5 Ways To Protect Your Telomeres For a Longer, Healthier Life

Research shows that toxic compounds in the environment directly impact your telomeres – those little structures at the end of your chromosomes that are directly related to longevity.

While research into the genome is ongoing, one thing that seems to be clear is that lifestyle factors that increase telomere length keep us healthy, while those that shorten our telomeres do the opposite. 

But what are telomeres, anyway? And which toxins are set out to attack these protein structures?

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The critical function of telomeres for your cells and their role in longevity
  • How our food supply is riddled with telomere-attacking compounds
  • Other sources of toxic chemicals that shorten telomeres, including personal care products, receipts, and even textiles
  • The most effective steps you can take to protect your telomeres and promote a long and healthy life 

What Are Telomeres?

Telomeres are protein structures that sit at the end of your chromosomes, protecting the information stored in your genome. 

Okay, for all of you non-science nerds, let’s break that down a little:

Chromosomes house your genetic information in the form of DNA. DNA is passed from parents to offspring and contains specific instructions that make you uniquely you. Put simply, it contains all the information you require to grow and function[1].

As you might imagine, the information held within your chromosomes is precious material, which is where your telomeres come in. 

Telomeres are repetitive stretches of DNA that sit at the end of your chromosomes, protecting them from degradation. Think of the plastic that wraps the end of your shoelace so it doesn’t fray – that’s the telomere.  

Now, here’s where aging enters the story. Every time your cells divide, your telomeres become slightly shorter. Over time, they shorten so much that they can no longer protect your chromosomes, and the cell dies. Generally speaking, shorter telomeres are associated with an increased incidence of disease and poor survival. In this way, many researchers have begun looking at telomeres like a biological clock to help determine an organism’s lifespan[2][3].

As we age, our telomeres naturally become shorter. But that’s not the end of the story. 

Studies show that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can impact the rate of telomere shortening and, in some cases, even lengthen telomeres – pretty amazing. 

On the flip side, several environmental and lifestyle factors can increase the rate of telomere shortening – not so amazing. 

As research continues to focus on telomere health, toxic compounds have emerged as one of the most profound contributors to telomere shortening; let’s look at some of the biggest culprits.

4 Toxins Shortening Your Telomeres

Notice on yellow board announcing toxic and dangerous area behind it with hills, polluted air and river and industrial fumes from factories

#1 Pesticides

Pesticides are widely used on almost all conventionally farmed produce and may even contaminate organic produce if the crops are close enough to the pesticide-sprayed crops. While there are myriad concerns around pesticides, one that is not often discussed is the impact these chemicals can have on our telomeres. 

Studies show that people with higher levels of pesticides in their bodies tend to have shorter telomeres. And in fact, even living close to an agricultural field that uses pesticides can increase your risk of telomere shortening[4].

Unsurprisingly, this association was even stronger in those who work with pesticides, such as field workers[5]. 

#2 BPA

BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical found in plastics and epoxy resins – and they’re everywhere in our food supply. You can come across BPA in plastic water bottles, the lining of food cans, plastic food containers, plastic wrap, plastic cups, plastic cutlery, and paper receipts. Also, anything you buy in the frozen section of your grocery store may be lined with BPA-containing plastics.

Cell studies show that long-term low-dose exposure to BPA can accelerate telomere shortening. The fact that research is done on low-dose exposure is key, as this indicates that we don’t need to be mainlining BPA every day to see the negative impacts. Most of us regularly come into contact with low doses of BPA, making its impact on telomeres even more significant[6]. 

Other research shows that higher levels of urinary BPA are associated with shorter telomeres – particularly in women[7]. 

One hypothesis for BPA’s negative impact on telomeres is this chemical’s potential influence on telomerase – the enzyme responsible for the regulation of telomere length[8]. 

#3 Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are everywhere: food, water supply, personal care products, clothing, etc. While the most direct route of exposure is through food and water, we can’t count out the other sneaky ways that these toxins make their way into our bodies. 

Research shows that heavy metal exposure is directly related to telomere length. Since telomeres are highly sensitive to oxidative stress, exposure to heavy metals may damage them directly via the oxidative stress pathway[9][10][11][12].

Sadly, studies also show that newborn telomere length tends to be shorter in infants whose mothers had high levels of heavy metal exposure during pregnancy[13]. 

#4 Triclosan 

Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent used in various personal care and consumer products. Its use is so ubiquitous that reports estimate that 75% of the US population is likely to be exposed to it[14]. 

Most triclosan exposure comes from personal care products like fluoride toothpaste, mouthwash, facial cleaners, deodorants, cosmetics, and detergents. That said, it’s also found in textiles and pesticides – so it truly is everywhere[15]. 

Research shows that triclosan may directly impact telomere length in a similar way to heavy metals – by instigating oxidative stress[16]. 

Furthermore, animal research has found that prenatal exposure to triclosan can result in shortened telomeres, specifically in the brain[17]. 

How To Protect Your Telomeres For a Longer, Healthier Life

Now that we’ve covered the bad news, let’s turn the page and look at the good news: You can leverage lifestyle and dietary factors to give yourself an edge on telomere shortening.

1. Exercise 

You know physical activity is critical to overall health, but did you know that it can directly impact telomere length?

Specifically, research shows that aerobic exercise performed regularly over six months can positively and significantly impact telomere length[18]. 

But here’s the deal: A meta-analysis of several studies found that although regular aerobic exercise yielded the best results, a more powerful measurement of telomere health related to physical activity is simply reducing sedentary behavior[19]. 

In other words, just move more. 

2.  Diet 

Heavy metals, pesticides, and BPA can all be found in our food supply, making diet an obvious factor to consider when trying to reduce exposure to telomere-shortening compounds. 

But what type of diet specifically helps to keep your telomeres nice and healthy?

Studies suggest that antioxidant nutrients, consuming organic fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fats, and following a Mediterranean diet are all associated with longer telomeres[20].

In addition, including more fiber and fewer omega-6 fats in your diet may also positively impact telomeres[21]. 

Furthermore, engaging in practices like intermittent fasting or dietary restriction also appears to help lengthen telomeres and increase lifespan – at least in animal studies. This may be due, in part, to the reduced burden of oxidative stress that naturally occurs when we reduce caloric consumption[22]. 

3. Stress Management 

You hear it all of the time– stress is a silent killer. 

Well, as it turns out, one of its primary weapons may be its impact on telomere length. 

While there are many proposed theories on how stress impacts telomeres, inflammation and oxidative stress likely play a role. When you’re stressed, it causes an increase in stress hormones like cortisol, which in turn eat away at your antioxidants. Without sufficient antioxidants, your telomeres are more vulnerable to oxidative damage, resulting in telomere shortening[23]. 

On the other hand, practices that reduce stress, such as yoga, breathwork, and meditation, have been shown to promote telomere stability[24]. 

4. Avoid Toxins That Attack Telomeres 

Of course, the first step is reducing exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals, BPAs, and triclosan. That said, these compounds are ubiquitous in the environment which means that it may take a little more than just consciously avoiding them to truly protect yourself. 

This is where detox comes in. 

5. Optimize Detox Pathways

While lifestyle factors like diet, stress reduction, and exercise are crucial for health and longevity – alone, they won’t be able to fight the toxic insults in our environment. 

The only way to ensure your body has the best chance against these compounds is to support your natural detoxification processes. The good news is that some powerful nutrients are tailor-made to help you do just that. 

For example, dandelion, burdock, milk thistle, and turmeric are excellent all-around liver detox support foods. And broccoli sprouts, alfalfa, parsley, and celery not only add to your detox capacities, but they’re also anti-aging – that’s a two-for-one. 

I include all of these superfoods and many more in my Daily Detox blend, which was formulated specifically to cover all of your detox needs in a gentle yet powerful nutrient-rich package.   

Takeaway 

While many factors play a role in health and longevity, the recent research around telomeres is not only interesting – it’s incredibly compelling. 

If we can find a way to slow down the pace at which our cells die, we can protect the health of our organs and tissues and, ultimately, our entire body. 

Toxic compounds in our environment seriously threaten telomere health, but for every downside, there is an upside. And in the case of telomeres, our ability to manage our lifestyle choices has a big upside. 

In addition to clean eating, regular movement, and stress management, be sure to get regular detox support on board to give your telomeres the extra edge they need against the ubiquitous toxins in our environment. 

For a simple, all-in-one, daily solution, I highly recommend checking out Daily Detox.

Click Here for References+

  1. https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Chromosomes-Fact-Sheet
  2. https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Telomere 
  3. Shammas, M. A. (2011). Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 14(1), 28.
  4. Ali, Jaber Haj, et al. “Influence of exposure to pesticides on telomere length and pregnancy outcome: Diethylphosphates but not Dimethylphosphates are associated with accelerated telomere attrition in a Palestinian cohort.” Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 256 (2023): 114801.
  5. Passos, Jaqueline Dal Curtivo, et al. “Occupational exposure to pesticides and its association with telomere length-A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Science of The Total Environment 849 (2022): 157715.
  6. Tran, Hoai Thi Thu, Corinna Herz, and Evelyn Lamy. “Long-term exposure to “low-dose” bisphenol A decreases mitochondrial DNA copy number, and accelerates telomere shortening in human CD8+ T cells.” Scientific Reports 10.1 (2020): 15786.
  7. Awada, Z., et al. “BPA exposure is associated with non-monotonic alteration in ESR1 promoter methylation in peripheral blood of men and shorter relative telomere length in peripheral blood of women.” Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology 29.1 (2019): 118-128.
  8. https://books.rsc.org/books/edited-volume/918/chapter-abstract/710956/Bisphenol-A-and-Its-Impact-on-Human-Telomerase?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  9. Lai, Xuefeng, et al. “Individual and joint associations of co-exposure to multiple plasma metals with telomere length among middle-aged and older Chinese in the Dongfeng-Tongji cohort.” Environmental Research 214 (2022): 114031.
  10. Xia, Fang, et al. “Association between urinary metals and leukocyte telomere length involving an artificial neural network prediction: Findings based on NHANES 1999–2002.” Frontiers in Public Health 10 (2022): 963138.
  11. Wai, Kyi Mar, et al. “Telomeres susceptibility to environmental arsenic exposure: Shortening or lengthening?.” Frontiers in Public Health 10 (2023): 1059248.
  12. Wai, Kyi Mar, et al. “Protective role of selenium in the shortening of telomere length in newborns induced by in utero heavy metal exposure.” Environmental research 183 (2020): 109202.
  13. Cowell, Whitney, et al. “Prenatal toxic metal mixture exposure and newborn telomere length: modification by maternal antioxidant intake.” Environmental research 190 (2020): 110009.
  14. Weatherly, Lisa M., and Julie A. Gosse. “Triclosan exposure, transformation, and human health effects.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B 20.8 (2017): 447-469.
  15. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24280-triclosan
  16. Cai, Xiaomin, et al. “Triclosan is associated with breast cancer via oxidative stress and relative telomere length.” Frontiers in Public Health 11 (2023): 1163965.
  17. Parolini, Marco, et al. “Prenatal exposure to triclosan induced brain telomere shortening in a wild bird species.” Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology 87 (2021): 103718.
  18. Song, Seonghyeok, Eunsang Lee, and Hyunjoong Kim. “Does Exercise Affect Telomere length? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Medicina 58.2 (2022): 242.
  19. Schellnegger, Marlies, et al. “Physical activity on telomere length as a biomarker for aging: a systematic review.” Sports medicine-open 8.1 (2022): 111.
  20. Galiè, Serena, et al. “Impact of nutrition on telomere health: systematic review of observational cohort studies and randomized clinical trials.” Advances in Nutrition 11.3 (2020): 576-601.
  21. Cassidy, Aedín, et al. “Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 91.5 (2010): 1273-1280.
  22. Jennings, Bridget J., Susan E. Ozanne, and C. Nicholas Hales. “Nutrition, oxidative damage, telomere shortening, and cellular senescence: individual or connected agents of aging?.” Molecular Genetics and metabolism 71.1-2 (2000): 32-42.
  23. Lin, Jue, and Elissa Epel. “Stress and telomere shortening: Insights from cellular mechanisms.” Ageing Research Reviews 73 (2022): 101507.
  24. Rathore, Mrithunjay, and Jessy Abraham. “Implication of asana, pranayama and meditation on telomere stability.” International journal of yoga 11.3 (2018): 186.

in Articles/Detox

Dr Wendy Myers, ND is a detox expert, functional diagnostic nutritionist, NES Bioenergetic Practitioner, and founder of Myersdetox.com. She is the #1 bestselling author of Limitless Energy: How to Detox Toxic Metals to End Exhaustion and Chronic Fatigue . Additionally, Wendy is the host of The Heavy Metals Summit, the Myers Detox Podcast, and the Supercharged Podcast. Passionate about the importance of detox to live a long and healthy life, she created the revolutionary Myers Detox Protocol , and Mitochondria Detox kit after working with thousands of clients, as well as a range of supplements to help you detox from everyday living and maintain a healthy lifestyle!

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