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Preserve Telomeres and Turn Back the Clock

Aug 08, 2021 10:39AM ● By Laura Varich, M.D.

We can actually reverse aging with changes to our diet. Capping the ends of the long strands of DNA (chromosomes) within our cells, telomeres act like the plastic caps on the end of shoelaces that prevent the laces from fraying. But they actually get shorter each time the cell divides. After a cell has divided many times, the telomeres become so short that the cell stops all activity. When many of the body’s cells halt their routine activities, the result is aging, as well as increased chronic disease development and eventually, death.


Inflammation resulting from our Western diet, chronic stress and environmental pollutants causes cells to divide more quickly, resulting in rapid shortening of telomeres and premature aging. But research has shown that there are ways to slow this shortening of our telomeres and even ways to lengthen our telomeres, leading to a longer lifespan.


Shortened telomeres are associated with intake of red meat, processed meats, saturated fats, sugar and alcohol, because an unhealthy diet creates increased free radicals and causes telomere-damaging inflammation. To live a longer, healthier life, try to limit or avoid these foods.


Antioxidants (polyphenols) in tea increase telomere length. In a research study, compared to people who drank little tea, those that drank more than three cups of tea per day were found to have increased telomere length and five years of extra lifespan. The telomere-lengthening tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and includes green tea, black tea, white tea and oolong tea.


In a 38-year research study following 4,600 women, those that followed the Mediterranean Diet had increased telomere length consistent with four-and-a-half fewer years of aging. The Mediterranean diet focuses on plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, with olive oil as the primary fat source. This diet also contains only limited amounts of dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry.


Resveratrol is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory which has been noted to increase telomere length and decrease both cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Resveratrol is found in peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red and white wine, blueberries, cranberries, cocoa and dark chocolate. Studies have also shown that the nutrients in certain foods such as seeds, nuts, legumes, seaweed, coffee, fruit and whole grains can increase telomere length.


One recent research study found that people placed on a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet, combined with moderate exercise, showed a significant increase in telomere length after only three months. If we make healthy changes, we can turn around aging. For the best possibility of living a longer, healthier life, consume a variety of these healthy foods every day.


 Laura Varich, M.D.

Laura Varich, M.D., is the founder of Fresh Physician. For more information about health through nutrition and lifestyle, email [email protected] or visit