Year 9: Methylation, Telomeres, DNA Stability and Disease Risk
December 17, 2018
I think that 2019 will be the year for prevention of all things chronically negative. I firmly believe that the human mammalian genome was designed to handle acute perturbations well. On the other hand, I am becoming more convinced that all things chronic and negative in nature are the pathways to dysfunction. Mitigating these chronic negative events from taking shape are the keys to a long and fruitful life. We have learned so much over the years. Now it is time to take action. As you follow the newsletter, repeated patterns of health will appear to coalesce from different paths. Pay attention to the seemingly disparate pathways that lead to a beneficial outcome because of human genomic redundancy.
We will begin this new newsletter year with a difficult topic that is critical to long term health: Methylation, Telomeres, DNA Stability and Disease Risk
By definition, both methylation and telomere are related to DNA, our cellular book of life. Methylation is the process by which "read or don't read" sticky notes are placed upstream of a protein coding region on our DNA. Telomeres are the protective tails at the end of a DNA strand that allow the DNA to work long term for you to reproduce proteins for all of the important bodily functions.
Two things critically important to understand are: 1) When your telomeres shorten to the point that the protection to the DNA code is lost, you are officially genetically old and dying. It matters not what your chronological age is. Your telomere age defines senescence. 2) Putting the sticky notes on your DNA is critical to properly functioning genes. This is especially critical while pregnant, an infant and a teenager.
A 2017 article in Nature Scientific Reports by Dr. Dong and colleagues looked at the importance of both of these issues in teenagers. They found that lower levels of methylation, don't read me sticky notes, was associated with shorter telomere tail lengths in the teenagers.
Directly from the article: "Overall methylation levels reflect overall alterations in gene expression. Low levels of leukocyte global DNA methylation have been associated with increased risks for various cancers, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, bladder, breast, gastric, and colorectal adenoma in adults. Our recent research has shown that leukocyte DNA methylation alterations (globally or locally) are associated with obesity, hypertension, and vitamin D deficiency in adolescents."
What we are learning over time is that certain food types and chemicals have effects on the sticky notes and the protective tails of our DNA. If we can maintain normal methylation, DNA stability and protective tails, we can reduce the aging process and reduce all cause disease risk.
To put it another way, aging is happening to us all but the rate of aging is dictated by what you do on a daily basis. If we accept that you start aging from birth and that aging progresses at some rate, then we want to slow that rate at all costs to enhance longevity. There are definitely some things that are known as they relate to aging and they are very lifestyle related. What is concerning is that based on the study data, teenagers are aging faster based on poor lifestyle choices.
How do we slow the aging process?
For methylation and telomeres:
There is an enzyme that adds back base pairs to the telomere making it longer and more protective, in effect adding time to your life. This enzyme is called a telomerase.
The key is knowing what activates the telomerase enzyme.
1) Exercise is critical to enhancing telomerase function. Moderate daily movement is known to be a telomerase activator.
2) Positive thought and meditation also increase function. We have long known that positive mind sets are associated with improved health and activating the telomerase enzyme is part of the benefit.
3) Fasting has a positive effect on telomerase function. Intermittent fasting continues to be a major avenue to enhance human health and longevity. Eating over a 6 hour period and fasting for the other 18 hours has significant merit as we age. Unlikely to be necessary and currently not recommended until after the teenage years, however, I would not be surprised to find that even our youth could benefit from occasional fasting.
4) Chronic mental stress has a negative effect on the enzyme. I believe that this is one of the major destructive mechanisms for aging.
5) Directly from Dr. Broccardi's article: "Specific nutrients provide all the necessary building blocks to support telomere health and extend lifespan. This is the case of folate, vitamins (B, D, E, C) zinc and polyphenol compounds such as resveratrol, grape seed extract and curcumin. Several foods -such as tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, cat-fish, grouper, flounder, flax seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes, olive fruit- are a good source of antioxidants. These, combined with a Mediterranean type of diet containing fruits, vegetables and whole grains would help protect our chromosome ends."
6) Good quality sleep.
What activates the methylation sequence?
1) High quality fruits and vegetables are methyl donors.
2) Moderate levels of physical activity are beneficial. Excessive exercise actually has a negative effect on the methylation sequence.
3) Micronutrients: B vitamins, choline and betaine are necessary for the one carbon metabolism pathways including methylation to function and thus are beneficial.
4) The avoidance of toxins and chemicals that reduce methylation is critical to human health. Other than mental stress, I think that chemical avoidance is of critical importance to health. Chemicals are known hypomethylators.
5) Psychological stress reduces DNA methylation and by contrast happiness and balance are beneficial for our DNA.
Prevent and live long,
Dong Nature Scientific Reports Article
Deng Psychoneuroendocrinology Article
Boccardi Aging Article
The Telomere Effect
Alegri¬a-Torres Epigenomics Article