Thousands of studies have been published on telomeres and telomerase. They are known to maintain genomic stability, prevent the inappropriate activation of DNA damage pathways, and regulate cellular aging.
In humans, telomere length and integrity plays a role in diseases, disease susceptibility, and aging. Short telomeres are a risk factor for many diseases.
According to H+ Magazine:
“... [S]everal recent studies have indicated that telomerase expression might have significant anti-aging effects ... [I]t appears that a few relatively small genetic alterations in the mammalian genome and protein expression patterns, including increased telomerase expression, can result in a significantly longer lifespan and a reduction in age-associated diseases.
Thus it’s very likely that telomerase will be a major target for genetic alterations designed to increase the human lifespan, remaining a very active area in anti-aging research.”
Although telomeres appear to be a brand new addition on the health scene, they were actually first discovered back in the 1930's. Then, in 1973, Alexey Olovnikov discovered that the telomeres, which are tiny units of DNA at the very end of each chromosome, shorten with time because they cannot replicate completely each time the cell divides.
Hence, as you get older, your telomeres get shorter and shorter.
Eventually, DNA replication and cell division ceases completely, at which point you die. This is now thought to be a major key that explains the process of aging itself, and holds the promise of not just slowing aging, but actually reversing it. Some now believe the human lifespan could be 150 years, or longer.
The video above features Greta Blackburn, co-author of the recently released book The Immortality Edge: Realize the Secrets of Your Telomeres for a Longer, Healthier Life. It's an excellent read, and I'll discuss some of the leading strategies to prevent telomere shortening in just a moment. But first, let's take a look at the research that has catapulted telomeres into the anti-aging limelight.
Telomere Findings Led to 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology
In 1984, Elizabeth Blackburn PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF—not to be confused with Greta Blackburn, featured in the interview above—discovered that the enzyme telomerase has the ability to lengthen the telomere by synthesizing DNA from an RNA primer. She, along with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase."
I believe the science of telomeres offers the most exciting and viable possibility for extreme life extension—the kind of anti-aging strategy that actually allows you to regenerate and literally "grow younger."
Naturally, researchers are hard at work devising pharmaceutical strategies to accomplish this, but there's solid evidence that simple lifestyle strategies can do this too.
This is great news, as short telomeres are a risk factor not just for death itself, but for many diseases as well. For example, telomere shortening has been linked to:
Decreased immune response against infections Type 2 diabetes Atherosclerotic lesions Neurodegenerative diseases Testicular, splenic, intestinal atrophy DNA damage
Animal studies have also shown that these types of health problems can actually be reversed by restoring telomerase functioning.
How does Telomere Length Affect Aging and Lead to Death?
Every cell in your body contains a nucleus, and inside the nucleus are the chromosomes that contain your genes. The chromosome is made up of two "arms," and each arm contains a single molecule DNA, which is essentially a string of beads made up of units called bases.
A typical DNA molecule is about 100 million bases long. It's curled up like a slinky, extending from one end of the chromosome to the other. At the very tip of each arm of the chromosome is where you'll find the telomere.
Stem Cell Information, The National Institutes of Health resource for stem cell research,
Appendix C: Human Embryonic Stem Cells and Human Embryonic Germ Cells.
If you were to unravel the tip of the chromosome, a telomere is about 15,000 bases long at the moment of conception in the womb. Immediately after conception your cells begin to divide, and your telomeres shorten each time the cell divides. Once your telomeres have been reduced to about 5,000 bases, you essentially die of old age.
As stated in The Immortality Edge:
"Telomeres keep our chromosomes intact, in the manner of the plastic caps that hold the ends of shoelaces together. As cells divide and replicate, telomeres eventually shorten; when they become too short, cells die."
How Your Lifestyle Can Speed up or Slow Down the Aging Process
It stands to reason that many of the strategies that lead to optimal health would also slow down telomere shortening, and research has shown this to be accurate. Conversely, your lifestyle can also accelerate telomere shortening, effectively causing premature aging.
Obesity, lack of exercise, psychological stress and smoking all cause production of free radicals, which can cleave telomeres and significantly speed up the telomere-shortening process.
But that's not all. Several studies have now linked chronic psychological stress with accelerated telomere shortening, which helps explain the well-documented detrimental effects that stress has on your health.
One such study, led by Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004. They found that female caregivers who reported very high levels of perceived stress had shorter telomeres in their lymphocytes (key cells of your immune system)—equivalent to one decade of additional aging—compared to women reporting low stress levels!
A recent University of California press release also mentions other studies relating to psychological stress and telomere shortening, including one that examined people with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not only was there a relationship between PTSD and shorter telomere length, but even more remarkable was the correlation between exposure to childhood trauma (prior to the age of 14) and telomere shortening.
In fact, they believe the link between PTSD and decreased telomere length could be attributable to the exposure to childhood trauma, more so than to PTSD.
Another study, led by Eli Puterman, PhD, also found that non-exercising women with histories of childhood abuse had shorter telomeres than women who did not experience such abuse.
Interestingly enough, abuse victims who exercised vigorously at least three times a week showed NO such link! It appears that regular exercise effectively negated the detrimental effects of childhood abuse trauma on their telomeres.
The Age-Reversing Power of Vigorous Exercise
This is truly exciting news!
The buffering effect of exercise on telomere shortening was confirmed again just last year. This study included 63 healthy post-menopausal women, and found that "vigorous physical activity appears to protect those experiencing high stress by buffering its relationship with telomere length (TL)."
In fact, among the women who did not exercise, each unit increase in the Perceived Stress Scale was related to a 15-fold increase in the odds of having short telomeres. Those who did exercise regularly showed no correlation between telomere length and perceived stress!
Greta Blackburn's book The Immortality Edge: Realize the Secrets of Your Telomeres for a Longer, Healthier Life further details the importance of high-intensity exercise to prevent telomere shortening. The book also offers specific recommendations regarding supplements, diet, and stress-reduction techniques along with clear explanations of the science behind the recommendations.
This is truly a fascinating and groundbreaking realm of longevity research, as being able to reduce telomere shortening—essentially stopping the cellular aging process that eventually kills you—is one of the most promising anti-aging strategies we know of to date.
Much of the research surrounding telomeres is focused on turning on a gene that produces the enzyme telomerase. Your reproductive cells, which contain telomerase, do not undergo the same telomere shortening process that other cells do. So researchers are now screening different chemicals for their ability to turn on the telomerase gene in an effort to develop the first true anti-aging drug.
In the meantime, however, high-intensity exercise like Sprint 8 appears to be the most effective all-natural approach to slow down the aging process by reducing telomere shortening.
In fact, research has shown there's a direct association between reduced telomere shortening in your later years and high-intensity-type exercises. In a study published in Mechanisms of Aging and Development, the authors state:
"The results of the present study provide evidence that leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is related to regular vigorous aerobic exercise and maximal aerobic exercise capacity with aging in healthy humans.
LTL is not influenced by aerobic exercise status among young subjects, presumably because TL is intact (i.e., already normal) in sedentary healthy young adults.
However, as LTL shortens with aging it appears that maintenance of aerobic fitness, produced by chronic strenuous exercise and reflected by higher VO2max, acts to preserve LTL.
... Our results indicate that leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is preserved in healthy older adults who perform vigorous aerobic exercise and is positively related to maximal aerobic exercise capacity. This may represent a novel molecular mechanism underlying the "anti-aging" effects of maintaining high aerobic fitness."
Sprint 8—Your Best Anti-Aging Prescription
Avoid being fooled like 95 percent of those that are exercising. Traditional cardio is not your best bet at improving your health and life, high intensity exercises are.
Sprint 8 exercises are a perfect example of high-intensity exercises. The key to performing them properly is to raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold. You keep pushing at maximum effort for 20 to 30 seconds, and then recover for 90 seconds.
The cycle is then repeated for a total of eight repetitions.
Because it is very difficult to accurately measure your heart rate when it is this high it would be best to use a heart rate monitor until you are comfortable with precisely the amount of exertion you need to reach your target zone.
Sprint 8 exercises can be performed with any type of exercise -- with or without equipment. So, while having access to a gym or exercise equipment will provide you with a larger variety of options, you don't require either. You can just as easily perform Sprint 8 by walking or running outdoors.
Another benefit is the time it will save you. Instead of doing an hour-long cardio workout, you'll be done in 20 minutes or so. The actual sprinting totals only 4 minutes!
The other exciting benefit of Sprint 8-style exercises is its ability to naturally increase your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH), which also plays a significant role in the aging process.
Total Video Length: 0:22:16
Increasing Glutathione Levels Also Helps Reduce Telomere Shortening
Another powerful strategy that shows great promise in reducing telomere shortening is to increase your glutathione levels. There are studies in progress indicating that increasing glutathione levels can provide similar results as high-intensity exercise to preserve telomere length.
Glutathione (GHS) is manufactured inside your cells from its precursor amino acids: glycine, glutamate and cystine, and is therefore not a compound you can ingest directly.
Expensive glutathione supplements are available, but you can also increase your glutathione levels by making sure your diet includes foods rich in the sulfur amino acids your cells need to synthesize glutathione.
Eating a high quality whey protein is the easiest and most convenient way to do this. Other food sources include animal foods and eggs.
I am so convinced of the research on slowing telomere shortening to live longer that I take our Miracle Whey protein every morning (typically after my morning exercise program) and have been doing Sprint 8 exercises about twice a week since April 2010.
Again, Sprint 8 and organic whey protein are just two lifestyle strategies you can use to slow down telomere shortening. The Immortality Edge contains many others, and you can also read this past article for even more tips to slow down aging and stay healthier, longer.