Today we summarize the results of a study just published in the British medical journal Lancet, which showed that making a few basic changes in diet and lifestyle seemed to reverse signs of aging seen in individual chromosomes.
To understand the study, we need to explain a little about the concept of “telomeres”. Telomeres—fairly recently discovered—are parts of the chromosomes that are in each of our cells, and there is a growing body of research on ways to make these telomeres longer, as longer telomeres seem to protect chromosomes (and our cells) from aging.
Telomeres, as seen in the diagram, are the region at the end of each chromosome, and they serve basically as an end “cap” for each chromosome. A good analogy is to think of telomeres like the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces, that protect the laces from fraying.
Our chromosomes are constantly “replicating” (dividing), and as we get older, these telomeres weaken and the break off, becoming shorter. Over time, the individual telomeres get so short that they no longer protect the chromosome when they divide, and then that cell either dies, becomes inactive, or might become distorted in a way that that the cell becomes a cancerous cell.
So it is theorized that short telomeres might be factor causing cancer, but besides that, when enough cells in our organs become inactive or die off, then these organs start to age, or wear out. Telomere research is directed towards trying to keep the telomeres from shortening, or even lengthen them if possible.
Various supplements have been promoted (without proof) as lengthening telomeres, but in the current Lancet study, researchers wanted to see if making a few lifestyle changes could lengthen telomeres, and the results were positive.
The research study was lead by Dr. Dean Ornish, a doctor famous in the United States as a proponent of making dietary and lifestyle changes to reverse heart disease. He has published many scientific studies, and has high credibility among the U.S. medical community. He promotes a diet high in vegetables, exercise, and stress reduction, and he was instrumental in President Bill Clinton’s conversion to a vegan diet.
In Dr. Ornish’s Lancet study, 35 men were recruited, and 10 of them (the “intervention” group) underwent a supervised program of a diet which emphasized fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes; as well as 30 minutes of walking daily along with an hour of stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation. Twenty-five of the men did not undergo these changes, and were considered the “control” group.
After five years of the program, the telomeres in the two groups of men were analyzed. While not every man in the intervention group showed longer telomeres, on average these men had a 10% increase in telomere length, while the control group suffered a 3% decrease in telomere length after 5 years.
This study was small and does not prove that dietary changes, exercise, and stress reduction will increase the length of your telomeres, but it does provide very interesting findings that undoubtedly will be researched further in larger studies.
Here in our blog Mais Saude, we will continue to give you the latest hints on healthy living, which hopefully will not only make you feel better, but might also help keep your telomeres long!
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