Keep Your Stem Cell Telomeres Long!

18 Nov

Our basic premise is that your body is amazing. You get a do over. It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t that hard if you know what to do. In these notes, we give you a short course in what to do so it becomes easy for you, and for you to teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over both the quality and length of your life.

Since this series started, we’ve given you several easy-to-adopt tips to Staying Young. This month, we want to talk to you about recovering from cancer and the importance of keeping your telomeres from fraying.

With cancer or any structural damage — like a heart attack or even arthritis — your body sends in stem cells to repair the damage and regenerate your tissues. Even seven years ago, we didn’t know that stem cell replenishment was true for most organs, but now we know that every one of your organs seems to recruit backup stem cells from your bone marrow to resuscitate itself, when needed. These emergency relief worker cells lay the groundwork for re-creating your organs. But, if the telomeres of your stem cells get a little too short, then you may have a problem making more stem cells…

Which begs the question, how do you maintain the telomeres of your stem cells so you can make more stem cells? A little background… Your chromosomes, the little rascals, have small substances on the ends called telomeres. Think of them as being like those little plastic tips of shoelaces (which are called aglets, in case you want to show off in your next Scrabble competition). Every time a cell reproduces, that telomere gets a little shorter, just as the shoelace tip wears off with time. Once the protective covering on the tip is gone, your DNA and shoelace begin to fray and are much harder to use. That’s what causes your stem cells to stop dividing to repair your injuries. But your body also has a protein—called telomerase—that automatically replenishes and rebuilds the ends of the chromosomes to keep your stem cells able to reproduce.

The amount of telomerase you have depends on your genetics, but we’re now starting to see that you can influence the size of those little tips, the telomeres. For example, researchers have found that mothers with chronically ill children have shortened telomeres, indicating that chronic stress can have a huge influence on how cells divide—or fail to. The telomeres of people who feel more stressed are almost 50 percent shorter than people who say they’re less stressed. Since scientists have a rough idea what the average telomere length is for a specific age, they can estimate how much older the higher-stress group is biologically: a whopping nine to seventeen years! In fact, in our studies of RealAge, stress is the greatest ager, increasing your risk of heart disease, memory loss, cancer, infections, accidents, and broken hips. Bottom line: stress is a substantial cause of stem cell telomere shortening.

In a study reported this month from University of California Medical School at San Francisco, among middle-aged and older women, those who did a little regular exercise, ate healthfully (avoided the five food felons of added sugar, syrups, any non-100% whole grain, trans fats, and saturated fats), and slept well, increased their telomerase production substantially, and had longer telomeres. In a study reported last year, daily meditation to prevent or ameliorate stressful responses was associated with lengthening of telomeres. By our calculations, daily walking, healthy eating, sleep, and meditation can make your telomeres’ (and your) RealAge more than 12, and maybe as many as 27, years younger.

Those lifestyle effects trump the effect of almost any drug ever reported. It’s not that statins or insulin or blood pressure meds aren’t healthful—they are. It’s just that the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress management, your environment, sleep) are so powerful that you may not need the other drugs. You get a Do-Over—no matter how old you are. Until you are six feet under, you get to change the quality of your life. But you have to take the opportunity. That’s the real point: the daily lifestyle choices you can adopt easily are the most important for keeping your stem cell repair mechanisms functioning as well as possible.

And that might just get you to get to that magic year of 2024 (we’ll talk next month about why that year may be so magic).

Thanks for reading. And feel free to send more questions, you can always send us questions at, and some of them we may know enough to answer (we’ll try to get answers for you if we do not know).

Young Dr. Mike Roizen (aka, The Enforcer)

NOTE: You should NOT take this as medical advice.
This article is of the opinion of its author.
Before you do anything, please consult with your doctor.

You can follow Dr Roizen (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week) on twitter @YoungDrMike.

Feel free to continue to send questions to You can follow Dr Roizen on twitter @YoungDrMike (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week). The YOU docs have a new web site: and its companion the only site we know of where you can find skin products proven to meet the claims (opened for business on June 1st, 2012), and a new book: YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens.

Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. His radio show streams live on Saturdays from 5-7 p.m . E-mail him questions at He is the co-author of 4 #1 NY Times Best Sellers including : YOU Staying Young and YOU: The Owner’s Manual. He is Chief Medical Consultant to the two year running Emmy award winning Dr Oz show– The Dr Oz show is #2 nationally in daytime TV. See what all the fun is about, and what he, The Enforcer, is up to. Check local listings or log onto for channel and time. And for more health info, log onto anytime.

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