Lifestyle and Longevity

Does chronological age always match biological age? According to a recent study, 1500 elderly women aged 64 to 95 years who sit for more than 10 hours a day have cells that are biologically older by 8 years compared to women who are more active. These women had shorter telomeres which are found on the ends of DNA strands. These structures protect chromosomes from degradation and normally shorten with age but more progressively with unhealthy lifestyles such as obesity or smoking.

Aladdin Shadyab. Lead author. Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The research was partly funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Why Should We Care About Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is a hot topic right now and appears more in news articles as science makes further associations. It is becoming more obvious that our lifestyle and experiences can affect our genes and can be passed down to our children and grandchildren through genetic pathways.

Factors that can influence epigenetics can include: Diet, physical activity, sleep, stress, inflammation, chemicals products, UV rays, and environmental pollution.

DNA is the blueprint for the instructions for the entire body, but chemical tags called methyl groups make up what is called the epigenome to decide which genes are active – this is called methylation or gene expression. It is often referred to as an “on and off switch” that turns on or off certain genes. It is what makes identical twins different over time. Although our DNA code does not change, the epigenome is flexible and reacts to our environment. Our experiences help shape how genes are expressed.

DNA methylation works by adding a chemical group to specific places on the DNA as “tags” where it blocks the proteins that attach to the DNA to “read the gene”. This chemical group called a methyl group can be removed through a process called demethylation. Typically, methylations turn genes “off” and demethylation turns genes “on”.

Women are not solely responsible for the health of their future children. Science is finding that the health of a man’s unborn children can be affected by things like the man’s diet, life experiences and trauma, exposure to toxins and how old he is at conception.

DNA is not our destiny. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affects the way your genes work. Through epigenetic tags, parents’ experiences and lifestyle can affect the genes that are passed down to their children and grandchildren.

A proper lifestyle “turns on” protective genes and “turns off” disease-producing genes by their positive impact on the epigenome.

DNA

 Citation:

Why Should I Care About Epigenetics? Utah Valley Pediatrics, September 30, 2013

The Epigenetics of Obesity

Obesity is a chronic condition characterized by excess body fat. Its origins are mulfifactorial including heredity, behavior and environment. Obese people are at risk of developing many diseases. In fact, obesity is the second most important predictor of cancer, preceded only by tobacco use.

Epigenetics refers to those elements of the genetic code that you are able to change without altering your DNA sequence. It includes which genes you express, to what degree and at what time. Consequently, epigenetic processes determine whether a specific gene is active or not at any given time. In the absence of further studies. Genes can be expressed or not expressed.

Your epigenetics develop in the uterus and continues to change throughout your life. A study in the Netherlands during the famine period of 1944-1945 demonstrated how genetics affects obesity. Fetuses of mothers exposed to extreme hunger experienced more glucose intolerance, dyslipidemia, early coronary heart disease, and obesity. Therefore, starving could cause some of the diseases that are prevalent in society today. These genes can be transmitted from generation to generation. Unlike the genome (the complete set of genes in a cell), the epigenome is reversible. Epigenetic marks can be modified throughout life. However, modificationss at critical periods of prenatal development have greater effects on the results. So DNA is not your destiny!!

Lead a healthy lifestyle prior to conceiving a baby, especially the mother; however, there are some indications that the father’s lifestyle can also be influential. Ideally, both expectant parents and the offspring should maintain good lifestyle habits to include healthy diets, physical activity, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and avoidance of inflammation.

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DNA

Nutrition, Behavior, and Disease

Biological Changes during Aging and Nutritional Consequences

S0URCE JUDITH E. BROWN, NUTRITION NOW, 7TH EDITION, 2013

The combined effects of poor diets, other risky behaviors, and biological aging increase the rates of serious diseases during adulthood. How soon a disease develops largely depends on the intensity of exposure to behavioral risks that contribute to disease development.  These are often referred to as epigenetics (when the DNA is not altered, but environmental factors cause genes to be turned either on or off.) 

What Are Some Nutritional Consequences?

 Lowered stomach acidity may result in decreased absorption of vitamin B12? The consequences of getting less sun exposure may result in less production of vitamin D in the skin.

A person’s need for calories generally declines with age as physical activity, muscle mass, and basal metabolic rate decrease. However, when one chooses to continue their physical activity into their older years can maintain their muscle mass, experience less muscle, and bone pain, and gain less body fat than people who are inactive. 

For the most part, the development of chronic disease in middle-age and older adults can be viewed as a chain that represents the accumulation over time of problems that impair cell functions. Each link that is added to the chain, or each additional insult to cellular function, increases the risk that a chronic disease will develop. The presence of a disease indicates that the chain has gotten too long – that the accumulation of problems is sufficient to interfere with the normal functions of cells and tissues.

Normal cell functions and health promotion are facilitated by healthful dietary lifestyles and other behaviors. For example:

Correcting obesity and stabilizing weight during the adult years tends to lengthen life expectancy.

Dietary intakes that correspond to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate) or following a healthily diet pattern like the Mediterranean Diet is related to a longer life expectancy.

Maintaining adequate calcium, vitamin D, and protein intake and engaging in regular physical activity during the adult years may prevent or postpone the development of osteoporosis and help maintain muscle mass and strength.

Above average intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may delay the development or help prevent a number of types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and cataracts. 

The health status of adults is not necessarily ‘FIXED” by age.; it can change for the better or the worst, or not much at all. It’s up to you.

What’s Wrong With the American Diet?

For one thing – it’s too many calories and processed food. Twenty five years ago, the average American consumed about 1850 calories each day. Since then, our daily diet has grown by 304 calories (roughly the equivalent of two cans of soda. That’s theoretically enough to add an extra 31 pounds to each person every year; judging from the ongoing obesity epidemic, many Americans are gaining those pounds — and then some. Obese children who carry the weight into adulthood (1 in 5 young people (ages 6-19) have a higher likelihood of developing hypertension, severe kidney and heart disease, and type 2 diabetes as well as mobility and self esteem issues. What has gone wrong? One thing is the takeover by the food industry of processed convenience food – our snack foods are often breakfast, lunch and even sometimes dinner for a lot of us. These foods are loaded with inflammatory compounds that eventually lead to chronic diseases.

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UNHEALTHY PROCESSED FOOD AND SNACKS CAN LEAD TO OBESITY

What is Nutrigenomics? What is epigenetics?

Nutrigenomics is the scientific study of the way specific genes and bioactive food components interact. It provides a basis for understanding how the health consequences of eating behaviors may vary across individuals. This information is key to a personalized approach to nutrition in a clinical environment. Because epigenetic events such as methylation can be changed, they offer another explanation for how environmental factors such as diet, can influence biological processes and phenotypes. Search Food,FactsandFads for more on Epigenetics.

CLICK HERE.

What is epigenetics? “Think of this way: Epigenetics is the on-off switch to the dimmer on your dining-room chandelier. The gene is the lightbulb, the epigene is the

light switch. If the lightbulb is defunct or the switch is frozen in the “off” position, the dimmer function is useless. Likewise, epigenes control the effect to which the gene turns on.

Altered nutrition also appears to be the primary driver of altered epigenetics. For example, the vitamin, folate is a necessary cofactor for the enzymes called DNA methyltransferases, which add a methyl group to DNA to alter whether genes are being activated. Folic acid is so important to normal fetal development in order to prevent the occurrence of spina bifida that the FDA and mandated to be added to store – bought bread.

Other nutrients at work here – vitamin B12, B complex vitamins, retinoic acid (vitamin A). circumin, sulforaphane, and polyphenols and others that moderate this process.”

Source: Lustig, Robert, H. MD. Metabolical, 2021, Page 120.

Diet and Longevity

Can our Lifestyles Slow Down the Clock?

Our bodies are constantly creating new cells through cell division.  Unfortunately, the cells become “old’ and reach a state called senescence where they no longer replicate themselves.

The old cells do not die but linger in the body systems causing damage and inflammation to healthy cells.

But, during cell division, structures called telomeres (stretches of DNA protein) come into play. They are likened to the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces that prevent fraying. The are located at the ends of chromosomes (genes) to protect and keep cells stable. However, every time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten slightly. The length of telomeres and the rate at which they shorten have been linked to aging. An enzyme called telomerase is often referred to as “anti-aging helps maintain the telomeres, helping to keep them long.

Studies at this point have suggested that various nutrients could possibly influence the expression of a particular gene (TERT) that is linked with telomerase activity. These included genistein found in soy and broccoli; EGCG, a polyphenol in green and black tea, sulforophane found in vegetables such as cauliflower, kale, and collard greens. Data from the Nurses Health Study indicated that intake of dietary fiber was linked to longer telomeres in middle-aged and older women. But research is limited at this point and should be further investigated.

An interesting study indicates that telomere length is connected to the amount of soda we consume. Sugar sweetened beverages are thought to be a major contributor of sugar in the U.S. diet.

In 2024, researchers looked at a group of people who regularly consumed 20 ounces or more of soda daily. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health, reported that the soda drinkers’ telomeres shortened much more quickly than the norm – the equivalent of more than four and a half years in addition to the normal aging that would occur over the course of a year. This is not good news.

The researchers had included only healthy adults with no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease in their study. The potential connections with metabolic disease are fascinating.

Consider, for instance, that obesity is also associated with reduced telomere length – even for children. The authors of the study of course recommended that further research be done to examine any reasonable associations with dietary factors and telomere length.

  Source: Findlayson, Judith. You Are What Your  Grandparents Ate. Page 228, 2019. 

In The NEWS

Aging, Activity and Telomeres

Researchers analyzed data from nearly 1500 women, ages from 64 to 95. Results reported that elderly women with less than 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, and who remain sedentary for more than 10 hours a day, have shorter telomeres – tiny caps on the ends of chromosomes of DNA strands.

Telomeres protect chromosomes from deterioration and progressively shorten with age. As a cell ages, its telomeres naturally shorter and fray, but unhealthy lifestyles such as obesity and smoking may accelerate this process. Shortened telomeres are associated with heart disease, diabetes and major cancers. This study was funded, in part, by the National Institute on Aging and conducted at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

Tea May Protect Against Coronary Artery Disease

A review of randomized trials published in the journal Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, concluded that regular intake of green tea may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Regular tea consumption was associated with lower blood pressure and enhanced bioavailability of nitric oxide, which indicate a beneficial effect for tea on endothelial function. In some studies, tea was associated lower markers of oxidative stress and inflammation (C-reactive protein and oxidized low -density lipoprotein (LDL).

NOTE: ENDOTHELIAL= the tissue which forms a single layer of cells lining various organs and cavities of the body, especially the blood vessels, heart, and lymphatic vessels.

Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2021 Feb;41:77-87.

More Good News for Garlic Lover

Garlic supplementation Improves metabolic syndrome. Phytother Res. 2021, May 11.

I am not a promoter of supplements except in situations when you don’t want to smell like a raw garlic bulb every day.

Editors Note: Metabolic syndrome is becoming a marker for good health especially in the older population; however its presence can occur even in younger people. It is diagnosed as having three of the following disorders: high triglycerides, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and low levels of HDL cholesterol. These disorders collectively are thought to contribute to a higher risk of developing diabetes and/or heart disease

A randomized clinical trial included 90 men and women with metabolic syndrome were supplemented with tablets containing 1600 mg of garlic powder daily for three months, or a placebo.

In the garlic group, results were as follows:

All parameters were reduced along with appetite, fatty liver index,and waist circumference. Additionally,  beneficial HDL cholesterol was significantly higher than at the beginning of the study compared to the placebo group. 

“Then, there is cancer. Compounds in garlic have been shown in many laboratory studies to be chemoprotecive. Epidemiological studies shows a decreased risk in stomach and colon cancer in areas where consumption of garlic is high. An article In the Journal of Nutrition stated that “evidence continues to point to the anticancer properties of fresh garlic extracts, aged garlic, garlic oil.”

Source: Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. 2007.

Cancer, Diet and Lifestyle: What We Know

Cancer, Diet and Lifestyle

Cancer develops by complex processes that are not yet fully understood. It is thought that the risk of development begins when the DNA is damaged possibly by reactive oxygen molecules, toxins, viruses and other reactive substances within cells. This is called the initiation phase. Most of the time, DNA is successfully repaired. When that does not occur, the next phase called promotion occurs where cells with damaged DNA divide into localized areas of the body. This process can occur from 10 to 30 years (“lag time.”). If there is still no repair, the next phase called progression can result with uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells (metastasis) to other parts of the body (lung, liver, breast, bone, prostate, e.g.}.

According to Robert H, Lustig, MD, in his new book, Metabolical: The Lure and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine, epigenetics plays a strong role in gene expression. “Epigenetics refers to changes in the areas around our genes that can cause them to be turned on or off. Think of it this way: epigenetics is the on-off switch attached to the dimmer in your living room chandelier. The gene is the lightbulb, the epigene is the light switch. If the light bulb is defunct or the switch is frozen in the “off” position, the dimmer function is useless.” This may partly explain whether a disease or its risk is turned on or off. (SJF)

The eight leading environmental factors (other than genetic) related to cancer development are:

Obesity

Low vegetable and fruit intake

Physical inactivity

Smoking

Excess alcohol intake

Unsafe sex

Air pollution

Hepatitis B or C viral infection

DIET MODIFICATIONS

Consume a nutrient dense, whole-foods diet that predominantly includes plant foods. As Michael Pollan puts it, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Plant foods are rich in nutrients and phytochemicals that work synergistically to prevent many chronic diseases, primarily heart disease and cancer. Evidence exists that up to 45% of colon cancer cases could be avoided through diet and lifestyle changes alone.

Limit your consumption of high-calorie dense foods, primarily in the form of ultra-processed foods that are major contributors to weight gain leading to type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance.

Cancers of the liver, pancreas, endometrium, colon, rectum, breast, and bladder are at higher risks for developing in obesity. Being overweight also raises the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and gallbladder, liver, cervical, ovarian, and aggressive prostate cancers.

Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight. . The increased risk of disease appears to be due to a higher prevalence of metabolic disorders in many obese people. Approximately 70% of obese persons have two or more metabolic abnormalities such as:

Hypertension

Elevated triglycerides, glucose and/or insulin

Low HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”)

High C-reactive protein (a key marker of inflammation)

It may be helpful to be able to calculate your own weight status by using the Body Mass Index (BMI)You simply divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared X 703.

For example: BMI =140 pounds divided by 64 inches squared (4096) X 703 = 24.0. A healthy BMI is 20 – 24. Being underweight is considered a BMI of less than 19.0.

Limit your consumption of red meat (including beef, pork and lamb).  There are several reasons:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies red meat as a “probably carcinogen”.  You don’t need to give up meat; however, an intake of up to 18 ounces a week can be safely consumed without too much concern. BTW, 4 oz. is about the size of a deck of cards.

Another factor that raises cancer risk is the overcooking of red meat that produces charred areas of the meat – goodbye grill marks?). These create carcinogenic hetero cyclic amines (HCAs) that have been linked to pancreatic and colon cancers.

Another carcinogenic compound comes from burning the fat from meat when grilling that produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), linked to stomach cancer.

Hint: Both compounds can be lessened by using a marinade on the meat.

Highly processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats are known for their nitrite and nitrate content used as preservatives.  Smoking meats can lead to the formation of N-nitroso compounds which are considered carcinogenic.

Avoid deep-fried foods. When cooked in this manner, foods are exposed to a chemical called acrylamide that increases the risk of prostate cancer.

There are other lifestyle factors that can influence epigenetically the risk of any chronic disease. Alcohol intake, for example is important due to the carcinogenic effects of alcohol itself. 

“Chronic inflammation, which is strongly associated with being overweight, can increase the risk of developing cancer.  Excess belly fat produces hormones that can raise levels of insulin, estrogen and leptin, all of which have been linked to cancer development.” (Finlayson, 2019). 

The interconnected factors that trigger chronic diseases are vast and subject to manipulation by the body as well as our microbial environment. It would be wise to attempt to take the best care of your body as you possibly can and begin at an early age.  Aging as you know itself becomes a central factor in the development of any chronic disease. In 1980, Dr. James Fries, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University introduced the compression of morbidity theory. This theory states that “most illness was chronic and occurred in later life and postulated that the lifetime burden of illness could be reduced if the onset of chronic illness could be postponed and if this postponement could be greater than increases in life expectancy.”). That theory tells it all. (Unknown source). SJF

Source: Judith Finlayson. You Are What Your Grandparents Ate: What You Need to Know About Nutrition, Experience, Epigenetics & the Origins of Chronic Disease, 2019

Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now, 7th Edition, 2013

Can Diet Affect Your Telomeres?

Glossary:

Apoptosis: the death of cells which occurs as a normal and controlled part of an organism’s growth or development. Also called programmed cell death.

Senescence: the state that cells reach when they stop dividing but do not die.

Telomeres: bits of DNA at the end of a chromosome that protects it during the process of cell division.

Telomerase: an enzyme, often referred to as “anti-aging” that maintains telomeres, helping to keep them long.

Telomeres shorten with age and progressive telomere shortening leads to senescence and/or apoptosis. Older people with shorter telomeres have three to eight times increased risk to die from heart disease and infectious diseases, respectively. Rate of telomere shortening is therefore critical to an individual’s health and pace of aging. Smoking, exposure to pollution, lack of physical activity, obesity, stress, and an unhealthy diet increase oxidative burden and rate of telomere shortening. To preserve telomeres and reduce cancer risk and pace of aging, we may consider to eat less; include antioxidants, fiber, soy protein, and healthy fats (derived from avocados, fish, and nuts) in our diet; and stay lean, active, healthy, and stress-free from regular exercise and meditation. 

Healthy foods such as tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, catfish, grouper, flounder flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, lingonberries, green tea, broccoli, red grapes, tomatoes, olives area excellent choices. These combined with a Mediterranean type of diet containing whole grains would help protect telomeres.

Source: Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging

Current Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Janurary; 14(1):28-34

A study published in 2018 looked at fiber intake and telomere length in over 5,000 U.S. adults.

Researchers found there was a significant linear relationship between fiber consumption and telomere length. The more fiber subjects consumed, the longer their telomeres tended to be.

Here’s what the authors found:

“A difference of 4.8 to 6.0 years in cell aging was found between those in the lowest compared with the highest quartiles of fiber intake. Overall, the present study highlights the risk of accelerated aging among U.S. women and men who do not consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber.”

The study reported subjects were eating an average of 13.6 grams of fiber per day before starting the study, which is less than 50% of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the intake of 14 g of fiber per 1000 calories.

  • 2000 calories per day = 28 grams of fiber
  • 2500 calories per day = 35 grams of fiber

The best part is some of the most healthy and delicious foods pack the fiber.

It seems a few servings of high fiber foods per day keeps the telomere shortening at bay.

Source: Dietary Fiber and Telomere Length in 5674 U.S. Adults: An NHANES Study of Biological AgingDietary Fiber and Telomere Length in 5674 U.S. Adults: An NHANES Study of Biological Aging