Beginnings of the Ends: Telomere Storytime

I’ve been talking up telomeres a lot lately, which are emerging as the key biomarker of biological aging. Think you look younger than your chronological age? Here’s your marker. Telomeres are a lot like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces – in this case, telomeres keep DNA on the ends of chromosomes from fraying, and help cells divide more crisply (which they typically do 60-100 times before sinking into the hot tub of senescence).

For my friends with attention deficit — SHORT VERSION — short telomeres are bad; long telomeres are good. Stress shortens your telomeres (see research on mamas in distress, below) and here’s what lengthens them: meditation, whole food, mostly plant-based and a little estrogen.

I’ll highlight first some of the studies that I did not mention but you may find interesting, all out the lab of Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn at UCSF.

Estrogen helps: it lengthens telomeres after menopause. Endogenous estrogen exposure is associated with longer telomeres in postmenopausal women at risk for cognitive decline, as reported last October, 2010.

This is major on depression: telomeres are shorter in depressed folks, and can predict treatment response, published this month in Nature.

Even beginning meditators can lengthen telomeres. A significant change was noted as soon as 3 months after beginning meditation as reported last month.

For men, read how yoga, meditation and eating right can improve your risk of prostate cancer right here along with lengthening your telomeres.

Exercise buffers how chronic stress shortens telomeres in postmenopausal women, as reported last year.

Telomeres lengthen when you eat whole foods, mostly plant-based and meditate. Results of this study (, demonstrated that intensively improved nutrition and meditation increases telomerase. Telomerase is the enzyme responsible for maintaining telomere length. Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes that influence how long we live. This is the first time that any intervention, even drugs, has been shown to significantly increase telomerase.
Elizabeth Blackburn also showed that mothers caring for their sick kids have shorter telomeres when they report that their emotional stress is at its greatest. Acute stress actually increases telomere length (via increased telomerase), whereas chronic stress shortens length

Want to test your telomere length? That’ll set you back $350, not usually covered by insurance. Hopefully that fee will reduce as more competitors join the field.

Lots of new data, lots of promise here for those of us trying to slow down the decline of middle and old age. Best news to date: meditate regularly and eat right (Dean Ornish way, according to these data, although I’ll take that with a tablespoon of oil, thank you very much) and your telomeres will stay nice and longy.

Dr Sara GottfriedSara Gottfried, M.D.

Sara Gottfried, M.D. teaches women how to balance their hormones naturally so they can rock their mission. She is a Harvard-educated physician, speaker and New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure (Simon & Schuster, 2013). She is board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and is regularly featured in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Redbook, O Magazine, and Yoga Journal, and TV including The Ricki Lake Show and 20/20. Known for effortlessly blending the seriousness of women’s health with playfulness and humor, Dr. Sara’s mission is to help women lose weight, feel great and vital from their cells to their soul.