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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

Food for Thought: Which Foods Slow Down Aging?

I am asked everyday a version of the same question: “Do you have any great anti-aging advice?” The answer is a bold YES! However, I am not a fan of the word “anti-aging” when it implies stopping aging, because as an expert in the aging process, I know for true that nothing exists which can do this, short of calling it a day and hanging with the angels. However, in my quiver are many arrows available to drastically slooooow down the aging of our minds, bodies, and spirit.

Today, I pull the arrow marked telomeres and aging as it relates to what we decide to put into our mouths. Once again, my favorite girl gang (G.G.), Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elisa Epel and their team have looked at how proper diet can strengthen and lengthen our telomeres.  A little refresher to define telomere: telomeres are the protective endcaps on the threads of our DNA, like those on the tips on our favorite lace-ups, and are found in the brain, where they affect all our cognitive function, as well as in every cell of our bodies. So, they are well worth preserving in any way we can.

My G.G. looks at the three key factors affecting telomeres:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Insulin Resistance

Excess weight on our bodies, and thus on telomeres, results in shorter telomeres, which allow cells to become easily damaged when reproducing. Not only does reproduction slow down but also our brains and memory can malfunction, and we experience greater cellular aging which makes us look and feel older.

A direct correlation exists between insulin resistance and diabetes, and shorter telomeres. The greater our waist-to-hip ratio is—the classic “apple” shape, with extra belly fat and love handles– the higher our insulin resistance will be. A damaging cycle forms with this situation: people with belly fat develop shorter telomeres over the years, and these shorter telomeres may worsen the insulin resistance problem. Researchers tell us abdominal fat causes more inflammation in our bodies than thigh fat. As the GG says, “The pathway from belly fat to diabetes may also be traveled via chronic inflammation.” Inflammation and telomere damage go together, one causing the other in a continual feedback loop.

Even more important than losing weight, improving one’s metabolic health keeps telomeres longer and stronger. Good metabolic health includes having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications.  How do we perk up our metabolic health? Exercise. Weight cycling, something so many of us are too familiar with—the gaining and losing of those same bloody ten pounds– shortens our precious telomeres. Blackburn and Epel also think being physically active and eating nutritious, low Glycemic Index foods are better choices than “dieting” by restricting calories. In fact, they found that “calorie restriction has no positive effect on human telomeres.”

Well, that’s good news. Not good news: A study at the University of California at San Francisco found shorter telomeres in the cells of folks who had restricted their calories for long periods of time. Even worse, the telomeres in their immune cells and vital T-cells were also affected. The findings suggest a link between our immune systems and aging. I have more to say on this important topic, so stay tuned!

Until next time…Be vibrant!

Food for Thought: Which Foods Slow Down Aging?

Did you know, when we take our first breath, there exists no difference in the length of our telomeres between those newborns sporting blue booties and those stylin’ with pink ones? Quick science lesson recap: Telomeres are the protective end caps of our chromosomes—think the plastic protective tip of your shoelace. Telomeres are found in every cell throughout our bodies. The longer and stronger our telomeres are, the higher functioning our brains and minds will be, and the less our bodies will decline and age.  However, once we are all grown up, telomeres are longer in women than in men. (Sorry, fellows.)

The medical world now knows the hormone estrogen creates this disparity between the sexes. Research also reveals estrogen may regulate the number of telomeres we have, as well.  Before menopause, the estrogen we produce protects women’s telomeres from shortening and keeps our telomeres strong and growing.

Interestingly, we postmenopausal women with a history of long-term hormone therapy (HRT) use show longer telomere length than do those who didn’t use hormone replacements after menopause. It seems the extra years of estrogen in our systems kept our telomeres long and strong. That information led me to ask: “For the millions of women who did use HRT, and have finished the recommended protocol of time, what do we do now?”

Drilling into the science, the answer occupying the number one position is exercise. If you have followed my posts for a while, you will be slowly nodding your head, as I have written this word once or twice before about exercise and aging ;-0

Exercise slows down the effects of aging

What I haven’t really focused on before is how much exercise benefits postmenopausal women as a way to slow aging. Since we lose our armor of hormone protection at menopause, because our ovaries produce most of our estrogen, we are left with our fat cells and adrenals as the only sources for this precious substance. Stress causes the adrenals to switch from making estrogen (even a smidge) to adrenalin and the enemy of all people, cortisol. This makes our chances of getting even a drop of this elixir needed for keeping our brain memory functioning at peak level, well, pretty much zero.  

However, there’s good news! For the millions of women who did, and the millions who didn’t opt in for HRT, there is great hope! You may also remember when I wrote about the breakthroughs scientists had made a couple of decades ago in understanding the brain. We now know the brain grows and changes throughout our lives until we take that last breath. We call that development neuroplasticity. That means we are only in the third quarter of the game after we finish HRT, and can still bring home a win in the final one. It is looking as if exercise expands and strengthens our telomeres. More research is needed, but my favorite girl gang, those Nobel Prize winner dynamic dames, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, the experts in telomeres and aging, would take the bet that exercise looks like the magic bullet.  Even better news? Midlife men also seem to benefit from exercise, telomere-wise!

A ground-breaking study from South Korea and published in the highly respected Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society states:

“Compared with a sedentary lifestyle, long-term aerobic exercise and increasing levels of physical activity are associated with reduced telomere attrition [shortening]. This cross-sectional study demonstrated that postmenopausal women who perform habitual physical exercise have significantly longer telomere lengths than do those with sedentary lifestyles.” Straight from the horse’s, researchers, mouth, so to speak.

Compiling this information on how to slow down aging inspires me to put on my tennies this very minute and take a brisk stroll. Come join me!

Until next time….Be Vibrant!