Recently, I read a fascinating book called “The Telomere Effect.” According to the authors’ research, the length and health of our telomeres play an underlying role in our overall wellbeing and how quickly we age. But here’s one interesting part about aging. Sugar consumption impacts telomeres. Who knew? There’s actually a link between too much sugar and aging.
A Tale of Two Friends
Before I define telomeres, let’s look at two middle-aged friends discussed in the book. Kara looks tired and haggard, moves stiffly, and deals with an onslaught of medical issues.
Lisa, on the other hand, is energetic, sports glowing skin and bright eyes, and rarely catches a cold or visits the doctor for serious medical conditions.
These two women are identical in age. But Kara and Lisa are aging differently. Why?
The answer relates to the activity inside each woman’s cells. Kara’s cells are prematurely aging, she’s moving more quickly toward a disease state, and consequently she looks older. Lisa’s cells are renewing themselves, and as a result, she looks and acts younger, and her immune system is robust.
While some believe that genes determine how we age, there’s another component. Equally important are lifestyle factors such as stress, nutrition, exercise, and sleep. We’re each born with a given set of genes, but “the way we live influences how our genes express themselves.” (p.6 – The Telomere Effect)
What Are Telomeres?
Let’s me take a step back and define telomeres.
Here’s one explanation. A telomere is a repeating segment of noncoding DNA that lives at the end of your chromosomes. When a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter. At some point, the telomeres become so short that the cell can no longer divide.
Another explanation involves an easy way to visualize chromosomes and telomeres. Think of your chromosome as a shoelace. Think of the protective plastic tip at the end of your shoelace, called an aglet, as your telomere. The telomere keeps the genetic material from unraveling. If your shoelace tips wear down or come off, they become useless. It’s similar with telomeres. When they become too short, cells can’t divide and renew themselves. And you’ll feel like Kara who’s aging prematurely.
Aging Can Be Reversed
I have good news. Telomere research indicates that aging can be reversed! The ends of our chromosomes can actually lengthen, meaning that aging is a dynamic process, and we can positively impact our cellular health.
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to renew and lengthen your telomeres. For the purposes of this post, I’ll just focus on nutrition.
Specifically, dietary changes involve reducing your sugar cravings, reading food labels since a multitude of foods contain hidden sugars, and avoiding gluten free products that contain simple carbohydrates.The bottom line is that there’s a link between sugar and aging. Shorter telomeres are associated with the over-consumption of simple carbohydrate foods such as candy, sweetened soda, sweetened energy drinks, fruit juices and pressed juices without fiber, most desserts, white bread, white rice, white pasta, and chips
Sugar and Aging: Eating to Optimize Cell Health
Telomere research indicates that too much sugar adversely affects the length of our telomeres, thus making us look older than our chronological age. That begs the question: how can nutrition optimize the health of our cells?
Longer telomeres and cell revitalization correlates closely with the diet followed in the Blue Zones. Fiber is important. Plenty of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Whole grains, nuts, legumes, beans, seeds. Omega-3s from fatty fish, ground flaxseed, and chia.
We make choices every day to either fortify our body and mind, or not. Besides nutrition, there are a whole host of lifestyle factors related to cell health. If the science and research behind this topic has piqued your curiosity, I encourage you to pick up a copy of “The Telomere Effect” for more in-depth reading.
In addition, if you’d like to curb your sugar consumption in a comprehensive way (Sugar Buster Plan) or just take a week or two to adjust your dietary habits (Eat Healthy Challenges), click here to sign up.