Ageing and Our Genetic Clock
We are all born with a “terminal illness” called mortality. Ageing (process of becoming older), the most common of the many chronic degenerative conditions is the accumulation of changes in a person over time and is the major risk factor for most human diseases.
It was believed that humans have a “genetic clock” which determines our lifespan (thought to be about 120 years). It is now known that this genetic clock is in our DNA and is known as the telomere. Telomeres may be likened to the plastic tips on shoe lashes, keeping the chromosome ends from fraying; they protect our genes and make it possible for cells to divide normally. If a cell cannot divide it dies. However evidence has shown that telomeres alone do not dictate lifespan.
Ageing and Oxidative Stress
Another major cause of aging is “oxidative stress” by oxidants (highly reactive substances containing oxygen) which causes damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids (fats). These oxidants are produced when we breathe. They can also result from infection, inflammation and by consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
Another factor in aging is “glycation.” Glycation happens when glucose, the main sugar the body uses as an energy source, binds to some of our DNA, proteins, and lipids causing them to malfunction. The problem gets worse the older we get.
It’s likely that a combination of telomere shortening, oxidative stress and glycation all work together to cause aging.
Age-related diseases and premature ageing syndromes are characterized by short telomeres. Many cancers have shortened telomeres, including pancreatic, bone, prostate, bladder, lung, kidney, and head and neck.
A Healthy Diet
While shortening of telomeres is known to be positively associated with ageing (and also the development of cancer) studies have shown that changes in diet (a healthy diet, especially a plant based or Mediterranean diet), exercise and stress management results in longer telomeres and therefore more divisions, increased longevity and less chronic degenerative disease (CDD).
It is therefore interesting to postulate that anything that supports a healthy immune system e.g. eating a healthy plant based diet – is likely to result in less genetic damage, and consequently slow down the ageing process. Sign up for my eBook to find out more.
- Ageing: http://www.who.int/topics/ageing/en/
- Are Telomeres The Key To Aging And Cancer? http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/chromosomes/telomeres/
- Diet, nutrition and telomere length: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21429730
- Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study: http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6674