Telomeres are bits of DNA genetic material that sit atop DNA strands and keep vital genetic material intact when cells divide or replicate. Think of them as the little plastic piece on top of the shoe laces. When they fall off or become damaged the shoelaces get damaged or frayed. Healthier older individuals have longer DNA strands with intact telomeres compared to people with shorter life spans and chronic diseases who have smaller and shorter telomeres. Whether the shorter telomeres are the “chicken or egg” is unclear but clearly those with shorter telomeres are more likely to die from heart disease or infectious processes.
There does seem to be a relationship between telomere size and nutritional and vitamin levels. Ligi Paul Pottenplackel is a researcher at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts New England Medical Center. She has looked extensively at the humans’ intake and concentration of folate and telomere length and health. She found that those with an exceptionally high folate level and intake have shorter telomeres and worse health. While many researchers believe that folate being water soluble is flushed out if you don’t need it and causes no cumulative toxicity, she believes the short telomeres may be the result of excessive folate intake.
Physical exercise seems to keep telomeres from eroding. In an article in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers showed that telomeres were longer in those who were active. Over time, all participants telomeres shortened but less so in the physically active groups.
While Tufts takes a closer look at nutrition and healthy aging we urge all to stay physically active while eating a balanced diet