Article by Dr Minkoff MD 6 min read
When we look at the fact of aging, or getting older, we often measure it in two ways:
The number of years we’ve been on this earth, chronologically.
And the amount of decay that’s set in: fatigue, lower energy, poor fitness levels, poor sleep, loss of muscle, worsening vision and hearing, digestive problems, memory loss, etc.
But, while we’ve come to see the second as the inevitable result of the first, it’s actually not. It’s the result of getting biologically older, accelerated aging before our time.
We don’t realize this because our view is obviously based on what we’ve seen for decades now. And what we’ve seen is not good.
But this isn’t a natural situation. It’s a created situation.
Today, 90 percent of the money spent on health care in the US, almost $4.1 trillion, is spent on preventable chronic disease.
And a 2018 study found that 88 percent of Americans are in poor metabolic health—meaning they are on the road to the above diseases.
That’s not 88% of the elderly, that’s 88% of the population of the US.
This is despite the US spending nearly double the amount on healthcare and medicine as any other country.
But in the Blue Zones of the world, where they don’t have access to either our medicine or our toxins and very poor foods, they live quitehealthily to 100 or more.
This is accelerated aging. And we don’t need it.
So sit tight, because we’re about to get sciencey.
MEASURING OUR BIOLOGICAL AGE: TELOMERES & STEM CELLS
You wouldn’t know it, looking around at the world today, but science has made great strides in the last many years towards real de-aging.
And one of them is in determining our biological age, because this opens the door to so much more.
Two main systems have been derived. The first I’ll cover is one you may have heard of: Telomeres.
You know about cell division. When new cells are needed, specific cells divide into two cells, the new one containing everything that the original contained.
But these are specific cells that do this, stem cells, embryonic cells that have been with us from birth and which contain the full DNA blueprints for every cell in the body.
As they’re embryonic, these cells, when dividing, can become any cell in the body.
This is necessary. When cells dies and new ones are needed, some of these stem cells divide, creating new cells to take their place.
When we’re injured and must heal, stems cells provide the new cells. When we workout and increase muscle tissue, the new muscle cells are coming from stem cells. When toxins damage cells, stem cells replace them.
Now let’s go further.
In the nucleus of these cells are tiny threadlike structures made of nucleic acids and protein. They’re called chromosomes, and they are what carry your genetic information in the form of your genes, your DNA.
Literally all of the genetic information for the entire blueprint of your body is carried in these genes.
And at the end of each of these chromosomes are something called telomeres, like caps on the end of a shoelace.
And here’s where biological aging comes in: every time a stem cell divides, to make a new cell, the telomeres in the stem cell shorten slightly.
Even more, these telomeres can only shorten so many times, about 62, before that stem cell can no longer make new cells.
This is an important point. Your body only contains so many stem cells, and not all of them are in use at any given time.
But the more they’re used to create new cells, because of illness, injury, toxins destroying our cells, poor nutrition leading to the death of cells, etc, the less active stem cells we have over time.
And when we finally get to the end, where we have no more active stem cells for cell division to replace old cells, we can no longer heal ourselves and death sets in.
So if one were to live a healthy life, low in sugars, high in the proteins, heathy fats, vitamins and antioxidants necessary to keep cells healthy, while staying away from trans fats, toxins and harmful bacteria, they would naturally have more usable stem cells with longer telomeres — because they weren’t needed as much.
But if we live the opposite life, eating processed sugars, trans fats and high omega 6 oils (as our modern diet overwhelmingly contains) which damage cells, toxins that damage or kill cells, harmful bacteria that thrive on processed sugars, etc…. then naturally these stem cells would have been much more active in replacing damaged or dying cells.
And as we get older, we’ll have much fewer of them.
But this gives us two things.
First, we can now measure the length of telomeres in a person’s stem cells and determine their biological age, how long they actually have before their body can no longer repair itself.
But even more, we know one of the routes of accelerated aging. And we can not only prevent it — we can actually reverse it.
THE ENZYME THAT LENGTHENS TELOMERES
There is an enzyme (a biochemical that causes action in cells) called telomerase. And it helps to lengthen telomeres.
Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for its discovery. But even more, she discovered that they can lengthen again through, you guessed it — a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Most people don’t believe it until they do it, but we can actually reverse the unwanted conditions in our bodies, and in doing so, we lengthen these telomeres and add more onto not only our lifespan, but the degree of health we’ll have during that lifespan.
In the next article I’m going to cover the other test of biological aging, jumping more into DNA, genetics, and the repair of damaged DNA.
Because when our DNA is damaged, the resulting cells made are less functional than they should be, as they’re being made from a now-faulty blueprint.
And from there we’re going to dive into each of the ways these DNA and telomeres are harmed, and how we can not only repair them, but get the very most out of them.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Chronic Disease Overview. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm
- Novakovic, B., Habibi, E., Wang, S. Y., Arts, R. J., Davar, R., Megchelenbrink, W., & Matarese, F. (2018). β-Glucan-rich oat bran improves insulin resistance and inflammatory status of obese Zucker rats. Nutrients, 10(11), 1662.
- Blackburn, E. H. (2000). Telomere states and cell fates. Nature, 408(6808), 53-56.
- Harley, C. B., Futcher, A. B., & Greider, C. W. (1990). Telomeres shorten during ageing of human fibroblasts. Nature, 345(6274), 458-460.
- Epel, E. S., Blackburn, E. H., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Adler, N. E., Morrow, J. D., & Cawthon, R. M. (2004). Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(49), 17312-17315.
- Ornish, D., Lin, J., Chan, J. M., Epel, E., Kemp, C., Weidner, G., … & Blackburn, E. H. (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.