Book Review – The Immortality Edge by Michael Fossel, MD, PhD; Greta Blackburn; and Dave Woynarowski, MD
On October 29, 2009, Carol Greider, Elizabeth Blackburn, and Jack Szostak were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine. Their work concentrated on the role of telomeres and chromosomes and the discovery of an enzyme called telomerase. They may have discovered the key to immortality.
Telomeres appear at the ends of DNA and are a repetitious sequence that appears to be able to protect the functional part of the DNA strands while the cells are dividing. The age of cells can be measuring by measuring the telomere strand. Embryos have the longest strands, adults have shorter strands. Longer-lived adults have longer strands. Shorter telomere strands have been linked to chronic diseases.
The most exciting piece of this research is the discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that actually can lengthen the telomere strands. This book discusses the search for methods to increase or stimulate telomerase and what life styles support keeping the telomere strands long.
In a questionnaire designed to predict your telomere age, you can add an extra 50 points (good!) if you are on bioidentical hormone therapy. The authors remark that these add function and vitality to a person’s life and men, in particular, benefit from improved levels of testosterone and growth hormone. In fact, higher growth hormone levels have been correlated with longer telomere length. The authors also believe that levels of DHEA and vitamin D should be optimized.
Nutrition is thoroughly discussed; the Paleolithic diet is preferred, although some alterations are given. Exercise is important, and the type of exercise that is most beneficial also has the best improvement in growth hormone levels. Finally, taking time to meditate is discussed.
Chronic stress shortens telomeres. Professor Blackburn was able to study a group of women with a chronically ill child and compare them to mothers with a healthy child. She found that the high stress mothers had telomere shortening equivalent to 9-17 years of extra aging. She believes that chronic stress is a large factor is wearing down the telomeres.
This book offers not only the possibility of living more vitally but living longer as well. Time will tell if this promise is achieved.