Telomerase May Be The Secret to Anti-Aging
Dr. Bruce Lipton invites us to consider this: “contained within our bodies is what so many have studied, sought after, and dreamed about—the fountain of youth.”
What he’s talking about are telomeres; sections of DNA found at the end of each chromosome that can offer us insight into how we can “create a long-lived biology,” filled with wellness and meaning.
Telomeres And The Genetics of Aging
The science of genetics was formed in large part because of the human need to grapple with a limited lifespan. Central to this discussion is the role telomeres play in understanding the genetic coding of our aging. Telomeres have two essential functions:
- To allow DNA to be replicated without losing genetic information
- To prevent the double helix of DNA from unraveling
The process of DNA replication involves a shortening of our chromosomes from their original version, reducing the length of the original DNA molecule. This process invariably leads to aging, depression, and disease.
The role of the telomere is to extend that replication time by adding a piece of DNA at the end of the strand that doesn’t code for anything and acts as a mechanism to prevent the degradation, or unwinding, of the double helix structure.
Lipton uses the analogy of shoelaces to bring the concept of telomeres to life. At the end of shoelaces are little plastic caps known as “aglets,” which make the process of lacing shoes simple and fluid, while holding the strands of the shoelace material together. And the same concept can be applied to the telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes.
While the role telomeres play in retaining the integrity of a DNA strand is important, Lipton stresses they have an even more important function—telomeres form an extension of the DNA that allows for replication without affecting the gene programs, allowing for an extended amount of divisions before running out; the implication of this on our longevity is profound.
For many years, it was believed the lifespan of an organism was directly proportional to how many times a cell can divide before losing the telomere extensions and cutting into the DNA program.
Leonard Hayflick, a scientist in the 1960s calculated that a human could live approximately 90 years before telomeres were lost. However, in 1984, research scientist Elizabeth Blackburn made a truly life-changing and life-extending revelation with the discovery of the enzyme telomerase, which extends telomere length. Her discovery made an exciting impact on our understanding of the human lifespan.
But as interesting as Dr. Blackburn’s discovery was, the enzyme’s ability to be activated or inhibited is dependent upon a number of external factors. The inhibition of telomerase can be caused by improper nutrition, childhood abuse and neglect, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as a lack of self-love, love from others, and life purpose—factors that can all have a negative impact on our lifespan.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are characteristics that allow telomerase to be activated, leading to positive lifespan implications. These include good nutrition, especially omega-3, regular exercise, practicing gratitude, self-love, receiving love, and living with a positive sense of service and purpose.
The last characteristic, in particular, provides our life with the message that we have something to live for, whether that is to help others, create art, or work to solve humanity’s deepest issues. Lipton says he believes the positive feedback of the above characteristics can “enhance the telomerase activity to extend [our] life.”
The result of enhanced telomerase activity leads to an increase in our ability to produce telomeres that allow cell division to occur more frequently, resulting in a longer, healthier, and happier life.
Is Death the End or a New Beginning
Even with the groundbreaking research on life-extending enzymes, we all know life is impermanent. Every living thing ages and eventually dies. Lipton asks an important question that gets to the root of human existence: when we die, is our human existence really terminated with death?”
Lipton turns to the world of Quantum Physics for an alternative outlook where the “realm of energy is neither created nor destroyed.” He suggests that humans are more than our physical bodies—we are energetic fields whose identities continue after our bodies are done with their physical existence. The concept of living beings having a “perpetual field that identifies us” is not only the foundation of reincarnation but of a different way of relating to life.
Lipton defines this field as “invisible moving forces that influence the physical world,” and says this definition is parallel to that of spirituality. According to his teachings, quantum physics and spirituality are the same and provide the same message: we are a field and exist outside of physical forms; we are an energy field. If we embrace this definition, we have the ability to live longer.
What does this mean as far as our identity or our sense of self? Lipton proposes that our identity is not part of a system, but originates from an external source out in the larger quantum field. He says he believes the source could be based on astrology or as he rephrases it, ‘astro-physiology,” since living beings are influenced by those factors. We all originated from and are connected to the same source—the universe.
How to Live Longer -- Secrets of the Blue Zones
Eating well and exercising are obvious necessities for maximizing one’s lifespan, but many believe that genetics are actually the biggest determinant. But according to the Danish twin study, only 20 percent of longevity is due to hereditary causes. Based on this knowledge, Dan Buettner decided to figure out what it was exactly that contributed to a longer, healthier lifetime. He found there are “Blue Zones,” or areas throughout the world with high concentrations of healthy people living longer than most, due to specific lifestyle and environmental factors.
Where Are the Blue Zones?
Based on demographic research of global populations, Buettner identified five disparate regions having concentrations with health statistics that defied national or world averages. Things like lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer were defining factors, as well as abnormally high concentrations of centenarians – people who have lived past the age of 100.
Upon this realization, Buettner published his findings in National Geographic, and subsequently developed a set of guidelines emulating the intrinsic elements of these blue zone lifestyles, that could be applied to anyone.
In the United States, the average life expectancy is just over 78 years for the general population. Women have a higher expectancy than men by almost five years, which is pretty common across most cultures, but in certain “blue zones” life expectancy is significantly higher for both sexes, with residents consistently living into their 90s and beyond.
Sardinia, Italy is home to a region that, at the time of Buettner’s study, boasted the highest concentration of male centenarians in the world. Though mostly concentrated in one area of the island, the statistic was most prominent in a village called Seulo, part of a small mountainous region that was home to 20 blue zone centenarians from 1996-2016. But Seulo has barely maintained its top rank, often trading the title with Okinawa, Japan and the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.
Buettner visited these regions and studied the lifestyle habits of its denizens. In Sardinia, he noticed that the community was still living a Bronze Age lifestyle, where labor was intertwined with daily life and old age was celebrated.
One of the oldest men in the village was 104 years old and still able to beat Buettner in an arm-wrestling match. The man would wake up at 9 a.m., chop wood, drink a glass of wine, and give advice to a line of townspeople throughout the day, waiting for his wisdom.
This sense of community, regular, but moderate alcohol consumption, and physical activity were three important factors contributing to the Sardinians’ longevity. Their diet included high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, legumes and whole wheat, unleavened bread, and the wine they drank had three times the normal levels of polyphenols, their secret eau de vie.
The Blue Zones Longevity
The blue zone diet that was so beneficial to the Sardinians is a common theme across analogous communities. In the U.S., there is a blue zone just outside of Los Angeles in an area called Loma Linda. The town is home to a group of 7th Day Adventists, a conservative group of Christian Methodists. This community ascribes to a diet mentioned in the Bible that recommends eating mostly legumes, seeds, and green plants.
This is the foundation of the blue zone diet, a relative commonality between all of the communities Buettner studied. He found these people eat nutritious food at least 80 percent of the time, and they also make it a point not to overeat. In Okinawa there is a ritual prayer to remind themselves of this, recited before every meal. This anti-overindulgence mantra has been performed for 3,000 years since it was first uttered by Confucius.
Another secret to longevity that Buettner identified was that all of these communities had some sort of involvement in their community and participated in some type of sacred practice.
Whether it was religion or spirituality, these practices of faith typically lead to communal activity and a time set aside for a reprieve from life’s stresses. In Loma Linda the Christian community would celebrate their Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, allowing for a full 24 hours of what they referred to as a “sanctuary in time.”
Buettner said this slowing down, or taking time to downshift from life’s daily bustle, reduces an inflammatory response that our bodies kick into gear when we put stress on them. That inflammation has been linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s and heart disease, so when we regularly take action to reduce or eliminate that response, the results are overwhelmingly beneficial.
In Japan, friend groups were designated for an entire lifetime with groups of blue zone centenarians who got together regularly since their youth. These groups also helped in the anti-inflammatory unwinding process, while also providing a social outlet. They call these associations “Moais” which provide not just camaraderie, but support for times when they feel down or have something big going on in their lives.
Buettner recognized this across all of the blue zones and said that he believed this was the primary factor for achieving longevity, the foundation upon which every other lifestyle choice was built.
And nearly tantamount in its efficacy for a long, healthy life, he identified what the Okinawans call “Ikigai,” and the Costa Ricans call a “plan de vida” – a lifelong purpose. He found that devoting oneself to a passion or duty, not only provides a sense of direction and pride, but keeps your mind active and functioning.
You don’t have to move to these blue zones to dip into their fountain of youth tactics when Buettner has done the hard work of uncovering their secrets. By implementing some of these conscious lifestyle choices you too can reduce your risk of disease, live a healthier life, and maybe last long enough to join the centenarian club.