, cells have activated
the gene that codes for the production
of a particular enzyme, which is thus
promoting the cancer cells' immortality
by enhancing telomere repair and neatly
avoiding the apoptosis cell death process.
This enzyme is called telomerase and it is
primarily active early in life. Telomerase
is involved in regulating telomere length
and the rate of the telomere shortening
by activating a repair process as it
facilitates the addition of DNA to the
replicating strands of chromosomes, thus
limiting telomere shortening. Frustrating
isn't it? You'd love to stop the clock, but
not if it means promoting a cancer.
So, it appears that while we may
want to slow down the rate of telomere
shortening, we certainly do not want this
rate reduced to the point whereby our
risk of developing cancer is increased.
Given that having a shorter telomere
length has been linked to everything
from arthritis to dementia, what can we
do to safely support telomere length?
Well, there seems to be at least two
important parts to this equation. Firstly,
(and this part is still very much in the
developmental stage), it might be helpful
if we can enhance the activity level of the
enzyme telomerase to support telomere
repair, and secondly, we want to be able
to effect a slowing in the rate of telomere
decline, regardless of whether the
telomerase repair mechanism has been
tweaked or not.
Increased physical activity has
been shown to fit the bill nicely with
recent research in the AHA Circulation
publication finding that an increased
amount of running was able to increase
telomerase activity and thus stabilise
telomere length. Other lifestyle factors
which apply include metabolic oxidative
stress, which appears to be a strong
promoter of telomere shortening. And
so, not surprisingly, poor lifestyle choices,
which promote oxidative stress also
accelerate telomere shortening, with
smoking and obesity being rather obvious
accelerants of telomere shortening. Being
a smoking couch potato tends to take
about 10 years away from your
chromosomal clock, regardless of the
obvious health risks such as lung and
circulatory disease -- you're just running
out of cell replications faster.
Just in case you were wondering,
stress also seems to promote telomere
Big lifestyle factors aside, what about
just choosing not to take a good quality
multivitamin, mineral and antioxidant
supplement? Unfortunately for the "I
get it all through my diet" group, that
also appears to be a bad choice when it
comes to maintaining telomere length,
with a recent study finding that such
supplementation was associated with
having roughly 5% greater telomere
length in women (men were not included
in the study participants).
Many other factors play a role in
regulating telomere length, including
how often you have a cuppa, whether
you're well oiled with essential fats, if
a good curry is to your liking and how
often you soak up some sunlight. Not too
complicated after all, is it?
Jeremy Hill (Diploma of Natural Therapy)
is a Qualified Naturopath
'Being a smoking couch potato tends to take about 10 years
away from your chromosomal clock, regardless of the obvious
health risks such as lung and circulatory disease.'
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