Who wouldn’t be interested in more youthful skin, thicker hair, better bone strength, lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol and improved energy, memory and sexual performance? And all at the same time as extending your life span?
I know it sounds like a late-night TV offer, with a vegetable dicer thrown in for free, but one of the most exciting areas of aging research is on the importance of the length of the tips of your chromosomes, called telomeres. Every year, telomeres get shorter as cells replicate, and one theory of aging is that when telomeres get short enough, the cell dies. When enough cells die, so do you.
On the other hand, the potential to lengthen telomeres exists. The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three scientists in 2009 for describing an enzyme, telomerase, that can add length to telomeres and holds the potential to slow or reverse aging. It's possible to measure the length of telomeres and assess whether therapies affect the normal aging process.
Right now, there are several ways to lengthen telomeres in humans, and anti-aging responses like rejuvenated skin and hair have been reported. Here are six lifestyle tips to help you take advantage of this new research:
1. Plant-based lifestyle
Dr. Dean Ornish worked with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize, to measure telomerase activity in men who ate a low fat (<10% calories) plant based diet, walked daily, practice yoga and stress management, and attended support group meetings. After only three months, the activity of telomerase increased significantly. When a group of the participants was tested at five years, their telomeres had increased in length compared to a control group who had shortened during that time period.
2. Yogic meditation
Dr. Dharma Khalsa of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation joined with UCLA School of Medicine teamed with Dr. Blackburn to measure telomerase activity after 8 weeks of practicing a 12 minute Kirtan Kriya meditation daily. Telomerase activity jumped 43% in the meditation group compared to 4% in a group asked just to relax for the same time period.
3. Vitamin D supplementation
Researchers in Augusta, Georgia gave approximately 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 to a group of subjects for 16 weeks, raising their blood level to 103 nmol/l. Compared to a control group, telomerase activity increased 19%.
This polyphenol found in grapes, red wine and peanuts has long been considered a potential anti-aging agent, though no definite conclusion is available. There have, however, been some studies with encouraging results; for example, Chinese scientists took human endothelial progenitor cells exposed to resveratrol, and showed that telomerase activity increased.
5. Qigong exercise
This gentle variation of tai chi has become quite popular in the West, and was studied in Hong Kong for its effects on telomerase activity. Over the course of 4 months, telomerase activity increased 70%.
This supplement is sold as a nutraceutical and is purified from astragalus, an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. TA-65 increases telomerase activity, and improves immune function and bone strength. Users have reported anti-aging benefits such as skin, hair and memory improvements. Testimonials from users, including those from Suzanne Somers, have made it a popular but expensive option available through practitioners licensed in its use.
The dream of slowing aging and enjoying a longer life without illness or deterioration has existed since stories of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. Without a doubt, breakthroughs will occur in the next 10-20 years. This week, Craig Ventner, famous for mapping the human genome in a race with the NIH, announced he is starting a company dedicated to identifying therapies to delay aging.
Experts in anti-aging indicate that the goal is not necessarily to live to 150. Rather, the goal is to stay healthy for the next 10-20 years using anti-aging strategies like those listed above. In that time frame, so many new strategies will be available that extending life will no longer seem as fantastical as the Space Age once did.
If you are interested in knowing your true biological age, many anti-aging specialists, including my office, offer testing of telomere length.