One of the emerging areas of interest in antiaging medicine is the health of our telomeres. A telomere is a repeating DNA sequence at the end of a chromosome. Every time a cell divides, the telomere shortens and the cell is unable to divide and degenerates. So as we age we find increasingly shortened telomeres.

Shortened telomeres lead to decreased repair and increased risks of diseases including cancers. Hence there is a growing interest in antiaging strategies that focus on the prevention of telomere damage through nutrition and the reduction of oxidative stressors that may affect our telomere health.

Inflammation and Infection Affect Telomere Loss

Conditions that result in higher oxidativestress and inflammation accelerate the division and repair of cells which in turn may increases telomere loss. A good example is the strong link between the oxidative stress of smoking and shortened telomeres and cancers.

Also an often overlooked oxidative stress can arise from low grade chronic infections which include chronic periodontal or gum disease, sinus infections and chronic gut inflammation due to intestinal microbe disruptions.

In addition mineral and vitamin deficiencies are also associated with reduced protection against DNA damage. Importantly magnesium and zinc are important for enzymes that are involved the process of DNA replication and repair, whilst vitamin C and D and omega-3 fatty acids are important as antioxidants and for their anti-inflammatory properties.

Another concern in aging men is the increased inflammation associated with raising weight and body fat. With rising age, most men experience declining muscle mass due to decreasing anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, and inactivity. Men with high body fat compositions despite a near normal body mass index experience higher oxidative stress and inflammation and shortened telomeres.

Methylation and Telomere Function

An important area of nutritional optimisationfocuses on methylation. Methylation is a biochemical process that donates methyl groups (made up of one carbon atom with three hydrogen atoms) to the telomeres to ensureits proper function.

One of the markers of poor methylation is high homocysteine levels which are associated with atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries due to cholesterol deposits. Studies suggest that high homocysteine negatively impacts methylation and the shortening of telomeres of white blood cells associated with atherosclerosis.

Raised or suboptimal homocysteine may require nutritional interventions to improve methylation. These include adequate vitamin B6, B12, folate and protein especially sulphur-rich proteins found in meats, eggs, lentils and nuts

Since men are more prone to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes, it is important that homocysteine and inflammation markers are measured in addition to cholesterol levels.

Looking Ahead

The growing research on aging and the impact of shortened telomeres on disease and cancer risks, greatly enhances our understanding and opens up new opportunities for us to make important preventive lifestyle and nutritional choices.


  1. CurrOpinClinNutrMetab Care. 2011 Jan; 14(1): 28-34.doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1, Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging, Masood A. Shammas
  2. FundamClinPharmacol. 2011 Aug;25(4):425-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-8206.2010.00866.x. Smoking and health: association between telomere length and factors impacting on human disease, quality of life and life span in a large population-based cohort under the effect of smoking duration., Babizhayev MA1, Yegorov YE.
  3. Am J Hum Biol. 2011 Jan-Feb; 23(1): 100-106.doi: 10.1002/ajhb.21109 Association between Adiposity and Telomere Length: The Fels Longitudinal Study, MIRYOUNG LEE,1 HILARIE MARTIN,2 MATTHEW A. FIRPO,3 and ELLEN W. DEMERATH2
  4. Atherosclerosis. 2013 Nov;231(1):173-9. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2013.08.029. Epub 2013 Sep 5. Homocysteine-relatedhTERT DNA demethylation contributes to shortened leukocyte telomere length in atherosclerosis., Zhang D1, Wen X, Wu W, Xu E, Zhang Y, Cui W.

Dr Colin Koh
Complete Healthcare International

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