Telomeres – Supporting Healthy Ageing

Men's Health, Age related illnesses, Women's Health | November 1, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

age related, men, women's health

Telomeres – Supporting Healthy Ageing

Telomeres protect the integrity of our DNA and research suggests they may help us to live longer, healthier lives.

TelomeresAt the centre of most cells is a nucleus full of chromosomes – these long, twisted double-stranded molecules of DNA are used as a “recipe” for cell replication. At the end of each chromosome is a stretch of DNA that acts as a protective strip of sorts, called telomeres.

Scientists are thinking of them as similar to the plastic caps at the ends of shoelaces!

These protective parts of chromosomes stop DNA from fraying at the ends or sticking together which would cause our genetic information to become scrambled or destroyed.

Recent research has discovered that telomeres can even reassemble frayed or broken DNA [1]!

Telomeres & Ageing

When a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter. The cell stops replicating or dies once its telomeres are too short to divide any further. Simply – this is how the body ages. As telomeres shorten, cells are less able to divide and tissues can't function as effectively. You can think of telomeres as somewhat of a ticking biological clock. The oldest, healthiest people in the world have the longest, healthiest telomeres [1].

Because telomeres reduce in length with each cell replication, cellular ageing can be detected by the shortness of the telomeres present. This shortening has been linked to age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, insulin resistance [1] but the evidence is mixed when it comes to predicting mortality – some studies have linked short telomeres with shortened life expectancy, while others found no correlation [1][2].

Telomeres & AgeingTelomeres may not be a sure-fire way of predicting life expectancy, but a study in 2008 found that healthy centenarians (people over the age of 97) had significantly longer telomeres than their unhealthy peers [1]. The healthy centenarians in this study had excellent cognition, healthy muscle:fat ratio, low risk of cardiovascular disease, and self-reported high energy levels. This could mean that taking care of your telomeres might help you to live longer, decrease your risk of disease, and improve the quality of your life in old age too.

Why Telomeres Get Shorter

Different types of cells have different typical telomere lengths. Chromosomes in areas of the body with slow cell turn-over have longer telomeres – for examples, chromosomes in the heart muscle have longer telomeres because those cells rarely replicate, compared to frequently replicated white blood cells which can have very short telomeres by the time we reach adulthood.

While telomeres naturally shorten due to cell division, research has found other factors that cause telomeres to become prematurely shortened:

  • Anything that speeds up cell replication
  • Oxidative stress and free radical attacks that damage DNA
  • Poor diet that contributes to oxidative stress
  • Chronic psychological stress
  • Lack of green space in the environment near home and work
  • Sleeping for 6 hours or less per night [1] [4] [5]
  • Cigarette smoking

Cancer May Hold the Key To Longevity

Cancer May Hold the Key To LongevityCancer cells replicate quickly, so their telomeres should be really short, right? If their telomeres were really short, the cells would stop replicating or die.

As it turns out, some cancer cells protect their telomeres by activating an enzyme called telomerase.

This enzyme adds genetic sequences to the ends of chromosomes, effectively lengthening the telomeres – and the life of the cancer cell [3].

Telomerase is very active in normal cells during foetal development, but is virtually undetectable in normal, adult cells. Researchers are investigating the effects of deactivating telomerase in cancer cells, and whether it's possible to reactive it in healthy cells. If healthy cells can use telomerase to lengthen their telomeres, it's possible that cells won't age as quickly.

In the meantime, there are easy, natural ways to take care of your telomeres:

Natural Therapies For Telomere Health 


A 2010 study looked at the effects of nutrition on telomere length in 2,284 women [6]. Fibre was by far the most significant factor in determining telomere length – the more fibre in the diet, the longer the telomeres. This makes sense because high fibre diets are linked with lowering oxidative stress. Fibres from cereal grains showed the greatest effects on telomere length so stock up on whole-grains like barley, brown rice, millet, oats, rye, wheat and sorghum.

Vegan DietVegan Diet 

A five year study showed that men who adopted a vegan diet not only protected their telomeres, but also lengthened them [8]! While eliminating meat, dairy and eggs from the diet may be too extreme for some people, it can one of the healthiest diets available if done correctly. If you're not ready to go full veg for your telomeres, reducing the amount of animal products in your diet could still make a big difference. See a vegan-friendly nutritionist for advice.


Multivitamin supplements are designed to provide a boost to your nutrient levels, to “fill in the gaps” between what you're eating and what your body needs. They aren't designed to replace a healthy diet but they may have an impact on telomeres and ageing. In a study of 586 women, researchers found that participants who regularly took multivitamins had telomeres that were 5% longer than those who didn't [7].

Not all supplements are created equal – talk to a nutritionist or naturopath for a quality multi that will suit your needs.


Free radicals can attack DNA and cause breakages and shortening of telomeres. Protect your chromosomes from damage by supplying your body with plenty of antioxidants. Here is a list of key free-radical-busting antioxidant nutrients and how you can add them to your diet:

  • Vitamin C: Red capsicum, kiwifruit, strawberries, spinach, broccoli
  • Vitamin E: Almonds, spinach, sweet potato
  • Carotenoids: Carrots, apricots, mangoes
  • Flavonoids: Lentils, tempeh, peas
  • Quercetin: Apples, onions
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, whole grains
  • Indoles: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage
  • Lycopene: Tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit
  • Zinc: Nuts, seeds and grains

For an extra boost, check out supplemental forms of these nutrients or try a green powder. Remember that antioxidants work together as team, so take supplements along with a varied diet.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for effective, regulated cellular replication.

vitamin dWithout adequate vitamin D levels, cells can over- or under-proliferate and DNA strands are prone to break and fracture, putting a strain on telomeres or damaging them directly. Vitamin D can help to protect the DNA and telomere length during cell replication. Even better – a study in 2013 found that people who took a vitamin D supplement boosted the activity of telomerase (the enzyme that can actually lengthen telomeres) [9]!

Boost your vitamin D levels with ten minutes in the sun without sunscreen or take a good quality supplement. Australia’s best online discount chemist


[1] Terry, D. F., et al. (2008) Association of Longer Telomeres With Better Health in Centenarians. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci., 63:8, 809 – 812.

[2] Glei, D. A., et al. (2016) Predicting Survival from Telomere Length versus Conventional Predictors: A Multinational Population-Based Cohort Study. PLoS ONE, 11:4, e0152486

[3] Zvereva, M. I., et al. (2010) REVIEW: Telomerase: Structure, Functions, and Activity Regulation. Biochemistry (Mosc)., 75:13, 1563 – 1583.

[4] Starkweather, A. R., et al. (2014) An Integrative Review of Factors Associated with Telomere Length and Implications for Biobehavioral Research. Nurs Res., 63:1, 36 – 50.

[5]  Liang, G., et al. (2011) Associations between Rotating Night Shifts, Sleep Duration, and Telomere Length in Women. PLOS ONE, 6:8, e23462.

[6] Cassidy, A., et al. (2010) Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr., 91:5, 1273 – 1280.

[7] Xu, Q., et al. (2009) Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr., 89:6, 1857 – 1863.

[8] Ornish, D., et al. (2013) Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. The Lancet Oncology, 14:11, 1112 – 1120.

[9] Zhu, H., et al. (2012) Increased Telomerase Activity and Vitamin D Supplementation in Overweight African Americans. Int J Obes (Lond)., 36:6,

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