Telomeres are the DNA 'cap' at the end of each chromosome critical for healthy cell function (imagine the plastic piece at the end of a shoelace to visualize). Growing evidence suggests that telomere shortening can inhibit stem cell function, cellular regeneration, and organ maintenance, contributing to the dreaded aging process. While there is still much to learn about telomere biochemistry, maintaining their health is huge in preventing the signs of aging. Some key supplements are showing promise towards maintaining their structure, which will help you look and feel younger longer.
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1. Young at heart with omega-3s
A 2010 study in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) uncovered an inverse association between blood levels of fish oil and the rate of telomere shortening over five years, suggesting a possible explanation for the protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids. Since telomeres are a marker of biological aging, telomere length has been shown to predict mortality in patients with cardiovascular diseases. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco studied more than 600 patients and found that the higher the blood levels of fish-derived omega-3 acids in patients with coronary heart disease, the longer the telomeres.
Bottom line: I recommend selecting a high quality fish oil supplement and taking 2-3 capsules (or 1 teaspoon) twice daily with meals.
Also see: Berries: How they keep your brain young
2. Get moving daily
If you're searching for the fountain of youth, it may be as close as your local gym. A 2008 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine of more than 2400 twins compared the telomere length in those that exercised versus the sedentary ones. After one year, they found - based on telomere length - that those who exercised were biologically younger than those who didn't. In fact, the telomeres of the most active subjects were 200 nucleotides longer than those of the least active subjects.
Bottom line: I prescribe that all my patients do three 30-minute strength training sessions per week, 1-2 interval cardio sessions (no more than 30 minutes each) and one yoga class or DVD.
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3. Anti-aging with astragalus
Astragalus is a common herb used in traditional Chinese medicine for its immune-boosting properties. Now the herb can add anti-aging to its impressive resume, as certain astragalus molecules have been found to contribute to telomere growth. According to a study published in the Journal of Immunology, substances within astragalus root (called cycloastragenols and astragalosides) can slow the aging process by activating telomerase enzyme production (responsible for telomere regeneration). The two patented forms of astragalus root extract are known as TAT2 and TA-65.
Bottom line: Since the extract responsible for lengthening telomeres is different from the standardized products available in a health food store, I recommend consulting with a health practitioner or integrative medicine doctor. Suzanne Somers's new book, Bombshell, discusses this supplement and its many benefits in great detail.
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4. A daily dose of sunshine
With all of its benefits, you can easily identify vitamin D as a magic pill. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher vitamin D concentrations, which are easily modifiable through nutritional supplementation, are associated with longer telomeres. Researchers report that the influence on telomeres by vitamin D is likely due to an inhibitory effect on inflammation as measured by C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
Bottom line: Remember that oxidative stress and inflammation will age you fast, so it pays to take a daily dose of sunshine (at least, in a bottle) to look and feel your best. I recommend 2,000-5,000 iu of D3 every morning with breakfast.
Also see: Jane Fonda on aging and happiness
5. Reverse the clock with resveratrol
This compound from red wine is known to improve blood vessel function, decrease fat cells and even put the brakes on the aging process. It's true! A 2003 study published in the journal Nature showed that yeast treated with resveratrol lived 60 percent longer. More recent research from the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, found that resveratrol has been shown to offer survival benefits in mice. The benefits of this multi-faceted supplement were recently featured on 60 minutes.
Bottom line: I recommend adding 1-2 capsules of a high potency resveratrol (such as the one available from Pure Encaps) supplement each morning.
6. Put the brakes on unhealthy habits
The question isn't always 'how to age slower,' but 'what is causing us to age faster?' Stress, sugar and inflammation are three things that will independently shorten telomere length and increase cellular aging.
Bottom line: Hormonally balanced nutrition, practicing stress management, minimizing alcohol and sugar intake, quitting smoking, and restoring sleep patterns will go a long way towards preserving your telomeres well into your later years.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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