Tuesday, March 08, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — New findings about the protective end caps to DNA-filled chromosomes suggest that healthy lifestyles might influence a person's genetic code, according to the March issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
The research focuses on telomeres, end caps present on every DNA-filled chromosome. Telomeres often are likened to the plastic ends on a shoelace that prevent unraveling. Likewise, telomeres keep DNA within a chromosome from unraveling, becoming damaged or from accidentally linking to another chromosome.
Researchers have looked at both telomere length and changes over time. When healthy cells divide to facilitate healing or renew tissue, the DNA-containing chromosome within the cell nucleus divides, too. Each division shortens the telomeres. Cells with shortened telomeres may lead to damaged chromosomes or may spark tumor growth. As a result, telomere length is emerging as a marker for the process of aging. But related research has found that the telomere shortening process can be slowed, stopped or even reversed with the enzyme telomerase.
Preliminary research shows that a healthy lifestyle increases telomerase activity. One three-month study found a 29 to 84 percent increase in telomerase activity among participants who ate a plant-based diet, walked briskly 30 minutes a day and underwent stress management therapy.
So far, there's no known cause-and-effect relationship between telomeres and disease. But telomere health appears to be most enhanced by a healthy diet, exercise and stress management. These new discoveries suggest that a healthy lifestyle may be protective down to an individual DNA strand.
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