“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” – Satchel Paige
I decided to start the New Year by trying to develop the best body I can. My first step as always is research. So what is the best body I can have? As a sixty-something year old, I wanted to first see what is possible so that I could establish my goal. Well of course, going to the Internet you can see the best of everything. While looking for the best physical shape I could be in, I found a 79-year-old woman who is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest competitive bodybuilder. She bench presses 150 pounds. There is a 93-year-old woman who is still teaching yoga who performs poses that I never even dreamed of doing as a 20-something year old. She also is going to competitively dance the tango this year with a partner who is 69 years her junior. At 100, there is a woman who is still practicing Pilates daily. Clearly when it comes to fitness you can still accomplish anything you want no matter what your age. I will cover the benefits of different exercises in a future article.
So the next question is how healthy can I expect my internal organs to be. How young can I be biologically. This is actually a much harder question to address by superficially scanning the Internet. How do you actually determine biological aging and how much does it matter? Determining your telomere length seems to be at least one of the answers. Telomeres are often compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces. They are simple repeating DNA sequences on the ends of chromosomes that in layman’s terms prevent the chromosomes from unraveling.
A Bit of History – In the 1960s Hayflick demonstrated that cultured cells could only survive a limited number of cell divisions and suggested that this finite cellular lifespan might explain why physiologic function breaks down as organisms age. In the early 1970s a Russian theorist recognized that chromosomes could not completely replicate their ends. He suggested that because DNA sequences are lost every time a cell replicates that ultimately the loss of DNA would reach a critical level and cell division would end, which would lead to senescence (cell deterioration) and death.
In the mid-70s, Elizabeth Blackburn working as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University discovered the unusual nature of telomeres. In the mid 80s, she was part of the team that demonstrated enzymatic activity that was capable of extending telomeric sequences and by the late 80s the activity had become known as telomerase.
Much of the work in the 90s until today has focused on telomeres, telomerase, cancer and cancer therapy. However, work has begun on the relationship of telomeres, telomerase and aging. For those of you interested in the details scientist now understand about the relationship and aging I highly recommend you read Aubert’s and Lansdorp’s 2008 paper published in Physiological Reviews.
The question is – what does all this information about telomeres and telomerase mean to me and how does it help me move into the new year towards my best body ever? In 2011 Masood A Shammas published a review called Telomeres, Lifestyle, Cancer and Aging. Even as early as 2011 it was clear that lifestyle factors affect the health and lifespan of an individual by affecting telomere length it was known that telomere length shortens with age and that progressive shortening of telomeres leads to cell senescence and ultimately death or can lead to cancer. The rate of telomere shortening can be increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors and better choices can help reduce telomere shortening. Smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and consumption of an unhealthy diet increase the pace of telomere shortening. Exposure to pollution and increased levels of stress have also been shown to accelerate telomere shortening. Accelerating shortening is associated with many age associated health problems including heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, increased cancer risk and osteoporosis.
Increasing fiber and decreasing polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid seems to slow the shortening of telomeres, as does having a diet containing antioxidant omega-3 fatty acids. Diets rich in other antioxidants such as vitamin E, C and beta-carotene were associated with longer telomeres. Caloric restriction has also been shown to have a positive impact on slowing the shortening of telomeres.
TA-65 – In 2011, Geron Corporation received a patent on certain compounds (the major compound being cycloastragenol) that have been shown to upregulate telomerase expression in cells. Geron granted an exclusive license to TA Sciences to sell TA-65 as a nutritional supplement. The active ingredient of TA-65 was isolated from Astragalus membranaceus. This supplement can be purchased on Amazon but is incredibly expensive. In addition, several of the scientists that have been involved in telomerase are skeptical that the compound actually lengthens telomeres. The study that claims to demonstrate activation of telomerase was a cell culture study and not an actual clinical trial. To date there have been no studies that demonstrate increased health or life span other than those sponsored by the manufacturers. In addition, there has been one law suit that use of TA-65 resulted in prostate cancer.
In my opinion, the data are still out on whether TA-65 is a boon or a bust. One organization that I respect in terms of nutraceuticals and quality supplements is Life Extension Foundation. Life Extension Foundation does not have a position on the use of TA-65 as a telomere-extending therapy until more human data are compiled.
My Chosen Routine – What I have learned from all this research is there are many nutrients that I am going to incorporate into my daily routine.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that is involved in the regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation and cell death. It is a potent inhibitor of our body’s inflammatory response and has been shown to reduce telomere shortening. One study estimated that participants who had the highest levels of Vitamin D had the equivalent of a five year difference in chronological aging. While you can get Vitamin D from sunlight, many of us do not receive appropriate exposure to safe sunlight. I will be taking Vitamin D3 (chloecalciferol), the active form of Vitamin D.
- Astaxanthin is a keto-carotenoid. It is found in microalgae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, and crustaceans. It is the compound that makes salmon meat red. It is also responsible for the red color in cooked shellfish. It has potent antioxidant activity and may be beneficial in cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. It is one of the antioxidants that increased telomerase activity by 25% after a 12 week trial in 66 women between the ages of 35 and 55.
- Ubiquinol (CoQ10). Ubiquinol is the reduced form of coenzyme Q10. It is found in almost all cells and is important in mitochondrial function (our cellular powerhouses). This fully reduced form of CoQ10 enables it to perform its function as part of the electron transport chain to generate cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and allows it to work as a strong antioxidant. It is essential for treatment of cardiac failure. In addition, everyone on statins should be taking Ubiquinol. In addition, Ubiquinol has been shown in rat studies to reduce telomere shortening.
- Probiotics are beneficial bacteria required in our guts to make them function properly. Many life style choices help to destroy our gut microfloral community which has been shown to be of extreme importance for our general health. While any of us who have ever taken antibiotics need to take probiotics, it has recently been shown that ingestion of probiotics may help fight “inflammaging”. Imflammaging is defined as low-grade chronic systemic inflammation established during physiological aging. Its presence can lead to a number of chronic diseases including arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s. If you like them, an even better way to get probiotics into your system is by eating fermented foods.
- Krill Oil/Omega-3 fatty acids. In a randomized clinical trial, supplementation with 2.5 grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids for 4 months significantly lowered oxidative stress and increased both telomerase activity and telomere length, although not significantly. Many health care practitioners argue that krill oil is more bioavailable than fish oil. Krill oil contains mostly phosphatidylcholine with DHA/EPA attached while conventional fish oil has the DHA/EPA attached to triglycerides. In double-blind trials for premenstrual syndrome and arthritis pain, krill oil outperformed fish oil. Krill oil demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity and lowered C-reactive protein in a double blind trial. One must remember that the studies quoted were performed by a maker of krill oil supplement. A recent study performed by independent investigators found no difference between the two products when matched for dose. Most scientific studies are performed using fish oil.
- Magnesium is a potent antioxidant and a calcium blocker. It is required for telomerase activity and stabilizes DNA. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Magnesium status is very difficult to determine because serum levels of magnesium remain relatively constant even with dramatic loss of intracellular magnesium. Only 1 percent of magnesium is found in the blood and less that 0.3 percent is found in serum. In 2009, the World Health Organization stated that 75 percent of Americans consume less than the recommended daily allowance of magnesium.
- Polyphenols including resveratrol (from grapes), epigallocatechin gallate (from green tea) and possibly polyphenols from raw cocoa. Polyphenols have great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The reason raw cocoa should be used is that greater than 90% of the flavonoids in cocoa are lost during processing. Most of the studies on polyphenols interaction with cells have been in vitro studies. However, my feeling on consuming polyphenols like resveratrol and consuming green tea is that it can’t hurt and may help and the presence of polyphenols in cocoa help to defend my intake of chocolate.
- B Vitamins (folate, B12 and nicotinamide). Because the B Vitamins are involved in DNA stability, and have been associated with telomerase activity or at least telomere length, they have made my list. However, the benefits of ensuring B levels are adequate are so great they appear to be essential in more ways than one. Low Vitamin B levels are linked to dementia, hypertension, certain cancer risks, depression – and the list goes on and on.
- Curcumin has a very interesting impact on telomerase. Curcumin seems to inhibit telomerase activity in cancer cells while enhancing telomerase activity in stem cells. Curcumin does induce the synthesis of the antioxidant glutathione and mediates inflammatory response. While the scientific evidence of direct impacts of curcumin on telomere length is not complete, its proven impact on preventing DNA damage puts it on my list.
- Vitamin A. Vitamin A plays an important role in immune response. Telomere length is positively associated with dietary intake of Vitamin A and beta carotene in women who did not take multivitamins. However, there does not be seem to be a dose dependent increase in length of telomeres so the Vitamin A in my multivitamin is enough and it does not need to be further supplemented.
Other nutritional supplements that you may want to consider are Vitamin K and zinc. Because my husband has a blood clotting disorder, we do not take Vitamin K although I am considering adding it to my own regimen because of its impact on bone density. Because of the complex interactions between zinc and copper bioavailability, I stick to my multivitamin.
There is a great review article on Diet, nutrition and telomere length I highly recommend if you would like to delve into the scientific data more completely. Other lifestyle strategies I am going to incorporate this year to have my best body yet are exercise (to be discussed in a later article), meditation (also to be discussed in a later article) and intermittent fasting.
To your best body yet.