But too many fizzy drinks can age you as fast as smoking, making parts of the body almost five years older biologically. That is the advice from the biologist who won the Nobel prize for discovering telomeres, the shoelace caps at the end of chromosomes now known to determine how well or badly someone will age.
Telomeres, which differ in length by a tiny fraction of a millimeter, can predict someone’s risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s. Dr Elizabeth Blackburn warns these telomeres are being rapidly worn down by, among other things, chronic stress, yo-yo dieting, white bread and sugar. But a Mediterranean diet, vitamin-rich seaweed and a few cups of coffee a day might help to make them longer again.
Telomeres are important as one of the key reasons for ageing because, much like the plastic caps which protect the end of shoelaces, they stop chromosomes which house our DNA from fraying, which causes aging and disease. Dr Blackburn and health psychologist Dr Elissa Epel have now put together advice on how to live which does not rely on fad diets but is taken from years of research on telomeres in humans.
Dr Blackburn said: ‘The lessons from research have added up to very reasonable actions people can take in their daily life. We felt it was important to share this rather than letting it stay buried in science journals, to encourage people to make the small changes which can add up to better telomere maintenance, which should help prevent many aging-related illnesses.’
Telomere length is dictated by genetics but also lifestyle. Carrying fat around your middle creates a 40 per cent increased risk of shortening the valuable caps. However it is possible to stabilize them through diet, exercise and sleep.
Studies show sleep deprivation triggers damage in our DNA, which cuts the length of telomeres. Regularly getting a good night’s sleep may keep your telomeres young, as could coffee according to a study of over 4,000 women which found those who drank caffeinated coffee had longer telomeres.
Seaweed, whole grains, seafood and vegetables l found to be associated with larger telomeres in a Korean study. The US experts say carbohydrates and dairy are not the enemy, but fizzy drinks may be. They discovered three years ago that people who drink only two cans of sugary soft drinks a day had telomeres that appeared five years older than those who did not. A single glass a day added two years to their telomeres’ age, making them more vulnerable to age-related diseases like diabetes. Foods which shorten telomeres include processed meat, white bread, rice, pasta, biscuits and ice cream.
‘The good news is that while these small losses of telomere length each year can add up over time to trigger these conditions, the small changes we make every day can stabilize telomeres and presumably prevent the early onset of diseases, although this whole chain of events has not been tested in one study.’ Telomere length is also linked with stress, having little emotional support and even yo-yo dieting, which puts strain on the body through feeding and then depriving it.
A Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit, vegetables and olive oil can help, as is evidenced by the longer telomeres of people living in southern Italy. Fibre and omega 3 free fatty acids found in oily fish or seaweed also stalls aging.
The conclusions are published in Dr Blackburn and Dr Epel’s new book, The Telomere Effect.
© Daily Mail