Telomeres and Cancer – Is There
Any Truth in The Hype?
November 5th, 2014 by Holly Cornish
The subject of telomeres often comes up these days when people talk about staying healthy and living long. At least one high-profile alternative doctor seems to make a killing selling a very expensive product to boost telomere health.
Yet I think few of us know what telomeres are, how they might affect our cancer risk, and what – if anything — we can do to keep ours healthy.
I asked one of our crack researchers to look into it, and this is what she found. . .
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It’s claimed that telomeres are like a secret ingredient that keeps your body from falling apart. It turns out that this part of the hype is accurate.
Taking care of your telomeres is an essential link in the web of things you can do to stay cancer-free. And you can do so without paying for a fancy supplement.
So what are telomeres? A telomere is found at the end of each of your chromosomes.
Picture the classic DNA helix, where your genes are arranged in that twisted, double-strand formation of DNA molecules (called chromosomes). Telomeres cap the ends of these chromosomes, much like plastic tips cap the ends of shoelaces and keep them from coming unraveled.
Similarly, telomeres keep your chromosome ends from getting stuck to each other and fraying. If they weren’t there to protect those tips, your genetic information could get scrambled and start mutating.
The problem is, telomeres naturally get shorter over time. This shortening process is linked with aging, but is also associated with diseases like cancer. And when telomeres get too short, the cell they’re protecting effectively dies.
To escape imminent cell death, a cell can mutate into a cancer cell. This activates the enzyme telomerase, which then keeps the already-shortened telomere caps from getting even shorter. The life-extending function of the telomerase enzyme is desirable in healthy cells, but not so when it extends the life of cancer cells!
Short telomeres are prevalent in loads of cancers, including prostate, bone, bladder, lung, pancreatic, and kidney cancer, as well as head and neck cancers.
Some scientists believe measuring telomerase levels could be a new way to detect cancer. Others believe that if they stop the development of the enzyme telomerase in the body, they could potentially thwart cancer by forcing cancerous cells to age and die.
On the other hand, blocking the formation of telomerase is linked with impaired fertility and lessens the production of both blood cells and immune system cells. Which, let’s face it… defeats the purpose of helping your body fight cancer.
At the moment, there is still no accepted mainstream medical treatment to neutralize telomerase and thereby induce natural cell death. Research is ongoing.
That prevalent poison strikes again…
It makes a lot more sense to do what you can so your telomeres stay as long as possible, for as long as possible. And according a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health, you can do that by making specific healthy choices.
According to study author Elissa Epel, PhD, the very best way to avoid premature shortening of your telomeres is to avoid sugar.
So, once again, sugar is a major villain. This is no surprise to long-term readers of Cancer Defeated. Sugar is more strongly implicated in cancer development than any other food.
Dr. Epel and her team looked at data from more than 5,000 adults and concluded that those who drank more sugary soda generally had shorter telomeres. It appears soda consumption effectively ages a person (and remember, aging correlates with shorter telomeres).
Dr. Epel’s data showed that those who consume 8 ounces of regular soda daily experienced the equivalent of 1.9 years of extra aging. Drinking 20 ounces a day is associated with 4.6 additional years of aging. Interestingly, the same exact association is found between telomere length and smoking.
As Dr. Epel stated, “The extremely high dose of sugar that we can put into our body within seconds by drinking sugared beverages is uniquely toxic…”
Go with water. Seriously.
On the bright side, soda consumption has been on the decline for years, dropping by about 20 percent since the late 1990s. People are waking up to the fact that, while it may take a long time for the damage to show up, soda in any quantity is bad for your health.
Soda is essentially candy in liquid form. Your basic 12-ounce can of soda has a shocking ten teaspoons of sugar, adding up to around 150 calories.
Unfortunately, many people drink other sugared-up beverages in place of soda, including sports drinks and vitamin-fortified drinks. Diet sodas are no better, as the artificial sweeteners they use do nothing to prevent obesity and may actually cause glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, leading to other health complications.
Even the sugars in milk have been implicated in early aging and a higher mortality for both men and women, no doubt prompted by shortened telomeres.
Avoiding soda and sugar in general is a smart step you can take to keep your telomeres from dwindling and bolster protection against cancer. Your best bet is to just drink water.
Proof that the key to good health is also the simplest
If you really want to improve the state of your telomeres, I suggest not only avoiding sugar but also eating well and stressing less. Early evidence shows these steps may actually lengthen any prematurely-shortened telomeres.
In study results published by the journal Lancet Oncology, a group of men who adopted a low-fat diet, exercised for 30 minutes six days a week, and took stress management classes such as yoga and meditation, appeared to have higher levels of telomerase in their cells.
The findings led to a further study that showed these men had increased their telomere length by 10 percent over a period of five years.
So, consider it in your best interest to keep those chromosome caps of yours in good shape. When you think about it, it’s the best anti-cancer intervention possible: No medication, no surgery, just behavioral changes. It goes to show how powerful simple, low-tech, natural interventions can be.
Lee Euler, Publisher