Camille Lawson (RN, BA, MEd)
Healthy aging: Is there such a thing you ask?
We used to accept the aging process as inevitable and attributed those who seemed to age “better” as being lucky with genetics. Scientists have long tried to explain why some people outlive everyone else, while maintaining good health, even into very old age. They credit genes, exercise and diet, but never a clear answer. As a society today, it is NOT enough to have the technology to keep us alive longer – we demand to live healthy and vital lives! Yet, many of us do not. Often the diseases we associate with aging catch up with the best of us, despite our efforts; arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers of all sorts. Not to mention grey hair (or no hair!), wrinkles… OK I will stop!
Healthy aging is a relatively new term evolved from the concept of “anti-aging”. We are certain now we not only want to live longer, but live better! One significant scientific clue to achieving this is finally within sight – it lies in the tiny bits of DNA that cap the ends of our chromosomes, called telomeres. I have become fascinated with this discovery and how important it is to MY feeling and looking great – for longer!
Why do we age?
Aging begins with a vicious cycle of several factors – exposure to toxins, poor diet, chronic stress, inadequate sleep, inflammation, and so forth – that create a tremendous load of free radicals that damage our cells and DNA. We used to think our bodies kind of “wore out” while now, science has discovered that aging is a mix of this free radical cycle and genetic programming that drives a “clock” that ticks inside every single living cell in our bodies! This discovery has been thanks to a series of scientists beginning with Hermann Muller in the 30’s, Alexey Olovnikov in the early 1970’s, Bill Andrews of Sierra Sciences, and Elizabeth Blackburn (U of CA). Leonard Hayflick is responsible for determining there is a limit to how many times a cell can divide forming the idea of the “aging clock”.
This “aging clock” is telomere shortening. When telomeres get shorter, bad things happen…
The Quick Lowdown on How Telomeres and Aging are Linked:
Telomeres are the region of DNA at the end of each of our chromosomes. Similar to the plastic tip on the end of shoelaces, telomeres protect the DNA strand from becoming frayed and unravelling, which would create cellular dysfunction and lead to overall poor health. Our cells cannot replicate the telomere tips of our chromosomes, which get shorter and shorter every time our cells divide. When a cell’s telomeres get TOO short, its DNA become unstable, mutations occur and the cell is no longer able to divide. Ultimately, this leads to poor diminished health and acceleration of the symptoms we associate with aging.
Scientists discovered that our telomeres are protected by a powerful anti-aging enzyme produced by our own cells called “telomerase”; this enzyme rebuilds telomeres and more importantly, protects them from wearing down in the first place. [This discovery was made in 2009 by a team of scientists lead by Nobel laureate, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California who has been studying telomeres and currently is behind a brand new longevity testing measuring the length of our telomeres to determine how old we really are and how many healthy years do we have ahead of us.] For my money I want to know more about what I CAN DO to keep my telomeres longer, for longer!
What Factors Shorten Telomeres and What will Protect Them?
Scientists are becoming more clear that telomere length is shortened by several factors: oxidative stress, weak immune system, chronic stress (cortisol), poor nutrition, and fatigue.
Oxidative Stress : A huge factor in North American culture! This refers to the cumulative load on our body from toxicity which is pervasive from our food and water that we consume, the air we breathe…did you know that the average North American drinks over one gallon of pesticide a year? Yikes, that is horrifying to me who strives to be a “clean” eater in most ways! Solution: Choose organic whenever possible (google the “dirty dozen” and “the clean thirteen”); drink purified water; use whole body nutritional cleansing as a regular lifestyle choice to remove toxins; avoid chemicals; do not smoke (I know, enough said, you get it!).
Fatigue: The average person requires 7-8 hours of restful sleep nightly; however, most of us get a fitful 5-6 hours. This chronic fatigue shortens our Telomeres. The hours of sleep we get between 10 PM and 2 AM also help us produce our own Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which is essential to healthy aging. This hormone begins to decrease at age 35! Solution: Try going to bed earlier and getting up at 6 AM to use those hours for productive organization and boost your HGH at the same time. Find a good sleep spray containing Melatonin and 5 HTP, both which will contribute to a deeper, more restful sleep. According to many researchers (Colgan Institute), many of us cease to produce adequate amount of our sleep hormone, Melatonin, after age 35. Manage stress (see below) since spiking Cortisol at 3-4 AM may cause pressure on your adrenal glands which push on your bladder waking you up.
Chronic Stress: We were never meant to live in the lifestyle conditions that most of us do today with constant stress and the subsequent elevated levels of Cortisol associated with this. There are numerous studies that demonstrate that when we have cortisol surging chronically we damage our immune system’s ability to ward off disease and illness, we cannot lose body fat, in particular, the dangerous visceral fat around our organs. In my work as a trainer at women’s events on Balanced Living (I teach Nutrition, Hormones & Sexuality), I have observed that many women are in a perpetual state of “overwhelm”. The stresses do not go away and our coping mechanisms are often non-existent. Our Telomeres get shorter more quickly with this chronic, unmanaged stress load, according to studies by Blackburn and Psychologist Elissa Epel. Solution: While our daily stress may not disappear we are able to cope more effectively so that our cortisol does not spike. MEDITATION does help! I so understand that you hear this over and over and say, “when will I fit in 20 minutes a day of sitting with an empty mind? Like never”! I ask that you take just 5 minutes in the early morning and again at bedtime to simply sit comfortably, eyes open or shut and purposely quiet the mind chatter. This will help. Exercise will assist you in dealing with stress and also may contribute to longer Telomeres. Strive for 30 minutes, 5 times a week and incorporate resistance training. This is manageable and the effects are noticeable. Find a good adrenal support (adaptagens) to assist our hard working adrenal glands.
Where do we stand now?
Activating the Telomerase enzyme appears to be the healthy aging industry’s “Holy Grail”, according to a recent Maclean’s magazine article (May 27, 2013). Scientists are hot on the discovery trail of what compounds will increase this enzyme and subsequently support our telomeres in staying longer, for longer.Right now there are 2 products that I am aware of on the market claiming to support Telomeres in retaining their length by activating the enzyme Telomerase. One is called TA 65 (TA Sciences) and is purported to have 1 active ingredient (Astragalus) that gives a “hit” on the telomerase. It costs approximately $600.00 for a month supply. The other is Product B (Isagenix) and they claim to have 6 active botanical ingredients that give a “hit” on the Telomerase enzyme. It costs ~$77.00 a month. Both have ingredients to boost the immune system. Until researchers provide some hard-core clinical data testing Telomere length “before and after”, the jury is out on whether these products do what they claim. As someone who researches nutrition thoroughly though, I opt for the Isagenix Product B because the ingredients support overall health and for $77.00 a month I am willing to hedge my bets on keeping my Telomeres longer, for longer!
Commit to managing the key factors within your control to minimize the shortening of your telomeres. Optimal nutrition, exercise and managing high stress are the top three and I also use natural botanical compounds to improve immune system and assist the body in supporting telomere health. Add in a supplementation for activating your Telomeraze enzyme and you are covering your bases on healthy aging!
Stay tuned for what is next in the realm of healthy aging breakthroughs!