Telomeres: Major Discovery Reveals the Secret to Dramatically Slowing Aging

Originally published in Dr. Robert Rowen's Second Opinion Newsletter, June 2010

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Photo by National Institute of General Medical Science, National Institutes of Health, ©2016 / CC BY 2.0

NIH grantees Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szostak shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of "how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." Like the plastic tips of shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomes and the genetic information they contain. We now know that these chromosomal caps play critical roles in human health and disease.

What does the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine have to do with you and me? A lot! This particular prize concerned a major discovery about how you and I grow old. What's more, it gives us real insight in how we can reverse the aging process with inexpensive supplements and an easy treatment you can do at home.

On October 5, 2009, three Americans won the prize for a discovery they made in the 1970s. What was the discovery? The telomere. The telomere is the "tail" of each chromosome in your cells. For decades, scientists thought that this section was just junk (nonfunctional) DNA. But recent discoveries have found just the opposite. This segment of your DNA is critical for healthy cell division and function. And for healthy, youthful living.

DNA provides the template for all your proteins and enzymes. But, the telomere does not code for these. It acts more like the cap to your shoelace. Without the cap, your shoelace would unravel and become useless. The telomere is like the handle of the chromosone where the DNA transcribing enzymes attach. These enzymes activate gene function. That leads to making proteins and enzymes.

But, with the telomere, there's a problem. Each time your cell divides, the telomere shortens. Eventually, it shortens so much that the chromosome can't function. When this happens, the DNA coil can figuratively "unravel." It becomes useless. Telomere length is absolutely critical for how your chromosomes behave – and how many times the cell can divide. The shorter the telomere, the less gene activity you have.

When you were young your telomeres were long. As you age, and your cells divide, all your telomeres shorten, except for reproductive cells. If they shortened, we would be born quite old after just a few generations.

A special enzyme called telomerase can restore telomeres. Telomerase is fully functional in reproductive cells. Stem cells also have significant amounts of telomerase. That's because they are responsible for replacing cells and need to divide frequently. However, even their telomerase activity wanes with age. Stem cells get old as well.

Most of your cells come into the world with a preset number of divisions (around 60). As your telomeres shorten, your cells lose their ability to generate the enzymes and proteins of youth. When your telomeres get too short, your cell becomes senescent. That means it no longer divides. It's old and feeble. In other words, telomere shortening is a major key to the aging process!

Healthy telomere function keeps you at a healthy distance from cancer. This is the yin and yang of aging. We are not meant to live forever. Cells normally are not meant to divide forever. Cancer cells are the exception. They have figured out a way to activate telomerase so that they can divide indefinitely. If we could figure out a way to do that with our healthy cells, it would keep us more youthful, while at the same time, it would ward off cancer. The process becomes "unhealthy" when, due to factors I've discussed in these pages (such as toxins, stress, and bad nutrition), your cells break free of God-designed controls.

Wouldn't it be great if we could slow your telomere shortening process, or activate telomerase? The latter would lengthen your telomeres. Well, there is a way.

Higher levels of homocysteine seem to inactivate telomerase. You can lower homocysteine with vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid. If these don't lower your homocysteine, consider other methylating supplements like SAMe, MSM and betaine. They might do the job for your particular biochemistry. Please consult your integrative physician about this.

Other supplements I've discussed and recommended in these pages can enhance telomerase activity. Green tea is my favorite beverage. It supports longer telomeres. Those who drink the equivalent of three cups per day have telomeres, on average, five years longer (younger) than those drinking only a quarter cup per day. You know how much I rave about green tea. I drink it almost every day.

Vitamin D is another of my recommended nutrients. It, too, can lengthen telomeres. Scientists examined a group of women aged 18-79, with an average age of 49.4. Women with the highest levels of vitamin D had telomeres five years longer than women in the lowest concentrations. And, this was a twin-based study helping to remove any genetic pre-bias to the study.

But there might be something far more powerful than any supplement out there for modulating telomerase activity. It's something I've told you about many times in the past. It's my beloved oxidation therapy! How and why might oxidation therapy induce longer telomeres? It has to do with the enzyme SOD.

SOD (superoxide dismutase) is an antioxidant enzyme. It's absolutely critical for protecting cells from routine combustion of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. Ozone stimulates SOD. This protects and promotes greater telomerase activity. In 2002, a German study showed that higher levels of extracellular SOD slowed telomere shortening.

But that's not all. Oxidation therapy also increases the nitric oxide (NO) in your endothelial cells. These are the cells that line your arteries. NO keeps your arteries dilated. And higher NO levels increase telomerase activity. My ozone mentor and researcher, Velio Bocci, wrote that ozone therapy may activate your own critical stem cells. He said it induces NO synthesis. This can promote regeneration of tissues suffering from a lack of oxygen.

I've taken oxidation therapy intermittently throughout the years. My lab and blood pressure numbers belie my chronological age. (However, I credit my Living Foods Diet the most.)

With this information, I'm now taking ozone on a regular basis (at least once a week), by rectal insufflation. I could do it by IV, but I've chosen the former. Rectal insufflation is something you can do at home as well. Ozone "modulates" your biochemical processes. That means it helps your body perform at its ideal level. Drugs don't modulate. They force things, which can result in terrible toxic effects.

Longevity Resources in Canada (877-543-3398) makes ozone water purifiers. By simply attaching a catheter to the ozone line, you can direct the gas into your lower intestine rather than a flask of water. Rectal ozone is not as potent as blood ozone therapy. But, scientists repeatedly have shown its effectiveness on circulation, immune activity, and anti-infection. Even given rectally, I'm sure its effects will result in greater SOD production, sufficient to trigger more telomerase activity. You can read more about using ozone at home on my website.

You also can cheaply assist telomerase activity with the following supplements: Take Yes EFA!, four to six capsules daily in divided doses. Then take selenium (200-400 mcg daily), keep your homocysteine below 10 (with the aforementioned supplements), and adhere to a mostly Living Foods diet (which is rich in SOD). Consider green tea capsules (one daily). And make sure your vitamin D level is in the upper quarter of your lab's reference range. You can order Yes EFA!, green tea capsules, and vitamin D from Advanced Bionutritionals (800-791-3395).

If you are interested in having your white blood cell telomeres evaluated, Spectracell Laboratories has a convenient test. Please call 800-227-5227 to have a test kit mailed to you and your blood drawn in your own home. No doctor's appointment necessary.

I just did the test. It's very easy. And I'm delighted to report that my anti-aging lifestyle works. My telomeres are the length of the average 35 year old — and I'm 60! No wonder I can almost keep up with my 28-year-old daughters on an arduous 17 mile cross-country ski trail.

Reference

Circulation Research. 2000;87:540; Br. J. Nut. 2010 January (103)(1); Am J. Clin Nutr. 2007, November;86(5); Ozone, A New Drug, Springer 2005.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Rowen

Dr. Robert Rowen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at San Francisco. He has been board-certified and re-certified by the American Boards of Family Practice and Emergency Medicine. He is currently certified by the American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology. HeRead more