Is there such a thing as a longevity gene?

October 20, 2013 | By | Longevity Medicine, Longevity Medicine | Share
Is there such a thing as a longevity gene?

Aging may be inevitable, but in the coming years, we will be offered vast new choices in medicine that we can hardly imagine today. Some of these options may raise social and ethical questions as innovative scientists and researchers prolong the healthy lifespan of humans. Today, when both natural and conventional medicine’s latest scientific research are combined, we create the greatest potential for optimal health and longevity. Naturopathic medicine has long been focused on the early detection, prevention and treatment of age related dysfunction, disorders and diseases. Longevity medicine or healthy aging can improve overall general health including energy levels, improving sexual performance, hormone balance, immune function, mood and mental clarity.

Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, eating a nutritious whole foods diet, drinking alcohol only in moderation, keeping stress to a manageable level, and avoiding smoking and drugs are the first steps to leading a longer and fuller life. All of the scientific research agrees that prevention is key. While lifestyle factors can be controlled, we still have our genetics to contend with. Revealing the molecular basis of aging has been one of the most challenging aspects of medical science. A new Renaissance of epigenetics is on the forefront of the longevity medicine movement. Epigenetics is anything outside of an individual’s DNA that may slow the growth and aging of cells and organs in the body that can affect the growth and aging process despite one’s DNA.

Longevity runs in families. Unfortunately for some, we do not get to choose our parents. Genetically predisposed individuals have an inherent risk for disease(s) independent of environmental factors. In addition, our genes can dynamically change in response to environmental factors including stress, diet, behaviors, toxins, and other factors. In different cultures we have been able to see how these environmental elements influence life expectancy. We do not get to pick our genes but we can control the environmental influences.

Through extensive research, telomeres are known to be responsible for the normal processes of aging. Telomeres are sections of DNA on the tips of chromosomes that are often likened to the caps on our shoelaces. When our cells replicate or die, they shorten the telomere length which will eventually lead to cell death after the telomere reaches its maximum life. This process is associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. Telomeres are affected by many factors including diet, lifestyle, environmental factors, genetics, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.

Telomere testing cannot tell us how long we will live, but it is a valid tool for those interested in monitoring their health with biomarkers specific to longevity and aging. Studies in mice have suggested that extending telomeres lengthens lives. Many people want to know how to promote the longevity of their telomeres. Therefore, advanced nutritional testing may be warranted and/or telomere testing. There has been much controversy regarding telomere testing and our NaturoMedica physicians use this along with other nutritional and general lab testing information to determine appropriate treatment recommendations.

As physicians, we are often fielding questions such as, “What’s the latest anti-aging pill”? We always tell our patients that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important but prevention is key. In addition, we stay abreast of the latest research and discoveries in the field of longevity medicine. Ligi Paul, Ph.D., of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, has reviewed the latest literature associating telomere length with nutrients, bioactive compounds, and lifestyle factors. Dr. Paul’s research has reminded us that inflammation and oxidative stress can speed up the shortening or lifespan of telomeres. So key nutrients to lower or reduce inflammation and oxidative stress which may protect against telomere shortening or death are a very important part of any longevity medicine plan.

  • Nutrients that have ongoing research include resveratrol which can activate an enzyme which is known to slow the pace of aging through DNA changes to help slow the shortening of telomeres. Research has also shown that resveratrol can increase the lifespan and physical endurance in mammals. There are some specific studies on other anti-inflammatory nutrients, which also help preserve telomeres. Nutrients such as quercetin, green tea catechins, grape seed extract, and curcumin, have a specific ability to help preserve telomeres, with grape seed extract and curcumin showing the ability to generate longer telomeres.
  • Research shows that nutritional supplements can have a positive impact on cognitive function and development. In particular, there have been many studies which have shown the benefits of nutrients which may prevent the shortening of telomeres. We offer a product called ”Vital Brain Powder” which contains acetyl l-carnitine and phosphatidylserine which may help alleviate cognitive difficulties associated with aging.
  • Despite recent negative study findings for men with increased risk for prostate cancer, long chain omega-3 fatty acids (including EPA and DHA or fish oil) have repeatedly been shown to help prevent chronic diseases ranging from cancer and dementia to heart disease and stroke. It is an indisputable fact that these essential fats are necessary for the human body to assimilate the billions of cellular structures that form our organs and tissues and aid in DNA replication.
  • Another study with 586 women found that those who took a multivitamin on a regular basis had five percent longer telomeres compared to those who did not. Zinc is necessary mineral for a variety of enzymes including DNA polymerases, which are important for DNA and telomere maintenance.
  • Men with the highest levels of folic acid had longer telomeres than men with low folic acid. And another study with men and women found low folate was related to shorter telomeres. At NaturoMedica we can offer advanced vitamin testing as well as MTHFR genetic testing to determine nutrient status and/or impairment of folate production. Vitamin B12 in conjunction with folate, this B vitamin is important for the methylation, or detoxification, of homocysteine. Higher levels of homocysteine are associated with increased oxidative stress.
  • Antioxidants can reduce “free radical” or oxidative damage which can lead to tissue and nervous system damage. Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidant vitamins which are widely acknowledged for limiting oxidative stress and its damage on DNA and telomeres. The best sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits. Rich source of Vitamin A are carrots, squash, spinach and collard greens. We carry several antioxidant formulas as well.

Our knowledge regarding telomeres continues to grow with the latest scientific advances in research. Telomeres may become the window to our patient’s cellular age. Our physicians can develop a strategy to help patients maintain a healthy lifestyle including goal weight, fitness recommendations and help to determine each patient’s body composition. NaturoMedica recently purchased a state-of-the-art body impedance machine in which to accurately measure lean mass versus fat mass, resting metabolic rate as well as segmental muscle and body fat analysis.

In addition, regular resistance and aerobic exercise for at least one hour per day has been shown to be beneficial. Getting plenty of rest (8 hours per night), avoiding smoking or tobacco products, and stress management are key. An inflammatory diet, or one that increases oxidative stress, will shorten telomeres faster. This includes refined carbohydrates, fast foods, processed foods, sodas, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and saturated fats. A diet with a large amount and variety of antioxidants that improves oxidative defense and reduces oxidative stress will slow telomere shortening. Consumption of 10 servings of fresh and relatively uncooked fruits and vegetables, mixed fiber, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, cold water fish, and high quality vegetable proteins will help preserve telomere length. In addition, our NaturoMedica physicians may individualize our treatment recommendations to include dietary and lifestyle plans, general lab tests to check for elevated inflammatory markers or advanced nutritional and/or genetic testing as well as body impedance testing. Please contact our NaturoMedica Clinic at 425-557-8900 to set up an appointment to discuss an individual “healthy aging” screening for you.

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