Have you ever stopped and thought about how amazing nature is? There are plants that eat animals and animals that eat plants. Life varies from a size so small that it can’t even be seen under a 100 times microscope - to so big it can be seen from out of space! DNA is the molecule that holds the code for life; from ants to antelopes, from mice to mushrooms. It is a code that makes all life forms, from deer to dinosaurs, from cats to crocodiles, and from roses to rats.
DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid, but as that is such a mouthful, let’s just refer to it as DNA. It’s the chemical that makes up our genes. It’s a set of INSTRUCTIONS that helps make us who we are. From the colour of our eyes to the size of our hands.
DNA strands look like a long twisted ladder; others describe them as a zip.
Using a ladder comparison, the rungs are called bases, the two uprights that hold the steps are called BACKBONES and the ladder itself is called a HELIX. The BASES (rungs), unlike a ladder where all are identical, can have four different proteins (types) at either end. These are called A (adenine), T (thymine), C (cytosine), and G (guanine). Not just humans, but all life forms have the same four letters.
The complete set of your DNA is called your GENOME. Sections of your DNA are called GENES.
We have about 20,000 GENES, the same number as a worm! A gene is a length (subsection – a small group of rungs on the ladder) of DNA that contains the code for a particular characteristic such as the colour of hair. They are only read (asked for information), when they get a “go” signal from the cell.
Imagine the DNA as an instruction manual and the individual genes as different sentences, carrying individual instructions. To ensure there is no overlap, each gene is marked with a start and stop code, like a capital letter at the beginning and a full stop at the end. More on this in a minute.
Us humans don’t have one ladder in each cell, but 23 different ladders, each one is called a chromosome, there are 2 copies of each chromosome, one supplied by each of your parents.
The 23rd pair, the last pair, are called the sex chromosome and there are 2 types, X and Y. Normally girls have 2 X chromosomes and boys one Y and one X. So in each cell you have 46 chromosomes (an elephant and a chicken have more). Each chromosome contains one continuous molecule of DNA. Some of the chromosomes are huge, one has 249 million BASES (rungs).
As we get one chromosome from each parent, we often look like our parents, this is called genetic inheritance.
With just two exceptions; red blood cells (they don’t carry DNA, because on average red blood cells only live for 4 months) and a certain part of the outer layer of our skin, each cell in our body contains an exact copy of our DNA, our own genome. Even though the cell is microscopic, if you stretched out the Helix, the ladder, it would be around 6ft long in each cell! The DNA lives in a specific part of a cell called the Nucleus – there is only one nucleus per cell (and some in the mitochondria too – of which there can be many). Here it is wound up very tight to keep it safe. The nucleus is the command centre of each cell. We have about 40 trillion cells in our body, of which 8,000 could fit on a pinhead. With the DNA being six feet long, or 2 meters in each cell, if you put them all together, they would stretch across our solar system twice!
Interesting fact, the DNA in mitochondria is different because it is only passed on from the mother. Because of that, it is possible to now trackback ancestral history many generations. Bother and sister Wendy and Mike, have recently discovered that they are from the same family tree as King Richard III, who died in 1485! They took DNA from his skeleton and it was a perfect match. But could that be a coincidence, eerrr, No! The odds are that remote, it’s said to be the same as flicking heads on a coin six million times in a row. Like impossible.
Every time our body creates a new cell, we get a new copy of our DNA. Each day we create about 100 billion meters of new DNA! New cells are made by cell division, but before it can do this, it has to make a complete copy of the DNA.
Hopefully the above will either refresh what you already know or has added a little more plain English detail, something that often gets overlooked when explaining DNA!
Now let's turn our attention to Telomers.
What are they? Well, the DNA of every chromosome has tips to protect it at its ends. Visualise them as the plastic tips (known as aglets) found on the end of shoelaces, but made from a sheath of protein. While in percentage terms they are a lot smaller than the xxx we find on shoelaces, they perform a vital role inside our cells, and in addition to preventing the ends of the chromosome, they also stop them from fusing to one another.
Some types of human cells can divide a finite number of times before they eventually become SENESCENT (or senescence, derived from senile). This is a stage where the cell is still alive but no longer divides, it is the final phase before the cell dies. What makes cells SENESCENT, their telomeres become too short. And it is fair to say that throughout the body telomeres in cells generally get shorter as we get older.
I have talked a lot about inflammation and inflame-aging in other articles and how along with insulin resistance, it drives most of the chronic illnesses that are wreaking havoc on modern society, well it turns out that senescent cells can leak proinflammatory substances.
Some cells naturally renew more frequently than for longer than others. The cells that line our arteries, bone, live and organ cells; immune cells, hair, and skin cells, all renew more frequently. And then we have our stem cells; our body's raw materials, from which all other specialised cells are created, which if they stay healthy, can divide indefinitely. So too can sex cells and tumours. How do they do it? They interact with something known as TELOMERASE. Telomerase (also called telomere terminal transferase), is an enzyme created from protein that can offset cellular aging by lengthening certain telomeres. It is an enzyme responsible for trying to restore DNA after cell division and can slow down or even reverse the shortening of telomeres that occurs with cell division.
You know when you meet someone who looks far younger than their biological age, it's likely they have plenty of telomerase! Imagine telomerase as a glue that if you apply it to the shoelace aglets, it will continue to keep repairing it. Some shoelaces/cells it won’t stick to, others such as stem cells it works brilliantly, but eventually, even our stem cells begin to no longer be fixable by telomerase, and in our later years, this is why we start to age more quickly.
In the brilliant book The Telomere Effect, written by Elizabeth Blackburn PhD and Eliisa Epel PhD, they describe the importance of our telomeres as “the little caps at the end of the chromosomes that keep the genetic material from unravelling. They are the aglets of aging”.
Now while you can’t completely control your telomeres and telomerase, and if you could, then you might like the Aurelia jellyfish be immortal, you certainly can influence them both.
The key way to keep your telomeres long and your production of telomerase up is to minimise chronic stress. While there are other things they both like and dislike, research seems to suggest that chronic stress is their nemesis. Exercise, which seems to work against the other two pillars of early aging insulin resistance and inflame-aging, again helps to look after our telomers. Practicing breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation have in research also been shown to keep our telomeres intact.
Why does stress seem to be the number one culprit, the villain who most shortens our telomeres? Or is it the other way around, the chicken and egg scenario? Could it be that shorter telomeres make people more stressed? Well, research seems to suggest it is the former. Stress reduces the length of the telomere. But why is this the case? As you know, the body has many built-in self-defense mechanisms. Acute stress caused by the lion chasing us, or the sudden rush of adrenaline sent to protect us when we hear a loud bang, in the main is actually good for the boy. It is all part of the principle of hormesis; what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But chronic stress, over long periods of time, year on year often leads to higher blood pressure and a faster heart rate. The constant release of the stress hormone cortisol puts up our blood sugar levels to give us more energy to deal with the stress, but then it is locked in an internal war with insulin which needs to remove it to stay in balance. Now different research papers suggest slightly different things about the direct biological cause that stress has on our telomeres, but I think for now we should keep it simple. Let’s just say that while the body is under stress, it appears more consumed with the current problem than protecting and repairing it for the long run.
And what of food? Well, you didn’t expect me to just accept that reducing stress alone would be enough, did you? And of course, getting enough sleep is part and parcel of the stress repone. But of course, food plays a part too. It appears that telomere damage and inflammation go hand in hand. Just as inflammation and insulin resistance travel similar pathways. So, therefore, we need to look at what foods drive inflammation. And I am sure you know by now what they are. Seed oils, ultra-packaged foods, and anything that puts our omega3 to omega 6 scales out of balance. If you are new to omegas, omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, in other words, its role is to reduce inflammation, while omega 6’s job is to promote inflammation. Our body ideally needs a ratio of 1-1 of these two fats, but sadly, a diet rich in processed foods can often leave the consumers with an internal oil mix, that is out as far as 20 to 1. They are fuelling their body with inflammation from the foods they eat. And while acute inflammation can be a lifesaver for when we break a bone or get a virus, chronic ongoing inflammation is a real serious issue.
In the first health book I wrote called Primal Cure, I wrote under the heading A New You, the following:
“Every five or six years, you and I almost become an entirely new person. Our skin is constantly dying and being replaced, in fact, our entire outer covering is replaced every single month. Our complete skeleton is regenerated every 10 years or so. Our lungs are replaced every six weeks, our liver in less than six months, and our tongue’s 9000 taste buds are rejuvenated every 10 days. Sadly, the one body part most of us would love to be self-regenerating at high speed – our brain – is, in the main, as old as we are. In fact, most things in our head are permanently ours. The eyes don’t replace themselves and once our adult teeth come through, that’s our lot. The rest of our body, cell-by-cell, day-by-day, is in a state of continual repair, rebuild or replace... or it should be”.
All of this, along with the ability to repair damaged muscles when we overwork them in the gym, plus if we get an infection and need our white blood cells to divide and boost our immune cells, are all tasks undertaken by our stem cells. But stem cells, just like other cells, eventually, if not well looked after, lose their ability to divide and replicate, they become senescent. Senescent cells not only affect themselves but can send messages to the cells around them, warning them that they are in trouble and this can lead to inflammation.
Now you might be asking why Primal Living hasn’t yet created a supplement that can promote the creation of more telomerase? And that would be a sensible question. After all, we can create supplements to promote things such as collagen production and even take a probiotic to promote the creation of better strands of bacteria. So why not telomerase? The simple answer is that the current science suggests that it would be potentially dangerous. If you think about cancer for a moment, wherein its simplest terms is where cells won’t stop dividing, there is a risk if we artificially try and promote the creation of the enzyme, that if it is unnaturally over stimulated, that it could have a negative outcome. It appears that the body targets the enzymes on the type of cells that need it most and not across the entire body.
I will keep today’s topic short because any further dive becomes very technical indeed. But the reason why I wanted to mention telomers, is because what is becoming quite clear to me, is that to slow down aging and to become near-immortal, there are three core things we need to achieve; keep our cells' insulin sensitive, have tight control over inflammation and do what is necessary to look after our telomeres. And here is the good news, the dietary actions and lifestyle changes that you need to look after any one of these pillars, are almost identical to the best way to support the other two.
What Made Me Happiest This Week
Not sure about you but seeing all these global leaders coming together and really talking seriously about global warming, really feels like we might be starting to realise how serious this mess is. I remember making a documentary in January 2012 in Kenya discussing dried-out riverbeds with one of our charity team members and for a decade very little seems to have happened. But I do feel (and pray) the tide is turning, and it must turn quickly too.
Recipe of the Week
The brilliant Low Carb Chef Emma Porter loaded the following winter sensation Cottage Pie recipe to the Primal Living app this week and it is simply awesome.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper and fry until soft. Once soft add in the beef mince and coat in the veg. Move around the pan with a wooden spoon until browned.
Add in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes before adding the smoked paprika, stock cube, coriander, and cumin. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes. Don't let the mixture stick. If it starts to stick, reduce the heat, and add a tablespoon of water.
Add in the 2 tins of tomatoes and one extra tin of water (400g). Bring to a boil for a few minutes before you reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes until thick.
If the sauce seems too thin, then give it a further blast over high heat and let it bubble until thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon carefully into a baking dish.
Customer Comment of the Week
Thank you, Carolyn, for commenting on Trustpilot about our Slimshotz supplements.
“These really help me to eat less and maintain the weight I want as they give a feeling of fullness. The drinks are pleasant and easy to drink and are the healthiest way to reduce appetite. If I’m going out for a meal I drink one before hand to help not to overeat”.
In each blog, we publish our latest Trustpilot overview. We do this to keep us all (the team here at Primal) on our toes.