Are the keys to aging hidden in your genes?
By Paula Franken
Do you have your mother’s eyes, your father’s hair color or your aunt Barbara’s nose? You can thank (or blame it on) your DNA. And if your grandfather lived to be 101, DNA might have helped with that, too.
If high-school biology was a while ago, here’s a recap: In humans, each cell typically contains 23 pairs of chromosomes made up of the DNA that makes a person unique. Under a microscope, the chromosomes look like strands. At the end of each strand are short stretches of DNA called telomeres. They’re often compared to the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces, and their job is to protect chromosomes and the genetic information in them.
Every time your cells divide — as your body makes new skin, blood or bone — the telomeres get a bit shorter. When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide and becomes inactive or dies. This process is associated with aging. It’s also associated with stress, overeating, smoking and exposure to pollution.
An enzyme called telomerase strengthens the ends of telomeres. Could adding telomerase to your system slow down the aging process? It’s possible.
But while increasing telomerase may let skin, blood and bone cells continue dividing, it might do the same for cancer cells. That’s why more study is needed.
For now, strengthen your telomeres naturally. Spoiler alert: These are generally the best ways to stay healthy anyway.
- Focus your meals on legumes, nuts, seaweed, fruit, fish and dairy products.
- Avoid the usual culprits: cigarettes, alcohol, sugar and processed foods.
- Exercise at least a little bit every day.
- Deep-breathe or meditate to calm your mind when you’re anxious or overwhelmed.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is good for you right down to the cellular level, whether you’re talking about telomere length or protecting yourself from disease — including some that run in the family, and maybe that’s the real key to healthy aging.”
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