As you may know, telomeres are the small caps at the ends of chromosomes responsible for protecting cellular DNA.
Each time our cells self-replicate, telomeres become a little more damaged and shorter. This gradual erosion has the effect of weakening DNA, which in turn has a detrimental effect on cells and on the body.
Telomere-shortening is thus recognized as a key element in the aging process (1). Short telomeres are associated with a higher risk of age-related diseases.
Telomerase is an enzyme naturally present in the body, responsible for preventing this telomere-shrinking by ensuring both the growth and repair of these protective caps. It’s therefore sometimes referred to as the ‘immortality enzyme’ (2).
However, further studies are needed to accurately determine all its effects. For example, it appears that excessive amounts of telomerase cannot be directly absorbed, which could potentially extend the life of already-aberrant cells.
The scientists responsible for discovering this enzyme in 1985, who included Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, were awarded the 2009 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.
Stress promotes telomere-shortening. So try to lower your stress levels, by using breathing exercises or meditation, changing your perception of events and avoiding sources of anxiety wherever possible.
In addition, minimise your exposure to pollution, which also has a negative impact on telomeres.
Regular exercise, on the other hand, helps to preserve them.
And finally, eating a varied, balanced diet (and avoiding alcohol) plays an important role in activating telomerase, protecting telomeres and thus maintaining good health into old age. Let’s take a look at the best food options.
Telomere length in white blood cells has been found to be positively associated with a diet high in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, algae, seafood, dairy products and coffee and good (3-4). The Mediterranean or Cretan diet, is a good example of such a diet.
Conversely, heavy consumption of red and processed meat and sugary drinks, foods high in oxidants, is associated with shorter telomeres (5).
In general, current studies suggest that anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients may help support telomerase and prevent rapid erosion of telomeres (6). Such nutrients include:
The various compounds studied have been brought together in specific supplements for their potential to preserve telomeres and activate telomerase. The products Cycloastragenol and Astragaloside IV, both substances obtained from the medicinal perennial astragalus, appear particularly promising (7).
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