Meditate Your Way to Longer Telomeres; Keep Aging at Bay?

January 30th, 2012
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As part of Popper and Company’s ongoing effort to scan the health care universe and share innovative ideas and solutions with you, the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has risen to the surface. That year, Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostack received the prize for discovering “how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.”  The Nobel Laureates demonstrated that chromosomes are protected from degradation by telomeres, which sit at the ends of our chromosomes, similar to the plastic cap on the end of a shoelace. There’s a lesson here that plays on a theme that Popper and Company team members often discuss among ourselves – the role the individual plays in his or her own health and longevity.
Let me explain: The telomere protects our chromosomes from becoming tattered and damaged. The enzyme telomerase helps maintain a healthy cell. As telomerase levels and activity diminish over time, our telomeres shorten and no longer divide, our cells age and no longer function properly; they then die, and well, eventually we die.

Shortened telomeres do not divide properly and can throw our bodies out of balance, leading to increased inflammation and illness. Telomeres are influenced by non-genetic “lifestyle” factors such as well-being, diet and exercise.  Telomere length may be influenced by psychological stress and depression, and such states as “seeing red” and “rumination.” The recent TEDMED 2011 talk by Calvin Hurley and Elissa Epel on how stress ages cells and cuts telomeres short brings up some interesting ideas on how to possibly alter stress-shortened telomeres. Depending on the type of stress, the level of stress, and the meaning we assign to that stress, it can change our physiological state and increase blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of insulin and cortisol—all of which influence our biology.
In some respects, we have the potential to create our own “wireless” applications through the messages we send from the brain to the rest of the body. In addition, messages sent from the environment can change the “connections” in our nervous system. This idea originated more than 100 years ago, but it is an area that continues to receive a lot of interest and attention.
Thoughts and well-being influence the many cellular activities in our body that in turn influence health or illness. Simple activities like mindful meditation, exercise and relaxation may positively influence how our cells age.
In the search for better and innovative ideas to create ‘quality of life,’ some of the onus may be on us to implement change in our daily activities by embracing stress-reducing activities that provide high value.
Do you think that our mental state can forestall aging at this chromosomal level? Or, is this an artifact of cell biology research that might not be applicable to humans? Does this present a new area for therapy (or at least therapeutic research for life science companies)? Share your thoughts with us.

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About the Author:

I have 20 years experience in clinical research, including leading diagnostic and pharmaceutical clinical studies in disease areas ranging from cancer to infectious disease to cardiology, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. Send me an email.

One Response to “Meditate Your Way to Longer Telomeres; Keep Aging at Bay?”

  1. Katherine says:

    Although an interesting theoretical application of cell biology, this article fails to address the role telomeres play in restricting irregular cell growth. It is great to be thinking creatively about extending life expectancy and delaying aging by examining the body at a molecular level, but it is imperative to remember that every process in the body exists for a reason and simply altering the machinery of one little process (i.e. telomere degradation) can have drastic, unintended implications. Telomeres shorten to single cells into senescence. Cells failing to exhibit senescence at the proper time are called cancerous.