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Dr. Magryta: Methylation, telomeres, DNA stability and disease risk

This newsletter deals with a difficult topic that is critical to long term health: methylation, telomeres, DNA stability and disease risk.

By definition, both methylation and telomere are related to DNA, our cellular book of life. Methylation is the process by which “read-or-don’t-read” sticky notes are placed upstream of a protein coding region on our DNA. Telomeres are the protective tails at the end of a DNA strand that allow the DNA to work longterm to reproduce proteins for your important bodily functions.

Two things critically important to understand:

1) When your telomeres shorten to the point that the protection to the DNA code is lost, you are officially genetically old and dying, nomatter what your chronological age is. Your telomere age defines senescence.

2) Putting the “sticky notes” on your DNA is critical to properly functioning genes, especially critical while pregnant, an infant and a teenager.

A 2017 article in Nature Scientific Reports by Dr. Dong and colleagues looked at the importance of these issues in teenagers and found that lower levels of methylation, the “don’t-read-me” sticky notes, was associated with shorter telomere tail lengths.

Directly from the article: “… low levels of leukocyte global DNA methylation have been associated with increased risks for various cancers, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, bladder, breast, gastric, and colorectal adenoma in adults. Our recent research has shown that leukocyte DNA methylation alterations (globally or locally) are associated with obesity, hypertension, and vitamin D deficiency in adolescents.”

What we are learning is that certain food types and chemicals have effects on the “sticky notes” and the protective tails of our DNA. If we can maintain normal methylation, DNA stability and protective tails, we can reduce the aging process and reduce disease risk. To put it another way, aging is happening to us all — but the rate of aging is dictated by what you do on a daily basis. If we accept that you start aging from birth and that aging progresses at some rate, then we want to slow that rate at all costs to enhance longevity.

What is concerning is that based on the study data, teenagers are aging faster based on poor lifestyle choices.

How do we slow the aging process?
The enzyme telomerase adds back base pairs to the telomere making it longer and more protective, in effect adding time to your life. The key is knowing what activates it:
1) Exercise is critical. Moderate daily movement is known to be a telomerase activator.
2) Positive thought and meditation. We have long known that positive mind sets are associated with improved health and activating the telomerase enzyme is part of the benefit.
3) Fasting. Intermittent fasting continues to be a major avenue to enhance human health and longevity. Eating over a 6-hour period and fasting for the other 18 hours has significant merit as we age. Unlikely to be necessary and currently not recommended until after the teenage years, however, I would not be surprised to find that even our youth could benefit from occasional fasting.
4) Chronic mental stress has a negative effect on the enzyme. I believe that this is one of the major destructive mechanisms for aging.
5) Directly from Dr. Broccardi’s article: “Specific nutrients provide all the necessary building blocks to support telomere health and extend lifespan. This is the case of folate, vitamins (B, D, E, C) zinc and polyphenol compounds such as resveratrol, grape seed extract and curcumin. Several foodssuch as tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, cat-fish, grouper, flounder, flax seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes, olive fruit are a good source of antioxidants.”
6) Good quality sleep.

What activates the methylation sequence?
1) High quality fruits and vegetables.
2) Moderate levels of physical activity. Excessive exercise actually has a negative effect on the methylation sequence.
3) Micronutrients: B vitamins, choline and betaine are necessary.
4) The avoidance of toxins and chemicals that reduce methylation is critical to human health. Other than mental stress, I think that chemical avoidance is of critical importance to health. Chemicals are known hypomethylators.
5) Psychological stress reduces DNA methylation — and by contrast happiness and balance are beneficial for our DNA.

Dr. M

Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at newsletter@salisburypediatrics.com

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