Telomeres are like the plastic cap on the tip of your shoelaces, and like shoelaces, long telomeres prevent your chromosomes from unraveling. As you age, your telomeres get shorter. That increases the risk both of losing vital DNA from the tips of your chromosomes and of having more errors when your DNA divides and replicates. It happens because your DNA uses the telomeres to line up the DNA when it divides and replicates just like you might hold the tips of your shoelaces if your were holding the two together. Telomeres are one place where size matters.
In 2009, Karen Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak received the Nobel Prize for discovering how telomeres worked. Since then there have been many more studies on telomeres that includes the finding a substance called telomerase can lengthen telomeres. In September 2013, a study led by Dr. Dean Ornish showed that lifestyle changes such as eating healthy whole foods, exercise and stress management were able to actually lengthen telomeres.
Enter a new study on weight loss surgery. It turns out that subtracting pounds from your waistline might actually add length to your telomeres. A recent study by Stanford University researchers found that among the women who had the surgery, they were on average 49 years old and had a body mass index (BMI) of 44.3 (18 to 25 is considered normal so this would be a woman who is on average 5-feet, 9 inches tall and weighs 300 pounds). Their telomeres increased in length about 2 – 3%. That’s not a lot but most people are always losing more telomere length.
The women in the study also lowered their risk of diabetes, had less inflammation and lowered their LDL or “lousy” cholesterol.
So what is the take home message? For years you’ve been hearing the medical community warn you about the risks of obesity and urge you to eat smaller portions of whole foods that are mostly plant based, exercise and lower your stress via meditation, yoga, tai chi or other means. Now you know it really works!
If you want to keep your telomeres longer you know what to do. You can lower your weight with major surgery; or you can adjust your lifestyle. The most important thing is to take action now.
What is the first change you will make?