For sixty years, medical wisdom held that high cholesterol causes heart attacks. As Americans have lowered their cholesterol levels, however, heart disease has not declined. In fact, it remains the number one cause of death in the U.S.
Al Sears, M.D., who specializes in anti-aging medicine, uses another warning system for heart attacks. He measures his patient’s telomeres.
Telomeres are located at the end of your chromosomes. Dr. Sears describes them as “little countown clocks” that prevent strands of DNA from coming unraveled. Telomeres are long in young people, but whenever a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. Once the telomeres are too short to protect the DNA strands, the cells die. This signals the onset of old age, and it is when you become vulnerable to the diseases that come with advancing age.
In one study, scientists measured the lengths of telomeres in almost 4,000 heart attack patients within 24 hours of the heart attack. These patients had shorter telomere lengths than subjects in a healthy control group.
Researchers in a second study measured the telomeres of 337 people who had a myocardial infarction (heart attack). They used a control group of 337 people who had not had an MI. The heart attack victims had much shorter telomere lengths than the healthy group. According to Sears, the risk of heart attack increases by 62 percent in people with shorter telomeres.
There are ways to protect your telomeres and prevent MIs. Here are four:
1. Get More Omega-3 Fats
Telomerase is the enzyme that repairs and rebuilds your telomeres. Telomerase is activated by omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in longer telomeres.
In one study, people whose omega-3 levels were lowest had the fastest decline in telomere length in a five-year period. People with the highest levels of omega-3 had the slowest decline.
2. Take a Potent Antioxidant
Vitamin C is the best way to slow the shortening of telomeres, as much as 62 percent. Vitamin C also stimulates telomerase activity. Dr Sears recommends you take 5 to 8 grams daily, divided into smaller doses throughout the day. You must build up your intake of C gradually, until you reach bowel tolerance.
3. Boost Folate
Folate or folic acid is vitamin B9. Research has determined men with the highest folic acid levels have longer telomeres than those with low folate.
Dr. Sears suggests taking 800 micrograms of folate daily for your telomeres. Good food sources are calves’ liver, dairy, poultry, meat, eggs and seafood, as well as dark leafy greens.
4. Engage in Vigorous Exercise
People who do not exercise have the shortest telomeres. In a study of 2,401 twins, the group who did vigorous exercise had telemeres that acted nine years younger.
Dr. Sears has developed a workout program specifically for older people, designed to protect the telomeres. You can see it here.