Can You Lengthen Your Telomeres?
PLAY WITH TIME'S ELASTICITY AND SLOW DOWN YOUR CELLULAR AGE THROUGH FOOD AND RITUAL
Let’s be clear—our stance on aging is that it’s a blessing. There are gifts that only time on this planet presents: A grounded sense of self-confidence in full bloom, for one, and even (especially!) earned and honored greys and laugh lines. The “issues” with aging only arise when they impede on living in your fullest expression. Activist and writer Michaela Angela Davis captures the learning curve of growing older precisely: “The relationship with your body as you age is dynamic. You have to learn it in a new way. There's no manual. I want to be fresh until the day I rest.”
One science-backed way to feel your freshest is to slow down your cellular age. Regardless of how many trips around the sun you’ve taken, your cells tell a different story. They contain information that sets the stage for health, energy, and vitality, or conversely, give way to dis-ease. Premature cellular aging can wreak havoc on your healthy years—but if we look deeper into the heart of the cells and into the chromosomes, we’ll find the keys to slow down your biological age. They’re called telomeres.
What are Telomeres?
By definition, telomeres are a compound structure at the end of a chromosome. They act like protective end caps on cell sequences to help prevent your chromosomes from decaying and fraying. According to the holistic medical experts at Parsley Health, “Without telomeres to protect [your genetic information], chromosomes get tangled and damaged, resulting in poorly constructed cells and speed up the process that leads to cell death and an older, less resilient body.” All to say, shorter telomeres translate to an aging body. Still, it’s not set in stone: there are foods, rituals, and lifestyle tools you can implement to slow down this process and essentially extend your biological age.
This breakthrough research to support “reverse aging” and playing with time’s elasticity is led by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elisa Epel. They’re both PhDs, leaders in molecular biology and psychology, and co-authors of The Telomere Effect. “The extraordinary discovery from our research labs is that the end of the chromosomes can actually lengthen—and as a result, aging becomes a dynamic process that can be accelerated or slowed, or in some aspects even reversed,” Blackburn and Epel said. “Aging is not, as thought for so long, a slippery slope towards infirmity and decay.” As it turns out, the pathway to living younger is about several key lifestyle factors, which can slow down the degradation of telomeres. That way, you reap the benefits of far more juicy, healthful years to soak up, no matter how many candles take up your birthday cake real estate.
Below, find powerful, nutritive tools that leverage epigenetics (how your environment and lifestyle factors particular genes on and off) and telomere research and help you cultivate ageless radiance.
Bend Time: How to Program Your Biology for Health and Turn Back the the Bio Clock
A colorful and diverse diet is a visual feast, to be sure, but each color also contains solar energy, phytonutrients, and antioxidants, which all serve as the antidote to cellular age. Specifically, antioxidants help lower inflammation and oxidative stress by fighting off free radicals. Free radicals appear in the body naturally due to environmental toxins, stress and consuming processed foods. They damage DNA and cellular replication and their impact has long-term effects. Consider adding three to five colors on your plate at every meal to flood the body with phytonutrients; snacking on water-rich, hydrating vegetables like cauliflower, cucumber, and radish when possible; and eating functional foods known for their antioxidant properties like brown seaweed.
Balance Blood Sugar
Erratic blood sugar levels can affect your skin, metabolism, hormones, and glandular system—all of which fluctuate with age and can use support. When you stabilize your blood sugar levels you also improve sensitivity to insulin, the hormone responsible for how your body responds to glucose. Maintaining this balance can potentially prevent you from developing type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or PCOS. Make sure to get enough omega-3 fatty acids, foods rich in prebiotic fiber like leafy greens and legumes, and incorporate herbs like Gymnema Sylvestre which has been used in Ayurveda to prevent the activation of sweet taste buds and curb sugar cravings.
aging is a dynamic process that can be accelerated or slowed—maybe even reversed.
Focus on Organic
You may have heard the buzzy phrase “toxic load” which refers to the accumulation of chemicals and toxins that you come into contact with living in the modern world. These toxins interfere with cell metabolism and tax the detox organs like the liver, kidneys, and skin; however, eating organic is one critical way to reduce daily toxic exposures. Conventional produce is often grown with the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides and insecticides, growth hormones and antibiotics. It is usually irradiated, contains genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) and/or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and can be grown using sewage sludge fertilizer. By contrast, organic produce cannot be grown with all the above. According to the Environmental Working Group, eating an organic diet can reduce your pesticide level by a staggering 90%.
Create Evening Rituals
While the benefits of sleep are regularly touted, it’s not just important to get a certain number of hours but to enter into R.E.M. and something called “Delta Sleep,” a restorative sleep stage and brain wave frequency that helps one access the unconscious mind. While deep rest can be hard to come by, one step to achieving ultimate sleep is to create a nutritive bedtime regimen. Beyond the no-tech in the bedroom rule or drawing yourself a hot bath, use plants as a functional ally. Brew tea with time-honored ingredients like catnip and valerian; supplement with magnesium which activates the parasympathetic nervous system; or start the bedtime rituals in the morning by swapping out your coffee with a stimulant-free latte that nourishes your adrenals.
Stress—it’s well documented to have a connection to inflammation, hormone and microbiome imbalance, but it has also been shown to contribute to telomere shortening. With stress comes a rush of hormones, namely cortisol and adrenaline, which wire and tire the nervous system. Alongside eating fresh, whole foods, getting plenty of electrolytes and minerals, and incorporating oxygenating compounds like chlorophyll into your diet, having a daily practice of breathwork or meditation is essential. Breathwork, specifically, has been shown to bolster cellular health. Holding your breath, for example, has been shown to strengthen the cell's mitochondria, while the mixture of cold therapy and deep, belly breaths have been studied to turn on anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Eat for Resilience
Though it’s a worthy pursuit to actively reduce stress, life happens. Instead of operating from a place of avoidance, foster a body ready to combat and adapt to stress and burnout. Stock up on herbs like astragalus which has been studied to boost the enzyme, telomerase, in the body as well as interferons, which are proteins that protect the immune system.