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Salk President: Telomeres May Be Key To Staving Off Aging

The book cover for "The Telomere Effect" by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel.
Grand Central Publishing
The book cover for "The Telomere Effect" by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel.
Salk President: Telomeres May Be Key To Staving Off Aging
Salk President: Telomeres May Be Key To Staving Off Aging GUEST: Elizabeth Blackburn, co-author, "The Telomere Effect"

The were telomeres is probably not part of your everyday vocabulary but considering how much importance this new research suggests that they have we should be talking more about them. The common comparison is they're like rustic bits on the ends of shoelaces. The problem is that age and a number of other factors tend to shorten them. Now a new book tells us how some common good health habits can keep the telomeres intact. Joining me is Doctor Elizabeth Blackburn co-authored the book the telomere effect a revolutionary approach to living younger, healthier, and longer. Welcome to the program. Thank you. There are not a lot of Nobel Prize winners who write mainstream self-help. Why did you want to be the one to translate this scientific knowledge into everyday life. It was me and my co-author was a psychologist who studies the effects of stress and the states of mind the telomeres and humans and the effects and impacts and positive and negative ways and that researching human starting with very basic science research what telomeres are important for for maintaining ourselves and our bodies ability to keep replenishing tissues throughout life to keep and the parts of us that are going together well through life and telomeres when they become too short to protect the genetic material start to affect all of these processes. We realize from so much research from so many different areas that this really added up to a picture that was worth sharing with people. Has so much useful information in it. What exactly are telomeres. You describe them so well. Mars spent -- more technically speaking it's genetic material that carries all this tiny things they are called chromosomes and they are special regions of the DNA and it makes it kind of a landing pad for a sheath of protective proteins and that ends up being the telomere and when it runs down and gets brought down for all sorts of different influences which can change throughout her life but generally this -- it is like a shoelace and phrase away and then the cell has all sorts of responses Even to the habits that can increase the size of the telomeres and keep them intact for as long as possible like reducing stress moderate exercise avoiding processed foods. It sounds like scientists have been recommending those things for years. Widest it matter if the sections are connected to telomeres. When telomeres you run down and where down too much that is known to affect how cells function and how they can replenish tissues and in turn there is very good evidence contributing to these major diseases that cause so much infirmity populations not only as we get older because of things like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and cancers are not just in the elderly it's just that the risks go up with that. Very interestingly when you start learning about telomeres and their maintenance you start to see that it is very important throughout one's life course that they are maintained. We know that many of these diseases are son very early in life and may accumulate silently. There is an enzyme that helps keep telomeres long and there are supplements for the enzyme. Unfortunately there is very little known about those. We know a very disturbing fact about the genetics that have shown us just in the general run of the population that when they have variations that nudging up that increases risks for melanoma non-smoking lung cancers a subclass of cancers which to we do not want to get we do not know the combinations of those things will make the turn into a higher chance of somebody getting these cancers but we do know numbing -- that nudging telomeres up does. Refill very strongly nudging it up in ways that have no long-term safety data and could while put one into a danger zone. The things that we talk about are all things that our bodies are very good at working with using healthy food and our bodies know how to get advantage from exercise. Finally there are telomere test and I know you have had your lengths tested. I wonder if you would share if you are pleased with the length. What would you tell people who are interested in getting tested. Looking at a person does not tell you a lot. What is really rich is the data that just came from all sorts of studies with lots of people and I make an analogy with smoking. You can make a decision to smoke or not to smoke and you know not smoking is much better because there is a lot of data and that came from robust statistics and a lot of people. The smoke it's not a guarantee that you will get lung cancer and if you don't smoke it's not a guarantee that you won't but what you do is push the odds. It's not clear how much one person telomere length tells a. My telomeres are fine I was Potter -- part of a research study. It does not stop me doing more of the sorts of things that I have learned will really helpful for telomeres and there's also different ways of doing it and I happen to be in a position where I can try to train my mind to do stress reduction when needed. I think about what I eat because he can eat a lot of really enjoyable foods without having to change your habits drastically so it has certainly affected me very much knowing what the effects are really robust replicated studies. It seemed irrelevant to me that my telomeres happened to be a good. Perhaps somebody is motivated if they are shorter that's okay but it does not actually tell you a whole lot. I would say no harm but it does not necessarily tell you a lot. It is in robust studies that it is informative and maybe one day combined with other sorts of grandmothers that is really an open question. Who knows in the long run. I've been speaking with Elizabeth Blackburn president of this fault Institute and co-author of the telomere effect a revolutionary approach to living younger healthier and longer. Thank you so much.

Elizabeth Blackburn shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009 for her work on telomeres, regions at the end of chromosomes that protect our genetic material. The common comparison is they're like aglets, the plastic bits on the ends of shoelaces.

The problem is that age and a number of other factors tend to shorten telomeres, and once they get too short, our cells' ability to divide is impaired and they die more quickly.

Blackburn, now president of the Salk Institute, has co-written a book based on new research that shows how common good health habits can keep telomeres intact even as we age. "The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach To Living Younger, Healthier, Longer" discusses how stress, processed foods and lack of sleep can lead to shorter telomeres. Regular exercise, a whole foods diet and mindfulness techniques, on the other hand, can even help telomeres grow.

Blackburn joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more tips for promoting telomere growth and whether she recommends at-home tests that can measure telomere length.