What Is A Telomere?
Telomeres are the tips at the ends of our chromosomes that protect our DNA. They’re often compared to the little plastic caps at the end of shoelaces, keeping everything intact. Over time, as cells reproduce, our telomeres become shorter and shorter, until they become so short, that the process stops. As this happens, we see signs of aging.
Inside the center or nucleus of a cell, our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.
Geneticist Richard Cawthon and colleagues at the University of Utah found shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.
Telomeres are the yardsticks of biological age and psychological stress could take 9 to 17 years off the length of our telomeres.
People with longer telomeres still experience telomere shortening as they age but people under chronic stress, have accelerated shortening.
If we could stop the shortening of our telomeres, how many years could we possibly add to our lifespan? Cawthon believes around 10 years and maybe up to 30 years.
Chronic Stress Shortens Telomeres
New scientific findings suggest that chronic stress can take years off your life; the implications of this study are that this is true at the cellular level. Chronic psychological stress appears to have the potential to shorten the life of cells, at least immune cells by shortening telomeres. Scientists believe that the telomere part of our DNA links stress to aging.
Cortisol, a stress-response hormone, when in excess, damages telomeres and other genes, lowering telomerase levels (an enzyme that protects cellular aging), inhibiting the cells’ ability to respond. As cell populations throughout the body deteriorate, physical effects of aging become apparent.
- Hair turns gray.
- Skin wrinkles.
- Joints and bones weaken.
- Organ systems begin to fail.
- Cognitive deficits appear.
Numerous scientific reports have documented the progressive shortening of telomeres with age and at least one study has shown that shorter telomeres are associated with all causes of death in the elderly.
Chronic stress accelerates aging by shortening telomeres and short telomeres are bad things to have, so longer is better.
Certain Brainwaves Can Control Telomere Shortening
We have the tools to control our telomeres, to preserve them, and even lengthen them once they’ve been worn down. It all comes down to stress—or, more accurately, how we perceive and cope with stress.
Some forms of meditation may have salutary effects on telomere length by reducing cognitive stress and stress arousal and increasing positive states of mind and hormonal factors that may promote telomere maintenance.
In 2007, researchers found that after a three month yoga retreat, the level of telomerase in the blood stream of the participants, had increased strengthening their telomeres. This study suggests that meditators can significantly better protect their telomeres.
Meditation happens when the brain’s dominant brainwave band is in either alpha or theta. These brainwave frequencies promote an increased sense of control over the circumstances of ones daily life, and an increased sense of purpose in life in general. The more these improve, the stronger the effect telomerase has on keeping the telomeres healthy.
The happier the telomeres are, the slower they will shorten, if at all, and the longer we live.
Finding stress relief in these brainwave frequencies is an effective way to change how we respond to external events, helping us reinterpret the world as less dangerous so that we can live a happier, longer life.
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