Most people figure they must be getting older based on how they feel and look. We wince at our first grey hair, deepening wrinkles, and shifting body fat. We huff and puff climbing the stairs, forget names, and occasionally leak fluids.
We relate to the line from a Leonard Cohen song, “I ache in the places where I used to play.”
Despite these concerns, there’s very little science behind our educated guesses on aging. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have access to one measurement that would let you know if you’re on the right track to a healthy longevity? If that measurement turned out to be good news, you could give yourself a pat on the back and keep up all the things you’re doing right. If not so good, how about some professional guidance to reverse a chilling trend.
I’ve written in the past about telomeres, the word derived from the Greek telos (end) and mere (part). Telomeres are essential components of every living cell and affect how we age. They are the caps at the end of each strand of our chromosomal chains of DNA, protecting the chromosome much like the plastic tip of a shoelace keeps the lace from fraying and less able to do its job.
Let’s do a little math. Each of your cells has 46 chromosomes, and with a telomere at each chromosomal end that means you have 92 telomeres in every cell. With 15 trillion cells in your body, you have 15 trillion x 92 telomeres. In other words, many!
Numbers like these offer us a better idea of the importance of telomeres, which shorten as we age. In the process, DNA chromosomal reproduction becomes less efficient.
This deterioration on a cellular level manifests as everything you know about getting old, from gray hair to creaky joints, from hearing loss to libido as distant memory. People whose telomeres are measurably shorter than normal for their age group are more prone to chronic illnesses of all kinds and generally decline into an earlier death.
Two reasons for shortened telomeres
There are two primary reasons for prematurely shortened telomeres: genetics and lifestyle choices. However—and this is very important—patients genetically at risk for chronic illness due to shortened telomeres can dramatically reduce those risks with a shift in their lifestyle choices
Yes, under genetic dominance and with the simple passage of time, telomeres will shorten as we age, but they can also be shortened by stress, smoking, too much alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise, and a poor diet. Eventually, telomeres get too short to do their job and stop functioning properly.
Think of telomeres as the aging clock of every cell in your body.
Scientists and physicians around the world agree that telomere length is a predictive value for wellness. Unfortunately, insurance companies are less than delighted when asked to pay for anything preventive and have yet to cover telomere tests as a benefit.
However, as demand for telomere measurement has grown and techniques improved, prices have dropped dramatically.
Slow aging, track your results
Here’s a five-step program to slow aging and see your results
- You can start with a ten-day detoxification using Clear Change by Metagenics. However, if during the lockdown you’ve seriously been neglecting your nutrition and exercise, perhaps drinking too much alcohol, then go ahead and tackle the Clear Change 28-day program instead. When you open the Clear Change box, there’s an informative instruction booklet and eating guide plus enough of the detoxifying supplements to last for the duration of your program.
- As your detox is winding down, arrange for a telomere test. The telomere test kit we are using is based on a saliva sample. You purchase the test kit ($169) directly from epiagingusa.com and schedule a follow up visit with one of our practitioners. You can add the SpectraCell micronutrient test here at WHC if you’d like. The SpectraCell Micronutrient Panel is $420, payable when you come in for your blood draw.
- When your test results are back from the lab, call and schedule a review of the results (in person or via telemed) with any of our functional medicine practitioners or nutritionists, all of whom are very familiar with these tests and with lifestyle medicine in general.
- Based on your results, your practitioner will guide you through a lifestyle program aimed at lengthening and strengthening your telomeres and reducing your chances of developing chronic disease. You’ll receive advice on supplements to plug any nutritional deficiencies and commonsense steps to take for high antioxidant/low inflammation eating, exercise, and stress reduction.
- Assuming you’ll take this advice to heart, you should start feeling pretty chipper in just a few weeks. Keep it up! And then, one year later, repeat your telomere test. This time you may want to laminate it and leave it on your coffee table or carry it in your wallet for bragging rights at the water cooler.
David Edelberg, MD