If you have read one iota of my writing over the past few years then you know I am a “telomere guy”.
I think that telomeres also known as the biologic time clocks because of their effects on cellular aging and ultimately on how YOU age are the biggest thing we have found in the field of anti-aging and regenerative medicine.
And, because of the Nobel Prize in Medicine 2009, they are getting a lot more air time than they used to. This means a lot of studies relating Telomere length to supplements, diet, exercise, and life style modification are hitting the news media front and center.
You can scan any number of my blogs recent and past (Are you Immune to Aging) and find out why this is so.
An interesting study just recently released now equates bariatric (weight loss) surgery to “longer telomeres”.
Whenever I see this kind of report I get a bit skeptical because I know the only true way to lengthen telomeres is to turn on telomerase. Everything else just slows down the loss and while that is good it’s not good enough for me, and it’s not accurate to say that something lengthens telomeres when it does not. It is even worse to say it “reverse the aging process” when it does not.
Part of the problems usually exists in the way the telomere measurements are obtained. Most people are still using something called QPRC or TRF technology to measure telomere length. If you have thousands of people in your study that is probably good enough. But when it’s a few hundred or a few dozen those measurements can be wildly inaccurate and misleading.
I know this because I actually ran parallel tests on myself using different commercial measurements. The only one that was actually reproducible even though it was the same time and same blood (mine) was the LifeLength assay. The others varied by several hundred base pairs which equated to several years of difference in biologic age. Not good enough for you or me to tailor our individual approaches to staying young in other words!
Another problem in addition to small study size and inaccurate measurements is what I call “dilutional effect”. Telomere length is measured on circulating white blood cells. These cells are very sensitive to illness, stress and particularly inflammation. If any of these things are either present or absent and you measure telomere length you will get a number that reflects the condition of those cells “at that moment”. If you remeasure (as you always should) after you modify one or more of those factors you will see a noticeable change in the white blood cell telomere length that reflects the increase or decrease in those factors.
The authors in the weight loss surgery study noticed that while there was not a big change in telomere length in most of the subjects one subset in particular “lengthened their telomeres”. That subset was the people with the worst (highest level) of bad cholesterol and the highest inflammatory marker known as CRP. These people had a significant positive increase in their telomeres.
Here is the quote on the conclusion: ““This is the first study to demonstrate that surgical weight loss leads to decreased aging by increasing telomere length,” said lead author John M. Morton, MD, MPH, director of bariatric surgery, Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.
With all due respect guys that are not what it demonstrates. What it demonstrates is that being fat, having high bad cholesterol and a high CRP is a very inflammatory condition for the body in general. It demonstrates that this will stress out the (immune) white blood cells and the ones that are circulating will have “shorter” telomeres. After you fix those conditions s and decrease the inflammation you have decreased the stress on the immune system and the next batch of cells you measure under those improved conditions will have “longer” telomeres simply because they are not eroding as fast.
They are healthier than the ones you measured before and it shows in their telomere length. But are they really “younger” and have you really “decreased” the aging process by lengthening telomeres.
Clearly the patient is healthier and that is good but you did not “decrease aging” . You at best decreased the rate of aging.
This is slowing the loss of telomeres not adding length. If you start measuring HSC or MSC telomere lengths like I am trying to do as we speak you will see the stem cells are the true reflection of what is really going on with biologic age.
So what do we learn? You need more than a before and after snap shot of telomere length if you are going to use it. You need an accurate test if you are going to use it. If you can prove a trend over 2 or 3 measurements the way I have being on [eafl id=”2390″ name=”TA-65″ text=”TA-65″] for 5 years now and under stable conditions without stress illness big changes in body weight, life style or inflammation at the time of your blood draw then the peripheral WBC’s are just fine as long as you use the right test.
The much touted “Ornish” study suffered from almost all of these flaws. That tiny study was used to say eating healthy lengthens your telomeres. What it really says if you take a few stressed out men with prostate cancer and teach them to eat right, exercise, meditate and prove to them they are not going to die of their cancer then the “dilutional effect” of healthier white cells with “longer telomeres” will show up.
None of the above things are “bad”! Eating right losing weight if you are fat and probably losing fat if you are average weight, not dying of cancer , exercising and meditating are all good as we covered in our book “[eafl id=”2390″ name=”TA-65″ text=”The Immortality Edge”]” in 2010.
I just don’t like people who should and in some cases do know better telling you the wrong thing!
If you want to “decrease aging” you need to add length to your telomeres. Personally the only way I know to do that is [eafl id=”2390″ name=”TA-65″ text=”TA-65″].