Tag Archives: telomeres

The “New Old Age” Just Got Better

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For at least two decades we’ve been living with a drastic revision of growing old. What is now dubbed the “old old age” prevailed for centuries; it was a set of beliefs that turned the aging process into inevitable decline physically and mentally. After a lifetime of work, people found themselves set aside, no longer productive or active members of society. Generation after generation these expectations came true. But everyone trapped in the old old age was mistaken to think such expectations were inevitable. Hidden factors were causing beliefs to turn into reality.

The “new old age,” created by the baby boomer generation, threw out the previous beliefs, exchanging them for more optimistic ones, and by now we’ve grown used to a set of readjusted expectations. Millions of people over 65 haven’t retired, and few have taken to the rocking chair. To be healthy and active one’s whole life seems possible. But as much good as the new old age has done, it faced two major obstacles. The first was that aging itself has long been a mystery, not explained by medical science because too many changes occur over a lifetime, and these changes vary from person to person.  The second obstacle, assuming that aging could be defined, was how to reverse it.

An enormous leap forward in overcoming both obstacles was made by Elizabeth Blackburn, the molecular biologist who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for their discovery of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes a section of DNA known as telomeres, which cap the end of each chromosome like a period ending a sentence. Telomeres are “noncoding” DNA, meaning that they have no specified function in building cells, but they are far from passive. Their function seems to be to preserve cells. Every time a cell divides, which happens constantly somewhere in the body, its telomeres are shortened. Longer telomeres are typical of young cells in the stage of luxuriant growth; shortened or frayed telomeres are typical of weary senescent cells.

Now the head of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, Blackburn covers every aspect of cell aging and renewal in her 2017 book, The Telomere Effect, co-authored with her close colleague, UCSF Professor and health psychologist Elissa Epel.  They convincingly describe telomeres and levels of telomerase in the cell as our best marker yet for the multifold process of aging. This also implies that by increasing one’s telomerase levels and thereby causing telomeres to grow longer, a healthy lifespan can be founded on cells that keep renewing themselves for decades.

In their book Blackburn and Epel cite a startling actuarial prediction. There are currently around 300,000 centenarians existing around the world, a number that is rapidly increasing. According to one estimate, reaching one hundred is about to become so commonplace that one-third of children born in the UK will live to be centenarians—the issue of protecting your cells is suddenly more urgent than ever.  We highly recommend reading Blackburn and Epel’s book–its wealth of information needs to be absorbed in detail. But the bottom line is to understand what puts your telomeres at high risk and low risk. Continue reading

How to Defeat Aging on Three Levels

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

The creeping tide of age has steadily risen over the past two decades, and it has been met with advances in anti-aging. Almost 25 years ago, when I researched aging for a book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, the most encouraging sign of progress was “the new old age,” which signaled a major shift in attitude. No longer was it acceptable to spend one’s old age in a rocking chair, existing essentially as a social discard, worn out after years of productivity. In the new old age, people expect to live a long life with as much pride and enjoyment as in every other phase of life.

Today, the new old age has become a given, no longer revolutionary or even out of the ordinary. But in the intervening quarter century, much more than attitudes have shifted. The mystery of the aging process, which occurs at around 1% a year after age 30, is beginning to yield some viable answers. For example, its genetic basis is now better understood. Researchers continue to probe clues offered, for examples, by telomeres, the end caps to a strand of DNA that ravel with time as the body ages. Preserving the integrity of telomeres through meditation seems like a very promising lead.

But the sheer amount of new data and hopeful clues can be very confusing, so I think it’s worthwhile to summarize in very general terms, where anti-aging is going. The three fronts that need to be covered are physical, mental, and psychological. Continue reading

Change Your Telomeres, Change Your Life

What’s A Telomere?

When you’re stressed—whether it’s with financial woes, relationship struggles or job problems—not only do your co-workers and friends know it, your body knows it too, all the way down to the tiny tips at the end of your chromosomes.

Those tips, called telomeres, are like the caps at the end of your shoelaces. They have the benevolent role of protecting your chromosomes from fraying, and that can influence how long you live.

But when you’re chronically stressed, those little tips can wear away and rush your aging at a rate up to 10 years faster than normal. As pioneering researcher and physician Dr. Dean Ornish writes, “…as your telomeres get shorter, your life gets shorter.”

The Good News

As startling as this revelation may be, it leads to a hopeful question: If stress can gnaw at your telomeres, can stress-reducing techniques restore them? The answer is: yes.

Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD and her colleagues discovered an enzyme they named telomerase, and it can repair the telomeres that stress ravages. This discovery was so groundbreaking, that Blackburn and her team were awarded the Nobel Prize for it.

It’s been shown that with a few simple lifestyle changes, the amount of telomerase in your cells can increase in as little as 3 months. Read on to discover just a few ways you can play a part in making that happen.

3 Ways To Live Longer and Better

1. Move Your Body: Studies show that people who exercise have longer telomeres than those who don’t, even when they’re faced with extreme stress. The recommendation is to aim for 75 minutes of exercise a week. Find something you enjoy doing—like walking, swimming or dancing—and keep doing it.

2. Meditative Practice: Mindfulness meditation is all-the-rage these days and for good reason. Meditators who participated in an intensive meditation retreat increased their telomerase by 30%. If you’re new to meditation, try sitting quietly for 5-10 minutes everyday and focus on your breathing. When your mind wanders, simply return to your breath.

3. Good Sleep: Consistently missing sleep can send your body’s stress hormones into overdrive, and that’s likely why some studies have linked poor sleep with shortened telomeres. To replenish yourself, try to get 7-8 hours of sleep most nights.

It turns out that making a few simple changes to your daily routine can be a powerful way to take control of your stress so you can be happier, healthier and live longer. And doesn’t that feel good?

 

photo by: CodonAUG

Weekly Health Tip: The Power of Meditation

Visualization is the courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

The stress and strife of daily life have a direct effect on our health. Most dramatically, our very chromosomes are affected by stress. Telomeres are the end tips of our chromosomes, little caps that protect our DNA. (The bright spots in the above visualization of a chromosome are the telomeres.)

Telomeres play an important role in cell division, and get a bit shorter every time a cell divides. In studies, subjects with inherently stressful lives—notably mothers of special-needs children and spouses of dementia sufferers—showed extraordinary wear and tear on their telomeres. The stress-induced disruption to their cells’ life cycle actually caused them to age faster. But an enzyme called telomerase maintains and repairs the telomeres, prolonging the life of our cells. Increasing telomerase is a way to slow telomeres’ unraveling. And guess how we can we do that? Meditation.

An exciting 2010 study showed that people in an intensive meditation practice had greater telomerase activity in their immune cells than those who did not meditate. Scientists are working to gather even more information about how mindful awareness and other stress reduction techniques can help us live longer and more healthfully.

Those who have never attempted a meditation practice may feel unsure about beginning. Do I have to study anything, buy anything? No. There are many ways to meditate, and you may enjoy learning about many of them, but mindful awareness should never feel like hard work or a formal program. Meditation is, by definition, not trying. Start by taking 20 minutes to close your eyes and sit still. Find the quiet in your mind. Focus on one thing: Yourself doing nothing. Be aware of your breathing, let your muscles relax, and let go of your daily concerns. If you are thinking about the future or remembering the past, your mind is not in the present. The goal is for your mind to be only in the present. Not only will you feel at peace, you will know that your practice is benefitting your overall health and longevity.

Learn more about alternative paths to health:

TheVisualMD.com: Dr. Oz and Alternative Practices

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Weekly Health Tip: Manage Your Stress to Protect Your Health

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Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

The consequences of allowing stress to rule our life are not only emotional. Physical structures throughout the human body take a beating. Tiny spines on the dendrites of nerve cells are worn away by the effects of stress hormones. Stress also affects the immune response and is associated with increased fat around the organs, which is a serious health risk. A zone at the tail-end of each chromosome, called a telomere, unravels as we age. In recent years, scientists have found that when we are under stress, telomeres come apart more quickly. To see more visual evidence of how stress affects your health TheVisualMD.com: Manage Your Stress

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