Telomeres: How to Have Younger DNA
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Can your DNA predict your lifespan? Well, maybe partially! New research on telomeres, a structure found on the ends of our chromosomes, may give us a glimpse into our health and longevity.
What Are Telomeres?
The protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes are called telomeres. They protect our DNA similar to how the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces keep the laces from unraveling.
Each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten until they are too short to divide, at which point the cell’s lifespan is over. This is essentially how we age. The shorter the telomeres, the “older” you are on a biological level.
Babies are born with telomeres between 8,000 to 13,000 base pairs in length. Each year of life, we lose about 20-40 base pairs. So for example, at age 40 a person may have lost up to 1,600 base pairs from their telomeres.
The good news is that scientists have found factors that contribute to telomere shortening, and we now know ways to protect our telomeres and stay healthy as we age!
What Shortens Telomeres, and How to Protect Yours
Telomere shortening may be expedited in those whose jobs put them in contact with harmful agents, like traffic police officers exposed to traffic pollution. Relative to telomere length of office workers, those who worked near traffic daily had shorter telomere length in each age group. The reduction in telomere length correlated to the number of years the workers were exposed to the pollutants.
Protect your telomeres by reducing your exposure to environmental toxins. If you still use household cleaning products or personal care products laden with chemicals and fragrances, this is your reminder to stop!
At home or at the office, consider investing in a quality air filter. See the air filters I use for myself and my family to filter out common environmental and household toxins like formaldehyde and other dangerous VOCs.
They say stress ages you, which rings true even on a biological level. In a study on women who felt chronically stressed, the difference in telomere length between the stressed women versus the control group was equivalent to 10 years of life.
Glucocorticoid hormones are released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. These hormones can reduce antioxidant protein levels, which can cause increased oxidative damage to DNA and accelerate telomere shortening.
Protect your telomeres by managing stress properly. Find what works for you: gardening, yoga, talking it out with someone trusted, meditation, journaling… whatever it takes to help you release stress is worth it–it could save you 10 years of your life!
Antioxidants reduce the rate of telomere shortening and can protect DNA from oxidative damage. In a study done on animals, eating less food kept the animals in a biologically younger state and increased their lifespan by up to 66%.
Protect your telomeres by reducing your serving sizes (most of us are eating servings that are much too large), or try intermittent fasting. Fasting has powerful anti-aging properties including inducing autophagy and helping protect your telomeres.
Smoking accelerates telomere shortening. One study found that the rate of telomeric DNA loss in smokers was an average rate of 25.7–27.7 base pairs per year. Those who smoke a pack of cigarettes daily lost an additional 5 base pairs. Therefore, as far as your telomeres are concerned, smoking a pack a day for 40 years causes a loss of 7.4 years of telomere length.
Protect your telomeres by saying no to cigarettes! If you are already a smoker, there are plenty of resources available to help you quit. If you’d like to work with me to help get through the withdrawal period, you can click here to talk.
Researchers have found that a person’s BMI strongly correlates with biomarkers of DNA damage, independent of age. Obesity is associated with increased oxidative stress and DNA damage, which may expedite telomere shortening. In fact, the effect of obesity may be even more severe than that of smoking, at least as far as telomeres are concerned. The loss of telomeres in obese individuals averages out to 8.8 years of life.
Protect your telomeres by eating a healthy diet and moving your body daily! You don’t have to be an elite athlete to move. Try a zumba class, beginner’s yoga, or even start with daily walks. A healthy diet is also correlated with healthy biomarkers. Choose organic foods, and consider trying a paleo or keto diet.
We are faced with choices daily–what to eat, whether to watch TV or take a walk, if we’re going to raise our cortisol by checking our email at 10pm or waiting til tomorrow–and these choices impact our health both short term and long term. It is my hope that with an understanding of the various factors that contribute to living a long, healthy life you feel empowered to make the best choices for you.
Eating Your Way to Youthful Skin
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Whether you dread wrinkles as a sign of aging or wear them proudly as a product of years of life and laughter, we can all agree that healthy, glowing skin is desirable. Your skin is the first thing people notice when they meet you and can tell a person a lot about your health and lifestyle.
While we all get older, the rate at which we show typical signs of aging is totally subjective. Our diet and lifestyle all affect our quality and rate of aging. Today we are going to dive into various foods and nutrients that support glowing, supple, youthful skin.
What is Skin Made Of?
Skin is our largest organ; it protects us from germs, helps regulate body temperature, and perceives and transmits sensory information. Our skin is composed of three layers:
- Epidermis: the outermost layer of skin, composed largely of fats and proteins.
- Dermis: beneath the epidermis, this layer contains connective tissue, collagen, and elastin—proteins that give our skin support and elasticity.
- Hypodermis: this is the innermost layer of subcutaneous tissue, composed of fat and connective tissue.
You may notice a common theme: our skin is largely composed of fats, proteins, and collagen. So guess what types of foods do the most for our skin? That’s right—fats, proteins, and collagen—as well as vitamins that we will get to later.
Eating Fat and Cholesterol for Healthy Skin
There are various anti-aging foods with powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, including collagen protein, saturated fats, and vitamins A and E.
A low-fat diet actually ages you by depriving your skin of the lipids it needs for optimal health. Saturated fats are the ones our skin craves: we are animals and we need animal fat. Butter, egg yolks, salmon, goat cheese… Fat not only feeds your skin, but it also helps balance your hormones, another anti-aging feature of delicious saturated goodness!
We’re taught to avoid cholesterol, but guess what: 50% of cell membranes are made of cholesterol, both cholesterol that our body produces, as well as cholesterol from our diet. It is crucial for building healthy cells, healthy skin, and more. Cholesterol also helps us make bile to digest the saturated fats that we should be eating, and aids in vitamin extraction.
Important Nutrients for Healthy Skin
- Vitamin A may be the most important fat-soluble vitamin for healthy, youthful skin. The epidermis needs vitamin A to stay soft and firm, while a deficiency leads to ‘cornification,’ or rough, scaly skin, and even acne. Vitamin A also triggers collagen production, which is an essential component of skin.
You can find the precursor to vitamin A, called beta carotene, in leafy greens. This must be converted to the active form of vitamin A, called retinol.
For the full anti-aging effects of vitamin A, try Cod liver oil, butter, salmon, goat cheese, and egg yolks. You’ll also be getting in a ton of healthy saturated fats!
- Vitamin E protects against aging, oxidization, and sunburns. It also prevents wrinkles, is anti-scarring, and supports the pituitary. This is especially important for women during menopause when hormones are changing and the pituitary starts producing fewer hormones.
- Collagen: Collagen is the most abundant fibrous protein in the human body. Collagen is made by specialized cells in the skin, ligaments, bones, and cartilage and is the glue that holds the body together. Between 25% and 35% of all protein in the body is made up of collagen and up to 70% of the proteins in the connective tissues are composed of collagen. Along with elastin, collagen is an essential component of skin.
You can get collagen when you consume things like bone broth. Or, you can use a collagen powder and add it to your coffee or smoothies. I recommend TruKeto Collagen, which is enzymatically broken down to a very low molecular weight that is easily assimilated and absorbed.
Foods that Cause Aging
We’ve gone over what foods you should be adding to your diet, so let’s now take a look at what we should be avoiding.
- Smoking: Tobacco smoke causes premature aging on all fronts. There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are damaging to the skin. Even being around second-hand smoke can take its toll on collagen and elastin, the building blocks that give skin its strength and elasticity.
- Stress: When you’re stressed, your body is pumping out more cortisol. This signals to your glands to produce more oil. Stress and cortisol surges can aggravate acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema.
- Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates: Sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods can all create excessive inflammation, accelerate signs of aging, and lead to acne at any age. Sugar, in particular, can accelerate signs of aging by leading to cross-linking of collagen fibers.
- Alcohol: Alcohol deprives the skin of vital vitamins and nutrients, causes inflammation, and is dehydrating—leading to rough, dry skin—and ultimately more wrinkles.
The skin is oftentimes the first sign of internal health issues. Eating for your skin is eating for your whole body. The Just In Health Eating Plan emphasizes organic vegetables, meats, and is a cross between a paleo and keto diet. A healthy keto-paleo diet is a way to go. Throw intermittent fasting into the mix, and you are also reaping the benefits of autophagy, which repairs, recycles, and disposes of unhealthy cells.
It is important to know the foods you are sensitive to, as these can cause skin issues (dry skin, acne, wrinkles) as well as more serious internal health problems. The best way to know for sure if you are sensitive to something is to do an elimination diet or a food sensitivity test.
Meditation for Cortisol Regulation
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Stressors are plentiful in our modern world: paying the bills, relationship troubles, meeting project deadlines… While some amount of stress is normal, chronic stress can affect your daily life and oftentimes leads to long-term health consequences. Luckily, there are ways we can balance our stress response naturally.
Stress Throughout History
When you’re stressed, your cortisol rises: this is nature’s alarm system, your body’s main stress hormone. Chronic stress raises your cortisol levels, and over prolonged periods of time, this can lead to fatigue, hormone imbalance, weight gain, and feeling burnt out.
Evolutionarily, stress is actually a good thing! It’s a part of the “fight-or-flight” response responsible for keeping our ancestors alive. However, the disconnect is in how often we feel stressed out. Back in the day, stressful situations came, a human reacted, and it was over. For example: If confronted by an angry lion, our ancestors would have kicked into fight-or-flight and either fought the lion off or ran away. Either way, once they reached safety, the stressful situation was over and they could continue going about their life.
On the other hand, you have modern day stress of the digital age. Our stressors last longer and are more complex than 10 minutes of “Oh no, lion.” Our stress is often situational and compounding, lasting for months or even years. The stress response that was originally intended to help us adapt to new environments and challenges thrown in our path is now an overwhelming state of mind that impacts daily life.
Long-Term Effects of Stress
Stress makes us moody and irritable and might mess with our sleep, digestion, and attention span. These are just the immediate symptoms of stress—when our cortisol levels are raised for long periods of time, even more, serious effects begin to take place.
Weight Gain: Most of us crave junk food when we’re stressed: fatty, salty, or sugary. This can contribute to weight gain, but even more damaging is the link between stress and insulin resistance, a major trigger for weight-gain and a precursor for diabetes.
Inflammation: Elevated cortisol levels are linked to inflammation, which is said to be the root of all modern disease.
Accelerated Aging: Stress damages the blood-brain barrier, putting you at a higher susceptibility for Alzheimer’s.
Memory & Learning: Chronically elevated cortisol is linked to a shrunken hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Immune System: Chronic stress lowers your immune system. When confronted with a lion, our body isn’t worried about fighting off pathogens; it justs wants to make it out of the immediate system in one piece. High cortisol levels leave you susceptible to getting sick more often, and it may take you longer to recover from colds.
How Meditation Can Help
Meditation practices have been around since as early as 1500 BC, and modern science has recently taken a fascination with this ancient practice. Some of the proven benefits of meditation include:
- Less Stress: Meditation can lower stress, anxiety, and inflammation.
- Lower Blood Pressure: A daily meditation practice can lower blood pressure and heart rate, and increase circulation.
- Body and Mind: Meditation is a booster for your body and mind, with positive effects on the immune system and brain function! Research shows that meditation greatly benefits memory, attention span, and peace of mind.
- Better Sleep: Studies show improvement in sleep quality and duration in participants who meditate.
- Healthy Weight: Meditation lowers the risk of obesity and overeating.
Starting a Meditation Practice
Meditation is a powerful practice that’s free to do!
Pick a quiet spot, where you feel comfortable and won’t be interrupted. This could be in your bedroom, or maybe even somewhere outside. You can start with a short session and work your way up to longer sessions: go at your own pace. If your mind starts to wander, let it. Focus on your breathing and quieting your thoughts, but don’t force anything.
It can be intimidating to get started; many people worry that they don’t know how to meditate the “right” way. However, there is no right or wrong when it comes to meditation: the end goal is a reduction in stress, so don’t work yourself up worrying about being perfect. Namaste!