Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another drink? Mind your telomeres!

Drinking a glass of red wine a day may help prevent aging, but this study (discussed on NPR here) finds that heavy alcohol drinking may "severely" shorten your telomeres. 

The reason? Alcohol (just as with smoking, obesity, chronic psychological stress, and others we have identified yet) causes oxidative stress and inflammation, damaging and shortening these important pieces of your chromosome.

Telomeres are the pieces of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes, and shortened telomeres means aged cells, chromosome instability, risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, and more.

One reason I’m fascinated by telomeres is because we actually have some control over them! Their length is an indicator of our overall health and wellbeing - the amount of stress and inflammation our cells have battled over time.  

If you haven’t seen this yet, check out this study by Dean Ornish on how lifestyle changes of diet, exercise, and stress reduction increase telomerase (the enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres).

Based on what we know so far, here are 6 things you can do to keep your telomeres healthy: 
  1. Limit alcohol intake
  2. Reduce meat consumption while increasing fruits, vegetables & omega-3 fatty acids
  3. Stop smoking 
  4. Exercise 
  5. De-stress 
  6. Lose excess weight 
I would also add get enough sleep and replete Vitamin D (so many of us in northern latitudes are deficient)… but these last two are just my hypotheses, I haven’t seen any studies looking at those questions.  


  1. Hi Christina - your guess about vitamin D and telomeres caught my attention. It sounded reasonable to me too since I've seen studies that show that vitamin D/sunshine help with inflammation and you wrote that inflammation affects telomere length. Looks like you were right! A quick google search turned up lots of stuff such as this:

  2. Leslie, thank you so much for sending that link - how interesting!!! I'm so glad to see there's some data on this!

  3. I'm not a regular drinker of any alcoholic beverages (maybe one drink a year, or less), but I did buy some cabernet today. I guess my telomeres will just have to accept a little resveratrol.