Want to slow down or reverse aging and stay young forever?
Learn how to lengthen telomeres. Lengthening and protecting your telomeres may be the answer.
Telomeres are the caps at the end of each chromosome that protect your DNA. Generally, longer telomeres are associated with health and longevity.
But extremely long telomeres can make cancer cells immortal. You want the optimal length, long enough to protect your DNA and short enough to kill cancer cells.
In this article, you’ll learn how to lengthen telomeres naturally and reverse aging. But you don’t need to buy expensive telomere drugs or supplements. These tips are cheaper, safer, and far better.Extremely long telomeres can make cancer cells immortal. Therefore, you want the optimal length, long enough to protect your DNA and short enough to kill cancer cells.
How to Lengthen Telomeres Naturally
- Eat Foods that lengthen telomeres
- Avoid foods that Shorten telomeres
- Boost telomerase naturally
- Reduce or manage stress
- Practice meditation
- Avoid toxins in the environment
What Are Telomeres?
Telomeres are the caps at the end of each chromosome strand that protect your DNA from unraveling or fraying. Chromosomes are double-stranded, thread-like structures at the end of DNA strands containing all your genetic information.
You’re constantly gaining and losing cells. Telomeres protect your chromosomes during cell division. But they shorten during each cell division.
Eventually, telomeres are too short of protecting your chromosomes, leaving them vulnerable to decay. The cell stops dividing, becomes senescent, or dies through apoptosis or programmed cell death.
Because telomere shortening is associated with aging and cancer, telomeres are compared to a bomb fuse.
Theoretically, if you slow telomere shortening, you can slow the aging process.
Telomere Function and Structure
Telomeres allow your cells to divide. Cell division is necessary to grow new cells and stay alive without losing genetic information. Otherwise, your chromosome ends would fuse and damage your cell’s genetic code, leading to breakdown, cancer, or cell death.
Your cells can recognize and repair chromosome damage. Without telomeres, your cells would try to fix what looks like damaged DNA, whether broken or not. This continual repair process would keep cells from dividing. And ultimately dying.
Telomeres are DNA sequences made of four nucleic acid bases: thymine (T), adenine (A), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). On one strand, they’re repeating sequences of TTAGGG, paired with AATCCC on the other (1).
Each section of a telomere is a repeat made of six base pairs. Each chromosome has about 150 million base pairs. Every time a cell divides, it loses about 30 to 200 base pairs from its telomeres.
The telomere length of white blood cells starts at about 8,000 base pairs in newborns, 3,000 base pairs in adults, and 1,500 in the elderly. Cells generally divide about 50 to 70 times. With each cell division, telomeres become progressively shorter until the cell becomes senescent or dies.
Why do telomeres Shorten each time a cell divides?
Before a cell divides, it must make copies of its chromosomes for each new cell to have identical DNA (1). For replication, the two DNA strands of a chromosome must unravel and separate.
Then, an enzyme called DNA polymerase reads the original strands to replicate two new strands. The process requires adding short pieces of RNA at the end of each new strand. But each strand is a little shorter than the original because of the space needed at the end of the RNA.
What can you do to protect or even lengthen your telomeres?
1. Exercise and Telomere Length
Studies show that the more physically active you are, your telomeres are longer.
One study of 5,823 adults compared leukocyte telomere length between three groups: physically active, moderately active, and sedentary (2).
Leukocytes are an important class of immune cells. The study controlled for multiple demographics and lifestyle variables that may affect the relationship between physical activity and telomere length.
The High-activity group had a biological age advantage of about nine years compared to the Sedentary group, 8.8 to the Low-activity group, and about 7.1 years to the Moderate Group.
What about the telomeres of marathon runners?
One study found that marathon runners and triathletes in their fifties had the chromosomes and telomeres of twenty-year-olds (3). These athletes ran about 50 miles a week for about 35 years.
If having longer telomeres can keep you from aging, then exercise is an effective anti-aging tool available to almost everyone. What effect does diet have on telomere length?
2. Foods that Lengthen Telomeres
Studies show diet is possibly more critical for telomere length than exercise. What foods help telomeres?
One study of 400 women found (4) that those placed on a plant-based diet for three months had 29% longer telomeres than the control group during the same period. How does a plant-based diet protect your telomeres?
Plant-based diets lack saturated fat, which is associated with shorter telomeres. For example, replacing just one percent of your calories from saturated fat with anything else can add a whole year’s worth of aging to the length of your telomeres. Why is saturated fat so harmful?
Palmitic acid, the main saturated fat in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, can be toxic to human cells. But Is saturated fat the only way consuming animal products can shorten telomeres?
3. What Foods Shorten Telomeres?
Eating animal products also shorten telomeres through increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and cholesterol.
Processed meat and fish are possibly the worst foods for telomeres and speed up aging. Eating fish has been shown to age a person’s DNA by six years, and processed meat ages you by 14 years (5).
Your DNA is your genetic blueprint. If your DNA ages faster, your cells age more quickly. When your cells age, they can only copy what they are: older and less vibrant cells.
Telomere Safe Omega-3
Fish are known for being rich in Omega-3 fats. But did you know that fish get their omega-3s from algae?
Even wild fish have toxic heavy metals and fats that promote inflammation and shorten telomeres. Algae oil is the safest and most effective source of long-chain (DHA and EPA) omega-3s.
Also, Ground flax and chia seeds are excellent vegan sources of short-chain (ALA) omega-3s.
(Note: Although not eating fish is better for your telomeres, eating fish isn’t necessarily bad for you. Even people living in the Blue Zones eat fish in moderation. I am not making any recommendations. I am only reporting the benefits of algae oil compared to fish))
4. Increase Telomerase and Telomeres Naturally
You have an enzyme called telomerase that builds and maintains your telomeres by adding bases to their ends (1). However, telomerase is depleted as cells divide, causing telomeres to shorten as you age.
Telomerase stays active in reproductive cells to protect their telomeres and ensure the species doesn’t go extinct.
How can you increase and promote your telomerase activity?
A study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense found that three months of whole food plant-based diet and exercise and stress management can significantly boost (6) telomerase activity.
Learn more about how to boost telomerase activity in this video.
Be cautious: drugs and telomere supplements are marketed with claims to increase telomerase activity. Remember that synthetic drugs and supplements are unnatural and useless at best in the human body. First, you should explore natural ways to boost telomerase activity.
Discuss any health concerns, drugs, or supplements with your doctor.
5. Stress and Telomeres
Stress shortens telomeres and speeds up the aging process as few things can—for example, mothers caring for an ill child experience significant stress.
One study compared the telomere lengths of mothers of chronically ill children to those of mothers of healthy children. Looking at telomere length, the high-stressed mothers aged (7) about 10 years faster than the low-stress mothers. The same effect was found in those suffering (8) from severe work exhaustion.
(Note: I’m using stress during motherhood only as an example of stress and telomere shortening. I am not criticizing, condemning, or dissuading having children in any way).
It doesn’t matter if the stress is real.
Even perceived stress can shorten your telomeres. Psychological and perceived stress is associated with higher oxidative stress, lower telomerase, and shorter telomeres.
In one study, women with the highest levels of perceived stress had (9) telomeres shorter than the average by at least a decade of aging compared to women with low stress.
Even traumatic events in childhood can have (10) a lasting effect on telomeres and cell aging into adulthood. “Childhood events may embed epigenetically,” say researchers from one study, “and alter gene expression almost permanently.” Conversely, the traumatic events that occur during adulthood often don’t have lasting effects.
Can you grow back your telomeres by managing stress?
6. Lengthening Telomeres With Meditation
Stress isn’t the problem; it’s how you perceive stress. Meditation can help you feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions. It helps you remove yourself momentarily from your situation and become self-aware.
You can evaluate your thoughts and beliefs and let go of what’s not working for you. Practicing meditation can reduce stress and thereby help protect your telomeres.
Caregivers with family members who have dementia who meditated for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks had (11) a substantial increase in telomerase activity.
They also experienced the benefits of reduced stress, such as improved mental and physiological function. Stress is the cause of most health problems, including telomere shortening. Therefore, practicing meditation can benefit everyone.
Schedule some time to relax your mind and focus on your breathing. Start with a few minutes. Then, work your way up to a length that helps calm your mind and improve your well-being.
Learn a three-minute meditation from Deepak Chopra.
7. What Other Factors Can Shorten Telomeres?
- Smoking can shorten telomeres faster.
- Getting consistently poor sleep is a chronic stressor
- Air pollution can shorten the telomeres of newborns (12)
- Toxins in the environment
- Women who have given childbirth have shorter telomeres than those who haven’t (13)
Which Diseases Are Related to Telomeres?
People with shorter telomeres than their age group have a higher risk for chronic disease or early death. Paradoxically, people with extremely long telomeres are at greater risk of cancer. Extremely long telomeres can protect cancer cells, making them immortal.
Diseases related to short telomeres
- People suffering from cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease, have (14) abnormally short telomeres in their heart muscle cells.
- Muscular dystrophy, when stem cells in the muscle cannot regenerate new muscle, is (15) due to shortened telomeres.
- Type 2 diabetes is associated with DNA damage, which is hypothesized (16) to result from telomere shortening.
- Osteoporosis is (17) associated with shorter telomeres.
- Measuring telomere length can help (18) with treatment decisions for patients with certain types of bone marrow dysfunction.
- In a study of 143 individuals over 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die (19) from heart disease.
- Researchers have found (20) that “telomeres are at the origin of pulmonary fibrosis. This is the first time that telomere damage has been identified as a cause of the disease.”
Diseases related to extremely long telomeres
- Abnormally active telomerase can protect (21) melanoma, making it difficult to treat.
- Telomeres are (22) a possible “survival advantage for cancer cells, allowing multiple cell divisions leading to high cancer mortality.”
- Longer than usual telomeres are (23) associated with increased cancer risk,
Can You Grow Back Telomeres?
Telomeres can regenerate and grow back naturally. Recently, researchers discovered that an RNA molecule called TERRA helps (24) to ensure the repair of extremely short (or damaged) telomeres.
At the site of long telomeres, TERRA is quickly removed by the proteins Rat1 and RNase H2. But these proteins are absent at short telomeres. This mechanism allows TERRA to repair shortened telomeres so cells can survive and keep dividing.
What happens when your telomeres grow too long?
Telomeres and Cancer
Natural telomere growth is safe. Extremely long telomeres activate a trimming mechanism regulated by a pair of proteins called XRCC3 and Nbs1 (25).
The problem is abnormal growth caused by a toxic environment or artificial means.
Forcing cells to grow extremely long telomeres causes telomeric fragility, which can promote cancer. This means that telomere supplements that artificially lengthen telomeres are a waste of money.
Limits to the Telomere Theory of Aging
- It appears that long telomeres are just as harmful as short telomeres. As we’ve discussed, long telomeres can protect and promote cancer cells. Overactive telomerase can make cancer cells immortal.
- The problem is that long and damaged telomeres have proteins that remove TERRA. TERRA is necessary for repairing damaged telomeres.
- Apoptosis is a necessary process to eliminate harmful or damaged cells. Long telomeres can prevent apoptosis, meaning more and more cells grow old.
What vitamins help telomeres?
Vitamins B, D, C, E, and the carotenoid lutein have all been shown to help telomeres. B vitamins help preserve telomere length by lowering homocysteine, accelerating telomere shortening (26).
Vitamin D promotes telomerase activity, the enzyme that can reverse telomere shortening and attendant cellular aging. Vitamin C and E reduce the chemical stress that contributes to telomere shortening.
Gamma-tocotrienol may also reverse telomere shortening and aging. Lutein helps telomeres, though the exact mechanism remains to be discovered (27).
Supporting a well-rounded diet with ample basic vitamins is an invaluable anti-aging intervention.
Conclusion: Can Telomeres Grow Back?
- Telomeres can grow back. But I’m not sure we want extremely long telomeres that can immortalize cancer cells. Maybe we want the Goldilocks length, just right for optimal health.
- Instead of focusing on our telomeres, we should provide the right environment for our telomeres to thrive.
- The body is intelligent and can heal itself. If the body has what it needs for optimal health, it can rebuild telomeres when necessary.
- The body’s primary goal is survival. A toxic, stressful, or deficient environment causes the body to express genes for survival at the expense of optimal function. Possibly, the body is overcompensating to protect our cells by providing more telomerase for our telomeres.
- Even if telomeres are just a biomarker of aging, a toxic environment is terrible for overall health.
- If we give the body what it needs, our genetic expression will be for thriving instead of just surviving.
- Instead of focusing on how to lengthen telomeres, we should focus on a healthy lifestyle.