Why do we age? Why do some people stay looking young? Why do some joints become effected by arthritis and some don’t? What do aging, disease and fertility rates all have in common?

Let’s pick up one of those tiny DNA strands that hold our genetic information and look at it closely. It’s a cute little fuzzy thing like a shoelace with the plastic protector on the end. The plastic protector on the shoelace keeps the string from unraveling. The protector at the end of the DNA is called a telomere. It performs the same function of protecting the DNA strand from unraveling and losing some of our genetic information. If the DNA strand we’re looking at came out of our finger joint, and the strand had lost its protective telomere, the message to grow new, healthy joint cells would be lost and the joint would not be able to heal properly. The reason we pulled the DNA strand from the finger joint was because the joint has been painful for a long time.

If we took our painful joint to a joint specialist, he would give it a name that ended in “…itis”. The “itis” ending on a word means “inflammation”. The word inflammation has the word “flame” in it which means the cells in that area are on fire. The shorter the telomeres, the worse the inflammation. Rheumatoid Arthritis has short telomeres, and Osteo has “ultra short” ones.

Fire brings heat, pain, redness, inhibited motion and swelling. Swelling happens because the immune system’s firemen (your internal Hot Shots) have arrived to put the fire out. The immune cells are our “Stem Cells”, and they have a stronger ability to protect their DNA strands from unraveling. But, like all firemen who get tired and worn out after fighting fires for days on end, our immune cells can lose their telomere protectors, too.

When telomeres get too short to protect the DNA strand, the cell explodes and dies. Different kinds of cells have different lifespans. Red blood cells live about 120 days while immune cells live only about 10 days. Organ cells live about three months, while bone cells hang in for 2 years. Stomach lining cells live for about 4 minutes and brain cells are replaced every 8 years. This shows the speed at which the deferent cells lose their telomere protectors.

What causes telomere protectors to be lost? How could we help our cells hang on to their telomeres?

The DNA strands lose a little bit of their telomere every time they divide to make daughter cells. Each cell has a worker that builds telomere pieces and puts them back on the DNA strand. The worker is an “…ASE” called telomerase. It all boils down to how much telomerase our cells have whether we heal, grow, stay young, get a disease, etc. or not. How do we lose or gain telomerase?

Some of the factors that affect telomerase can be controlled by us and some cannot, so let’s focus on the things we can control. What are they?

The first thing that stops telomerase from hanging around very long is oxidative stress. This happens naturally when we breathe but is exaggerated with smoking. One way to take charge of our telomeres is to stay away from smoke.

Inflammation is the second thing that effects telomere length. One of the biggest creators of inflammation in our cells is our own hormone insulin. Insulin is naturally a good thing in our body until it gets out of hand. Insulin responds to sugar and foods that turn to sugar during digestion. This opens a huge can-of-worms that requires a little more time to understand. We can turn our body around in a month or less depending on how many lifestyle adjustments we have left to make. Today at 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m, I’m meeting a small group of people who want to understand how to get inflammation out of their cells ($20). This is also covered in the Workshop series this month ($97/4 weeks).

Alcohol and infections affect our telomeres and telomerase. Keeping away from those things is helpful. The “good” feeling that comes with consuming the things that are “bad” for us can be experienced even more fully in a nutrient rich body. The work it takes to get there pays off with huge benefits every day for the rest of our lives.

Until then … take charge.

(Sylvia J. Harral is a digestive health specialist and Michele Stewart-Buller is a pilates master trainer. They each have more than 15 years experience. Send your questions by e-mail to familyhelm@hotmail.com; by mail to Family HELM Health Center, 379 N. Hockett St., Porterville, CA, 93257; or by phone at 202-9105.)

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