A recent study at UC Davis, by postdoctoral scholar Tonya Jacobs and her research team published online Oct. 29 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology; referencing their UC Davis-based Shamatha Project, found positive changes related to telomerase activity in immune cells. This kind of telomere activity affects the addition mechanism in cells.
A telomere is a repeating DNA sequence at the end of the body’s chromosomes. The telomere can reach a length of 15,000 base pairs. Telomeres function by preventing chromosomes from losing base pair sequences. However, each time a cell divides, some of the telomere is lost. When telomeres become too short, the chromosome reaches a “critical length” and no longer replicates, this is called the Hayflick limit. The cell becomes “old” and dies by a process called apoptosis. Many diseases related to aging can be traced back to shortened telomeres. People with shortened telomeres were found to be three times as likely to die of heart disease and eight times more likely to die of infectious diseases. An American Heart Association journal study found that weight gain and increased insulin resistance were correlated with greater telomere shortening over time.
Telomere activity is controlled by two mechanisms: erosion and addition. Erosion, as mentioned, occurs each time a cell divides. Addition is determined by the activity of telomerase, an enzyme which allows replacement of short bits of telomeres. With the presence of telomerase, each dividing cell can replace the lost bit of DNA, and any single cell can then divide unbounded. By extending the telomeres with telomerase, the “mortal” cell has become immortal!
Scientists have already introduced telomerase into cells in tissue culture and extended the length of their telomeres. The cells then divided for 250 generations past the time they normally would stop dividing, and are continuing to divide normally, giving rise to normal cells with the normal number of chromosomes. A study performed with worms showed that lengthening their telomeres extended their life spans.
Don’t rush out for your shot of telomerase or have genetic manipulation of your telomeres however, because that has shown the possibility of leading to more vulnerability towards cancer.
The Shamatha Project’s work shows a relation between positive psychological change and telomerase activity. Other studies have suggested that telomerase activity may be a link between psychological stress and physical health. After 3 months the telomerase activity of the study group was about one-third higher in the white blood cells when compared to a matched group of controls.
The project participants also showed increased beneficial psychological qualities like mindfulness (being able to observe one’s experience in a nonreactive manner) and purpose in life (viewing one’s life as meaningful, worthwhile and aligned with long-term goals and values). In addition, they experienced decreased neuroticism, or negative emotionality.
Using statistical modeling techniques, the researchers concluded that high telomerase activity was due to the beneficial effects of meditation on perceived control and neuroticism, which in turn were due to changes in mindfulness and sense of purpose.
The Shamatha Project is the most comprehensive longitudinal study of intensive meditation yet undertaken.
While this study does not guarantee longevity, it points to something, those who meditate, have known for years (or as long as they have meditated), that meditation improves psychological well being and psychological well being improves survivability.
When combined with the “Leukocyte telomere length is preserved with aging in endurance exercise-trained adults and related to maximal aerobic capacity” study by LaRocca, Seals, Pierce from the Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO., which shows a direct correlation between exercise and telomerase activity we are forced to conclude that meditating, exercise and eating right are the real fountain of youth.
My own conclusion? I am going to continue meditating, drop the sugar habit and lose a few pounds. I may not live forever, but I will beat the curve by a bit! How about you?
Do you think 30 minutes a day of peaceful relaxation is too much effort to live a longer, happier life?