Telomeres and Aging: What You Need to Know

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

August 3, 2015

  • The ticking time bomb in your DNA
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Telomeres are what make the difference between a healthy, youthful and long life versus one that’s riddled with poor health, early signs of aging and a shortened lifespan.

In effect, they’re a marker of your biological age.

Now, I’ve talked about telomeres before. These are the protective DNA caps on the end of your chromosomes that shorten each time your cells divide. The shorter they get, the more quickly you age.

I tend to think of these strands of DNA as a fuse at the end of a bomb. They get “lit” at birth and “burn down” as you age. In some people they burn down slowly, in others they burn more quickly.

There are many things that influence how quickly your telomeres shorten. But today, I want to focus on a tricky little quirk about telomeres that requires your urgent attention.

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Let me explain…

Every year we see more and more evidence that the “Western” style of eating speeds up telomere shortening.

Well, it turns out that this way of eating doesn’t just affect your telomeres in the short-run. The effects will still show up in the degree of aging you experience 10 years later!

This is an urgent wake up call to anyone who has eaten this type of diet in the past 10 years. It’s even more urgent if you stick your head in the sand and ignore the evidence.

Some “Western” foods that have the most profound effect on telomere shortening include dairy products like milk and cheese. There’s also some evidence that red meat is linked to shorter telomeres.

Cooking oils high in omega 6 fatty acids are a quick way to shorten your telomeres. You’ll find these inflammatory fatty acids in most of today’s popular oils. These include canola, safflower, soybean, peanut, sunflower and corn oils, just to name a few.

And of course fried foods, sweets, sodas, refined grains and deli meats will affect your telomeres as well – and not in a good way.

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But there is good news. If you’ve been eating any of these foods in the last 10 years, you can protect – and even lengthen – your telomeres. In other words, starting now gives you the best chance to give old age a sucker punch.

The first thing you should know is that fruits and vegetables are great for your telomeres.

We’ve seen over and over again that people who eat the most fruits and veggies have longer telomeres than those who don’t get enough produce in their diets.

Green tea is another big winner. Green tea drinkers have telomeres that are about five years younger than people who don’t drink it. (If you don’t like green tea, you can always take it in supplement form. Look for one that contains epigallocatechin gallate [EGCG] and is standardized to contain 60% polyphenols. For the most impact, set a goal of 240 to 320 mg. of polyphenols every day.)

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are probably one of your best weapons against telomere shortening. That’s because they not only slows down telomere shortening, they also help to lengthen them. And this can happen in as little as four months.

So get plenty of fish in your diet.

I also recommend supplementing with a high quality fish oil formula that contains oil from fresh, wild-caught, deep sea fish. And make sure it’s been molecularly distilled and tested for purity (i.e., no mercury.) Aim for 1200mg. of EPA and 800 mg. of DHA daily for telomere lengthening.

One more thing…

The foods I mention above are all part of the Mediterranean way of eating.

So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that eating a Mediterranean style diet is associated with longer telomeres, robust health and a lengthy life.


Lee JY, et al. Association between dietary patterns in the remote past and telomere length. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Apr 15.

Song Y, et al. Intake of small-to-medium-chain saturated fatty acids is associated with peripheral leukocyte telomere length in postmenopausal women. J Nutr. 2013 Jun;143(6):907-14.

O’Callaghan N, et al. Telomere shortening in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment may be attenuated with ?-3 fatty acid supplementation: a randomized controlled pilot study. Nutrition. 2014 Apr;30(4):489-91.

Marcon F, et al. Diet-related telomere shortening and chromosome stability. Mutagenesis. 2012 Jan 19;27(1):49-57.

Crous-Bou M, et al. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ 2014;349:g6674.

Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Feb;28:16-24.

Chan R. Chinese tea consumption is associated with longer telomere length in elderly Chinese men. British Journal of Nutrition. 2010;103:107-113.

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