Telomeres, mitochondria, and the new aging biomarker.
Powered by advances in genomic science and backed by extensive funding, researchers say they’ll soon be able to extend life well beyond 120 years. While exciting, these technologies—mainly pharmaceutical drugs—are still a long way from serving as accessible solutions to add years to our lives, and life to our years.
Still, cutting-edge research continues to shed light on some of the complex biological mechanisms involved in the aging process, such as genetic expression, mitochondrial function and many others. More importantly, these findings are being translated into practical, natural solutions we can apply today to increase longevity, vitality and overall health, and in many cases, reverse some of the most common signs of aging.
One exciting area in this field is the study of epigenetics, which demonstrates how gene activity can be altered, depending on specific influences such as diet, exercise, toxin exposure, even our mental processes. Of course, epigenetics is not a new field of study. For example, approximately 20 years ago, researchers started to notice that turning certain genes on or off in C. elegans worms could extend their lifespan. More importantly, the worms were healthier. C. elegans is one model organism for humans because we share some of the same genes; however, controlling these genes in humans is obviously not as simple. Researchers have found that caloric restriction can help organisms live longer and healthier. Caloric restriction in humans is difficult, especially when there are other health challenges, but there may be some alternatives with similar effects.
One of the genes associated with aging is SIRT1, and caloric restriction appears to favorably modulate its activity to protect the body during times when food is scarce. The compound resveratrol is also shown to interact with SIRT1 to delay aging.1 Melatonin is also shown to activate SIRT1, and research shows melatonin and resveratrol may work synergistically together.2
The Telomere Debate
Research into telomere function has also added to our understanding of the aging process. Telomeres are short DNA sequences found at the end of each chromosome, which help protect our genetic material. However, with cell division, telomeres get shorter, reducing their ability to preserve zichromosomes. In time, telomeres fail, chromosomes degrade and cells can no longer divide, leading to cell death.
Telomeres provide interesting insights into aging. If we can preserve them, we could extend longevity and improve health. An enzyme called telomerase rebuilds telomeres, so there’s a lot of interest in compounds that naturally activate telomerase. However, the jury is still out. Some experts are concerned that too much telomerase might boost cancer growth, so researchers are also investigating telomerase inhibitors to fight cancer.
On the other hand, there is some data that suggests protecting telomere function offers significant health and longevity benefits. Fascinating research shows that regular meditation practice is linked to healthier telomeres.3 Other research shows that eating nutrient-dense whole foods can support healthy telomeres. Conversely, emotional stress, certain processed foods and body burden of environmental toxins has been associated with shorter telomeres.
There is also evidence that curcumin, resveratrol and other botanical compounds may selectively support healthy telomere behavior. One interesting argument suggests that compounds like curcumin, resveratrol and others are beneficial in part because they help fight cancer by helping to regulate the telomere activity of malignant cells.4,5
Another strategy to deal with stressed telomeres and aging in general is to actively support mitochondria. There are a number of natural ways to boost mitochondrial function and help combat aging. Addressing factors such as free radical oxidation, toxic body burden, nutritional deficiency, sedentary lifestyle and other problems can all support healthy mitochondria.
Of course, certain nutrients and botanical agents can also promote healthy mitochondrial activity. For example, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) helps mitochondria make ATP. Similar to CoQ10, PQQ (pyrroloquinoline) is another nutrient that can help mitochondria produce ATP, while also increasing the number of mitochondria. PQQ is available as a supplement, and found in significant quantity in foods such as natto, parsley and green tea.
Certain medicinal mushrooms, particularly cordyceps and reishi, are also excellent for mitochondrial health. Aerobic interval exercise supports mitochondria, as does a nutrient-dense, low glycemic diet.
Galectin-3: The New Aging Biomarker
A rapidly expanding body of data points to elevated circulating galectin-3 as a chief culprit in the advancement of life-threatening illnesses, from heart disease, to diabetes, to the formation, proliferation and metastasis of cancer. In 2011, a 10-year galectin-3 all-cause mortality study involving almost 8,000 people was presented at a European conference, demonstrating that elevated serum galectin-3 increased all-cause mortality three-fold in the general population.6 A 2016 cohort study showed that lower levels of galectin-3 are associated with healthy aging.7
Elevated circulating galectin-3 is seen as a chief culprit in the advancement of life-threatening illnesses because of its role in driving chronic inflammation and fibrosis, leading to organ failure, as well as numerous chronic, degenerative conditions. It also plays significant roles in the formation, proliferation and metastasis of cancer, acting as a sticky surface molecule, which allows cancer cells to aggregate, disseminate throughout the circulatory system, evade immune surveillance and establish themselves at distant sites. It is also involved in angiogenesis.8-12
Galectin-3 is now recognized as a predictive biomarker and therapeutic target for heart disease, as well as cancer and numerous pro-inflammatory conditions. It is easily measured with a galectin-3 serum assay, covered by most insurance for cardiovascular screening.
Within this extensive body of data, researchers have consistently shown that the natural compound modified citrus pectin (MCP) can successfully bind to galectin-3 and block—even reverse—its harmful effects in heart disease, kidney disease, cancer and more.13-15 Derived from citrus pectin, MCP is a highly absorbable and bioactive form of pectin that is now recognized as the most-researched galectin-3 inhibitor. In order for the MCP to be effective against elevated galectin-3, research shows that it must have a molecular weight between 5-15 kDa, and low degree of esterification. MCP is also clinically proven to safely remove heavy metals from the circulation, as well as provide active support for immune health.16,17
Building an Anti-Aging Foundation
Research shows that keeping galectin-3 levels within a healthy range, promoting mitochondrial health and encouraging favorable genetic expression can work to help optimize cellular function and encourage healthy aging. Specifically, there are a number of practices we can apply to support this foundation.
Detoxification is critical, starting with diet. For those with high body burden of toxic metals, I recommend a formula of modified citrus pectin and sodium alginate. This combination has been clinically shown to remove heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic, by trapping these toxic metals in the circulation and excreting them through the urinary and GI (gastrointestinal) tracts.16
Mindful meditation and other mind-body practices like yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are also important and have been shown to favorably modulate gene expression and offer remarkable benefits across numerous areas of health. In addition to the tangible results on our mental and physical wellbeing, the compelling anti-aging data that’s been demonstrated in recent years serves as another motivating factor.
Any form of healthy stress relief is a critical element in preventing the inflammatory cascade that leads to premature aging. Even gratitude has been shown to produce favorable genetic expression.
“Aging” can be a very general term relating to the condition of our physical, mental and emotional systems, and for decades, we’ve known that a nutritious diet, exercise, and stress relief foster health and longevity. But now that we understand more about how our complex cellular and genetic mechanisms relate to aging, we can develop strategies to optimize these factors. Specific foods, nutrients and lifestyle practices can help address not only genetic and mitochondrial health, but overall wellness and longevity. And when used together with in-practice treatments like clinical detoxification, acupuncture and other therapies, we can encourage synergistic anti-aging benefits in our patients and help address some of today’s most critical health concerns.
1 Sin TK, Yu AP, Yung BY, et al. Effects of long-term resveratrol-induced SIRT1 activation on insulin and apoptotic signaling in aged skeletal muscle. Acta Diabetol. 2015 Dec;52(6):1063-75.
2 Ramis MR, Esteban S, Miralles A, et al. Caloric restriction, resveratrol and melatonin: Role of SIRT1 and implications for aging and related-diseases. Mech Ageing Dev. 2015 Mar;146-148:28-41.
3 Schutte NS, Malouff JM. A meta-analytic review of the effects of mindfulness meditation on telomerase activity. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Apr;42:45-8.
4 Fuggetta MP, Lanzilli G, Tricarico M, et al. Effect of resveratrol on proliferation and telomerase activity of human colon cancer cells in vitro. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2006 Jun;25(2):189-93.
5 Mukherjee Nee Chakraborty S, Ghosh U, Bhattacharyya NP, et al. Curcumin-induced apoptosis in human leukemia cell HL-60 is associated with inhibition of telomerase activity. Mol Cell Biochem. 2007 Mar;297(1-2):31-9.
6 deFilippi , CR, Felker, GM. Galectin-3 in Heart Failure—Linking Fibrosis, Remodeling, and Progression. U.S. Cardiology. 2010;7;1: 3–6.
7 Sanchis-Gomar F, Santos-Lozano A, Pareja-Galeano H, et al. Galectin-3, osteopontin and successful aging. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2016 Apr 1;54(5):873-7.
8 Newlaczyl AU, Yu LG.Galectin-3–a jack-of-all-trades in cancer. Cancer Lett. 2011 Dec 27;313(2):123-8
9 Yu LG. Circulating galectin-3 in the bloodstream: An emerging promoter of cancer metastasis. World J Gastrointest Oncol. 2010 Apr 15;2(4):177-80.
10 Nangia-Makker P, Honjo Y, Sarvis R, Akahani S, Hogan V, Pienta KJ, et al. Galectin-3 induces endothelial cell morphogenesis and angiogenesis. Am J Pathol. 2000; 156:899-909.
11 Yu LG, Andrews N, Zhao Q, McKean D, Williams JF, Connor LJ, et al. Galectin-3 interaction with Thomsen-Friedenreich disaccharide on cancer-associated MUC1 causes increased cancer cell endothelial adhesion. J Biol Chem. 2007;5;282(1):773-81.
12 Zhao Q, Guo X, Nash GB, Stone PC, Hilkens J, Rhodes JM, et al. Circulating galectin-3 promotes metastasis by modifying MUC1 localization on cancer cell surface. Cancer Res. 2009;69;17:6799-806.
13 Calvier L, Miana M, Reboul P, et al. Galectin-3 mediates aldosterone-induced vascular fibrosis. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2013;33(1):67-75.
14 Kolatsi-Joannou M, Price KL, Winyard PJ, et al. Modified Citrus Pectin Reduces Galectin-3 Expression and Disease Severity in Experimental Acute Kidney Injury. PLoS One. 2011;6(4):e18683.
15 Nangia-Makker P, Hogan V, Honjo Y, Baccarini S, Tait L, Bresalier R, et al. Inhibition of human cancer cell growth and metastasis in nude mice by oral intake of modified citrus pectin. J Natl Cancer Ins. 2002;94:1854-1862.
16 Eliaz I, Weil E, Wilk B. Integrative medicine and the role of modified citrus pectin/alginates in heavy metal chelation and detoxification–five case reports. Forsch Komplementmed. 2007 Dec;14(6):358-64.
17 Ramachandran C1, Wilk BJ, Hotchkiss A, et al. Activation of human T-helper/inducer cell, T-cytotoxic cell, B-cell, and natural killer (NK)-cells and induction of natural killer cell activity against K562 chronic myeloid leukemia cells with modified citrus pectin. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Aug 4;11:59.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc is a recognized expert in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980s, with a specific focus on cancer, immune health, detoxification and mind-body medicine. He is a respected formulator, clinician, researcher, author and educator. As part of his commitment to the advancement of integrative medicine, Dr. Eliaz partners with leading research institutes and has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed papers on innovative therapies for immune enhancement, heavy metal toxicity, and cancer prevention and treatment. He is founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic and Healing Center in Santa Rosa, CA, where he and his team of practitioners pioneer individualized treatments for cancer and chronic illness.