[0:00] Introduction/Organifi & GainsWave
[4:51] About Jason Shelton
[14:35] What Telomeres Are and Why They Are So Important When It Comes to Anti-aging and Longevity
[19:00] NASA’s Study on Twin Astronauts
[24:27] Telomere Lengths in Each Cell
[25:48] Measuring Telomere Length through Blood
[30:21] When to Get Retested
[32:00] Telomeres & Diets
[35:57] Quick Commercial Break/Battle Rope & Bombfell
[39:51] Aging & Growth Hormones
[42:36] Measuring Telomeres in Other Tissues
[49:32] Exercise & Sleep
[1:03:43] About TeloYears
[1:08:49] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey, what’s up? It’s Ben Greenfield. If you want to live longer, today’s the show for you. It’s about telomere testing. This new, cutting edge, longevity test that actually tells you your cellular age. I was kind of surprised with mine. You’re going to find out what it was, and then it tells you what to do about it if your cellular age isn’t everything you thought it would be cracked up to be. So before we jump into that though, there is this new meal replacement shake made by the same people who do the greens powder that I’ve been putting in to my smoothie every morning. They just came out with a shake, and it tastes bomb. It’s got coconut, cinnamon, vanilla bean, hemp protein, quinoa protein, pea protein, medium-chained triglycerides, these unique digestion soothing enzymes that help you absorb and assimilate all this stuff and break down the protein, and it’s all in one tasty, tasty, tasty can that doesn’t taste like cat food. It’s actually really good, addictively good. It is called Organifi Complete Protein, and you get a 20% discount on it by using the code mentioned there. You just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi, and the discount code that you want to use is mentioned on their site. That gets you 20% off, so use discount code mentioned there for 20% off at bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi.
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In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“Trying to make a mental shift, you know? From sick care to preventative, personalized wellness care that really tries to prevent disease, I think, well that resonates with a lot of people, right now. And hopefully two years in the, one of the tools in the arsenal that helps people do that.” “Telomere length is a surrogate marker, and what that means is it’s a biomarker that actually helps you know something that it predicts some kind of risk that comes down to pike in the future.”
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield, and recently I took this test. It’s basically like a longevity-slash-anti-aging test that allows you to measure, not your chronological age which would be basically when your birthday is, but your biological age. Specifically your telomeres and your telomere length. You’ve probably heard of telomeres before if you’ve read any books on heath or looked into the biohacking or the anti-aging or the longevity sector at all. You’re probably aware of the existence of telomeres, but until recently I didn’t know of a good way to actually measure them without going off and spending thousands and thousands of dollars at some fancy longevity institute. But I actually, I found a company that can actually test your telomeres using a very simple, at-home blood spot test, and I had it done myself. I have the results sitting right here in front of me, and I not only want to delve into these results with you on today’s show, but I also want to kind of take a little bit deeper dive into telomere testing and what it is and what it can tell us, how it works and what happens to your telomeres as you age, perhaps most importantly, how you can keep your telomeres from getting too short as you age which is associated with accelerated aging.
And so on today’s call, I have a guy named Jason Shelton. Jason works with a company called Telomere Diagnostics. That’s where I got my own testing done, and he’s got a couple decades of experience in the medical device, health care and start up sectors. So he used to be CEO of a company called EarLens, and before that he worked for a company called Sonitus Medical, and he’s also worked with companies like Glaxo Smith Kline and BioForm Medical and Align Technology. He has a Degree in Biochemistry, has an MBA, so he’s pretty savvy when it comes to anti-aging, and frankly one of the things you should know before we jump into today’s show is that my chronological age is 34, but my biological age, and I was pretty shocked by this, it’s actually quite different. And so, I wanted to talk to Jason a little bit about that too and what I can personally do, and hopefully you learn a little bit from that as well. So Jason, welcome to today’s show, man.
Jason: Thank you, Ben. Thank you for having me.
Ben: Yeah. And by the way, if you’re listening in right now, I’ll link to everything that Jason and I will talk about, including this test that you can get, if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest. By the way Jason, I assume you have, but have you actually had your own telomeres tested?
Jason: I have, I’ve done it more than once since I’ve joined the company over the past year or so, and since we launched the test, and I’d be happy to share with you some of the results if you’d like to hear about it.
Ben: Well, I guess the million dollar question is, is your biological age greater than your chronological age or less?
Jason: Well it’s less, and my chronological age, my actual age is forty-four years old, and the first time I was tested was about a year ago, and I got some results back that said that I was effectively about thirty-four years old in telomeres. So at that time though and what’s I think interesting for me and for other people, and I guess I’m an example of someone who engaged in some lifestyle management that I think proactively made the difference in my cellular age.
So I actually had a muscle injury in my leg, ode to a Frisbee accident somewhere on the East Coast with my brother-in-law, but I started engaging in personal training-slash-rehab regimen for about eight or nine months where I was for about three times a week getting fairly rigorous exercise, and I thought, well, it’d be a pretty good baseline to try to figure out what it means for my age in telomeres. And so, I retested about eight months after I started this regimen, and my age in telomeres dropped to twenty-seven. So I personally have seen lifestyle management changes that have actually decreased my cellular age, and there’s lots of peer-reviewed literature that suggest a variety of things that one can do because telomeres, these things that are these protective end caps on the ends of your DNA, they’re one of the unique parts of the human genome in that they can actually change. They’re aerodynamic, and they can increase or decrease in response to good or bad changes in lifestyle, stress management, diet, other kinds of fitness regimens, even various aspects of meditation and a whole host of other things that have been published in the peer-reviewed literature, and perhaps will talk about some of those today.
Ben: Yeah, I want to delve into those too, but you’re saying that when you first says you’re at thirty-four, and then you started on this exercise regimen. It actually dropped you down to twenty-seven.
Jason: That’s right.
Ben: Wow, I’m assuming that your exercise regimen must not have been like Ironman, triathlon and marathon training?
Jason: No, it was probably about 60 minutes, two to three times a week of a combination of fitness types of jumping, squats training, and some light weight work. Them some jogging, treadmill, elliptical variety of things that I learned from a personal trainer, and I myself am not the world’s fittest person. No, I’m not like one of those people that are aggressively committed to fitness and health, but I have found inspiration actually in my results which I think a lot of our customers have found ’cause I think what telomeres provide is it’s really two things. I mean one, its knowledge of yourself at the level of your own DNA. But two, its inspiration. I think a lot of people today recognize that we’re living in this new, genetic information age since human genome experiment where people realize there’s tremendous burgeoning interest in not just how to quantify your health and fitness but how to do that at the level of your DNA, and so it’s kind of intersecting those two fields, and I think telomeres find itself right at that intersection, and I found that a lot of people get these results and find inspiration in them to actually engage in positive lifestyle management, and it’s been I think, quite good so far.
Ben: Yeah, my own results actually inspired me a little bit, and I asked you that question about Ironman and marathon and triathlon training, and then you responded by saying you’re not like uber-fit or anything like that. I think the ironic thing is that many uber-fit folks think that they are by doing a daily Crossfit WOD or training for an Ironman Triathlon or pounding the pavement on a 3-hour weekend run for a marathon, actually somehow adding years to their life or increasing their resilience or their ability to be able to defy a lot of the things that would cause aging, like inflammation or tumor growth or something like that, but in fact, this is what I saw in my own results. A lot of those things can shorten telomeres or take years off of your life. I mean, if you look at some of the research that I’m aware of, once you exceed about 90 minutes of just pure aerobic exercise or 60 minutes of anything that intense each day, you actually start to see increased mortality, and a law of diminishing returns when it comes to your exercise efforts versus kind of the whole…
You know, I’ve had this guy on my show before named Mark Sisson, and he’s got this philosophy of lift-move-sprint. Right, like you lift heavy things every once in a while, you engage in low-level physical movement during the day and then occasionally, just like you occasionally lift heavy stuff , you occasionally sprint, and that’s kind of a more ancestral approach to fitness. And just to let the cat out of the bag, I’m thirty-four years old, but my telomere length, you said that you were forty-four. You tested at thirty-four, Jason, and then after your exercise protocol which sounded pretty reasonable, not too excessive, you’re at twenty-seven. I’m at thirty-six for my age in teloyears, looking over my telomere testing results, and for those of you listening in, I’ll link to my own results in the show notes, but I’m actually older despite everything that I do.
I spent a decade just destroying my body, racing an Ironman and doing bodybuilding which is process of sucking down protein shakes and avoiding any fat whatsoever is also one of the more unhealthy, inflammatory sports on the face of the planet. I’m after getting out of that and adopting more healthy lifestyle practices. I’m very interested in testing my telomere length again in about a year and kind of insuring that it’s continuing to come down. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was even older, last year or the year before on this test, but yeah. I was shocked by my own results that showed, or I guess, backed up the fact that this whole masochistic approach to fitness can actually take years off of your life in terms of your telomere length rather than doing you a favor in the aging department. But I want to ask you, we may have gotten ahead of ourselves a little bit here. For people listening in, can you just give us the brief overview of what telomeres are and why are they so important?
Jason: Sure, so telomeres are parts of your DNA. So I’m sure your audience knows that inside of every one of your cells, there’s a cell nucleus, and inside that nucleus there is a deep bunch of DNA strands in your chromosomes. At the very ends of your chromosomes are these protective and dynamic encaps that are called telomeres. So specifically, what telomeres are these nucleotide-based pair repeats of the sequence TTAGGG, and those repeat at the end of your chromosomes go on many thousands of times. If you think of your DNA like a long ladder, to be a little less technical, your genes are kind of series of rungs in the middle of the ladder. What telomeres are the rungs toward the ends of the ladders, and what those rungs do, what the telomeres do, is they’re instrumental in the process of cell replication.
So as you get older, as you age, as your body needs to reproduce and divide the cells so that you can heal and function normally as you get older or to respond to injury, your cells duplicate and make more of themselves, and in that process what the telomeres do are help the cells divide, and they regulate the amount of cell division or replication that your body can undergo. Every single time your cells replicate, a little bit of that telomere region breaks off and wears down. So generally as you get older, your telomere length, the amount of encapped cell that you have to protect, your genetic material, gets a little bit shorter, and eventually as your cells repeat more and more, the telomeres become critically short, and your cells become what’s called senescent. What senescent cell are cells that no longer divide normally. The effect that senescent cells have on your body is that they tend to release what are called inflammatory cytokines which can actually be some of the causal nexus of what starts the aging process in various bodily features. So the telomeres are a very, very important part of your DNA, and as I began the reference before, what’s really fascinating about telomeres is unlike most other parts of your genome, the telomere region is one part of your DNA that actually changes over the course of your life, and it’s dynamic. It [17:30] ______ to environment, stress, lifestyle and other kinds of factors, and in effect what your telomere length is it’s the amount of cellular reserve capacity that your body has. It’s kind of like how much fuel is left in the fuel tank for your cells to multiply and divide and for your [17:51] ______ responds, get older as you heal, and so that’s what telomeres are. It is a burgeoning field in science.
In fact, I just looked this morning on PubMed, and if you’re not familiar with PubMed, it’s the United States scientific and medical repository of re-scientific literature, and if you go on there and you enter the term “Telomere” or “Telomeres”, you get approximately 20,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles that have been published over the past 25 years or so on telomeres, and the length that telomeres have between aging and various age-related diseases. So although it is a fairly new field, it has been really extensively studied and published, and telomeres, specifically as a biomarker, are used routinely by some of America’s most credible and trusted institutions including the National Institutes of Health, including NASA. There’s some interesting experiments that just happened with twins that went to space about their telomeres, and Harvard, major institutions, many of which we put on our website at teloyears.com.
Ben: Tell me about that twin study, the astronaut twin study.
Jason: So the twins study, and if people aren’t familiar with Mark and Scott Kelly, Mark and Scott are both gentlemen who have been astronauts in the NASA program for a long time, and they are twins. Mark, you might know him because of his wife Gabby Giffords. She was subject to the assassination attempt that happened in the government out of Washington DC, you may have heard about that a while ago. Scott, his twin brother, was sent to space by NASA for a period of one year, and what NASA is gearing up to do is try to understand what the effects of space travel have on human beings over the longer term as they prepare potentially for a mission down the road to Mars. You know, a trip that would take, probably at least six months in one direction to get to Mars. So what happened was they benchmarked Scott and Mark, Scott the space Bound Twin and Mark the Earthbound Twin on a variety of measures and then sent Scott to space and brought him back. You know, I heard Scott when he came back talking on NPR, on the radio, and the interviewer said to him, “When you go to space for a year, what does NASA measure? What do they look at?”
He was like, “Well, for one I was about two inches taller when I came back”, but the first thing he mentioned in that interview is, “NASA measured this part of my DNA called telomeres, trying to understand how I had undergone certain tolls in space travel in comparison to my brother.” And so, it’s interesting to me that the first thing that he mentioned when asked coming back, “what do they actually measure?” It was telomere length, and so I think what that’s a testament to is the worthwhile nature of a telomere length as a biomarker that’s already being used by some of the nation’s most credible and trusted institutions because of its well-known and well established length to various interrelated phenomenon.
Ben: Yeah, so with him his telomeres were shorter coming back from space travel?
Jason: You know what was funny was when he was in space, and this was one of the discoveries which NASA thought was really interesting. His telomere length got a little bit longer while he was in space.
Jason: Yes, it was published, and they think that it could potentially be because when he’s in space, he was undergoing extensive exercise regimens. Because, maybe if you think about it when you’re in space, you’re in a more or less weightless environment, and think about all of your muscles. Like your heart is pumping, it’s a muscle that is constantly working on earth under the force of gravity. When you take away that gravity, you’re muscles now are not lifting their own weight, and so they put him on a very aggressive, trying-to-stay-fit and workout regimen, and then when he came back to earth, resume normal activities. His telomere length reportedly kind of came back down.
Ben: Wow, maybe I need to go be an astronaut. What happened to his brother?
Jason: Well they used his brother as a control, so I don’t know for a fact whether his went up or down, but they used him as a control for a point of comparison, but that’s all I know, what I’ve read about.
Ben: But people are different, right? When you look at telomeres and the rate of cellular aging, it’s not the same from person to person right?
Jason: No, it is not the same from person to person, and that said different people of different ages have different telomere lengths. What’s useful about telomere length in fact is the fact that is does vary by individual, and the example by individual of individuals of certain age and populations. I mean, I sometimes say imagine if you were measuring cholesterol, and you found out all men aged fifty-one had the same cholesterol level. It would be a useless measure, its defect of its variance that makes it a useful measure so that you can compare it. And so what we try to do is we provide with TeloYears, your age in teloyears because first and foremost, telomere length varies with age. It tends to decline with age, and that scientific body of literature, by and large, has established that telomere length tends to decline over time, and it’s also an insightful way to provide people a point of reference to really understand this somewhat novel and comprehensive overall indicator of cellular wellness through the lens of something that people get, which is how old they are.
Ben: Right, I actually interviewed, do you know Aubrey De Grey? He’s like an anti-aging spokesperson, enthusiast, kind of like guy in the anti-aging space with a very big beard. Yeah, when I interviewed him, he talked about cellular senescence and how that’s the cellular equivalent of aging, and it’s this process where the cell kinda goes into a state of growth arrest, and from what I understand measuring your telomeres can actually indicate your rate of cellular senescence, like your actual rate at which your cells are no longer able to grow.
Jason: Yeah, when your telomeres get to a critically short length, your cells can no longer reproduce in the body, and that is what cellular senescence is defined as. Senescent cells are cells that can no longer divide.
Ben: And so we’re trying to keep our telomeres in a state where the cell is actually able to divide?
Jason: Yes, you’re generally trying to, in most cases, slow the rate of shortening that your telomeres are undergoing. It’s generally what you’re trying to do.
Ben: Okay, got it. Now what about cells themselves? Does each individual cell have a different length of the telomere in that cell or is the telomere length consistent from cell to cell on any given person?
Jason: Now it does vary by various cell types within the body, so some scientists I’d seen present papers where they say you can measure the telomere length of your liver tissue, your lung tissue, or in certain cancers, the tumor tissues. Now what we do with TeloYears is we measure the telomere length as an average in your leukocytes which are your white blood cells. The reason that we use white blood cells beside the fact that they’re readily available, your white blood cells are short-lived, circulating cells that float around in your body, and they are created by the bone marrow, and that’s where your stem cells are. And so your leukocyte telomere length is a good proxy for your stem cell telomere length, and because they’re short circulating cells, that’s what makes them kind of interesting and relevant, and that’s why if you look at that body of scientific evidence that I’m talking about, average telomere length measured in leukocytes or white blood cells is the measure that is most typically used in the scientific literature that talks about telomere length and aging.
Ben: So when you sent this kit to my house, it came in this little box, and I did one drop of blood. When I sent that back to you, then what you’re looking at is the actual telomere length in the leukocytes or the white blood cells found in that single drop of blood that I sent back to you.
Jason: That’s right, so we get the drop of blood back, and from that drop of blood, we extract the DNA, and there are thousands and thousands of cells, and what we do is we measure the average telomere length that is present in the leukocytes from the DNA of that blood sample in our lab here in California.
Ben: Okay, and so you’re looking at the average telomere length. So when my results were, it says like ATL, that’s Average Telomere Length of all those different white blood cells tested in that single drop of blood of mine that I sent in.
Jason: That’s right, the ATL stands for Average Telomere Length, and if you’d think about it, if you have 23 chromosomes, and chromosomes they kind of look like an X, and so every X has basically four ends, so if you think you’re 23 chromosomes, you have, times four, ninety-two telomeres on each of those chromosomes, and so what we’re doing effectively is measuring the average length of telomeres across all of your chromosome ends in your white blood cells in your body, and there’s many, many of those cells in the sample we received.
Ben: Okay, got it, and then using that data when I’m looking at my results here, and again if you guys want to see what sample results look like, go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest, and I’ll just put my PDF up there in full embarrassing detail for anybody to be able to look at. But when I’m looking at these results and it’s giving me my age, it’s saying my age, and you guys call it teloyears. My age in teloyears, how is that then calculated based on the telomere length? Is there some kind of algorithm or something that you feed that into?
Jason: Yeah, so I’ll give you the general answer, then I’ll give you a specific answer. The general answer is your age in teloyears is the actual age of the typical man or woman, you were saying gender, of your age whose telomere length is similar to yours. That’s the specific answer. The way that we arrive at that is we measured telomere length, and a representative population of the US sample that we selected, and then we took those results and gave them to our bio-statisticians. These are PhDs who work in the field of mathematical modelling, and they develop these complex mathematical models to be able to compare your individual telomere length through algorithmic formulas to this representative sample, population sample across the US, and then what we do is we report to you using those mathematical models, your age in teloyears, which is like I said the actual age of the typical man or woman of your age whose telomere length is similar to yours.
Ben: And you can’t do this from saliva or urine or stool. You need to do it from blood?
Jason: You can do it from other tissues. You can do it from saliva. One of the disadvantages of saliva, the reason that we don’t use saliva is because it tends to create a lot more degradation of the DNA when you get it. The saliva sample if you think about it, it is often contaminated with other substances such as mucus or food or tobacco or various other bacteria, which when you get it, it tends to give you a more degraded DNA sample. And at least for me personally, just subjectively, when I’ve given saliva samples in the past, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it but it’s kind of gross.
Ben: I’ve done it; I’m really good at it. I sniff peanut butter, and that makes me salivate.
Jason: It’s not like you do at once. You have to sit there for like 5 minutes and salivate, and let it drip into this cup. For my aesthetic judgment, I kind of feel kind of like you do home glucose monitoring, a quick poke of the finger and a drop of the blood on a piece of paper, not only to me is a little bit easier and also tends to give you a result that is more stable and robust from getting DNA from the actual blood.
Ben: And I’ve got thousands of white blood cells in just one drop of blood, so you’re able to take that and then analyze each of those and get an average telomere length based on that?
Jason: Yeah, and I won’t quote an exact number, I should get my scientist, but it’s tens of thousands. I mean, it’s a very large amount.
Ben: You’re scientist? I wish I had my own scientist to follow me around, give me information like that. Pull him out of the back pocket, my pet scientist. Okay, so when I get this test done, I’ve got my results back here, and obviously like I eluded to earlier, I am older biologically, than I actually am chronologically based on my average telomere length. Now, my first question for you before we delve into some of the things that you guys have found, ’cause on this PDF and the document that you sent over to me, I’ve got some recommendations from you. But before we delve into that, how long does it take to actually see these things change, I mean I think you mentioned that you did how many months of exercise to drop from 34 down to 27?
Jason: Eight months.
Ben: Okay, so you saw some pretty quick results in eight months, is that generally be halved on test, like every half year or is it every year or what kind of a decent time to wait before repeating a test if I start to implement some of the things that can defy aging?
Jason: Yeah, and that again, I have my scientist who calls me around, and I’ve asked them those questions. We give a suggestion for that, and we say that you should wait three to six months before retesting. The reason that we give that is because there are some data that have shown that lifestyle interventions in as little as three months can actually make you have changes in telomere length, so that’s why we give that, a number. I’ve spoken to some of our scientists who say that you can see some fluctuations in the shorter term, but I think most of the scientific data suggest perhaps wait a little longer, and I think that’s a better timeframe. So that’s what we suggest.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. Alright let’s get into the good stuff here. Let’s say that you were in my shoes. I know that you’re not a physician, this isn’t necessarily medical advice that you’re dispensing, but in your guy’s experience over at TeloYears, what have you found to give people the most bang for their buck when it comes to decrease in the rate at which telomeres shorten? I know it’s a loaded question, and that will probably a rabbit hole a little bit, but I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this.
Jason: Yeah, so we provide with our teloyears results a thing that we call The TeloYears Blueprint for Aging Well, and it’s a document that we painstakingly poured over the decades of literature, and carefully scientifically annotated a variety of things that we broke out into about four or five categories that we think are useful. And those categories generally are things related to diet, exercise, stress and sleep for the first big four. So maybe I’ll address them sort of in that order.
Up front, there’s very good literature that suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet that is plant-rich, low in sugar, lots of healthy oils, nuts, etcetera, has been shown in research to be good for telomere length, and there’s science on that, studies that you can find to look that up.
Ben: Now I’ve seen the same thing, but Jason, to play devil’s advocate, you see people following the Mediterranean diet in the States, and they’re face-stuffing with avocados and drenching everything in olive oil and I do the same. I think that that type of practice is great, but you also see in a traditional Mediterranean diet if you were to be in the Mediterranean, two other things. You see a lot of fasting, like my dad follows a traditional Mediterranean diet and he’ll come over some times, and he’ll just be like yeah, haven’t eaten in a week. Or that or he hasn’t eaten meat in a week, right? He’s on some kind of a protein-sparing diet, so it’s almost like they have these periods of fasting and feasting. Now here in the US it seems like a lot of people follow the Mediterranean diet but leave out that part about fasting. Do you think that’s an important component, or do you think that just doing the olive oil and the avocadoes and the fresh tomatoes, etcetera is enough?
Jason: Well I think if I got more specific about diet, I mean I think that there is some data. I would have to search, but I think that there is some data that published, and if again you go to PubMed and you type in “Telomere Length and Fasting”, you will find some publications. I just did that real quickly now in the background to take a look. But the thing that I’d try to educate people on around diet is what I call oxidative stress, and so let me define that. I mean what oxidative stress is, it is the imbalance of free radicals floating around in your bloodstream and with antioxidants which remove those free radicals, there are certain foods that tend to be the types of foods that are antioxidant based, that help keep your oxidative stress in balance. There’s a decent amount of literature, I think, that exists in that field. So without commenting specifically on the Mediterranean diet exactly, whether you should just eat avocados or eat oils or whether you should fast. I mean, that’s kind of where it started. Try to understand mechanistically what’s happening, and then think about how to build your diet from there if that makes sense.
Ben: Okay, got it. But what about intermittent fasting? Have you guys seen or have you looked at at all the effects of fasting versus not fasting or people who engage in any amount of calorie restriction versus those who don’t when it comes specifically to telomere length?
Jason: No, we have not, we have not produced or looked at any particular studies that we’ve said, what is the effect of fasting on telomere length? But I would encourage people to go to pubmed.com, research and take a look at “Telomere Length and Fasting”, and look at some of the papers that are out there.
Ben: Okay, got it.
[Quick Commercial Break]
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Ben: Another question regarding diet would be this concept of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. You’ll see this a lot in the anti-aging community too that like if you have, there’s like a sweet spot with growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor where if you’re doing too much dairy, too much food, too many anabolic things, not enough caloric restriction, et cetera, you would get to a point where excessive growth hormone or excessive insulin-like growth factor might actually have an accelerated aging effect. Do you take that into consideration at all? Things like growth hormone, instant growth factor, and excessive consumption of dairy, things along those lines?
Jason: Uhm. Well, there is evidence in the literature that hormones might regulate the enzyme gamma rays in its activity, and so there have been studies that I have seen where they have looked at that. I’m not saying it’s a good thing to necessarily engage in, but there is a relationship in the literature between those things.
Ben: Yeah, I’ve always thought it was interesting, kind of confusing because you see many of these anti-aging clinics that’ll give growth hormone therapy, right? Like you’ll do growth hormone injection with an insulin syringe before you go to bed at night, and it’s regularly injected with these supposed rejuvenating properties, but that’s exactly the opposite of what you’ll see. I know there was, I think it was the American Anti-Aging Association, and there was this guy who is the recipient of what they call the Methuselah Prize, which I guess is an award given to people who are in aging research, and this gentleman with the American Aging Association, I think what he was doing was he was suppressing the growth hormone receptors in mice and finding that mice were living like twice as long as usual when you reduce growth hormone, and you reduce specifically insulin-like growth factor, and then you see the exact opposite done in some people who will get growth hormone injections for their repairing and recovering properties. I mean my take on this is that you have to find the sweet spot between anabolism and catabolism, between fasting and feasting, but I think it’s interesting that it seems like both seem to have some type of beneficial effect to some extent.
Jason: Yeah. I mean I guess our take on it is that we are providing with TeloYears the yard stick for measuring the impact of various lifestyle interventions on your body. The things that we provide are, that we suggest are mostly lifestyle modification types of things and what the science says about them. When you get into something like whether or not to take growth hormones or other kinds of drugs, that’s really something you should talk to your doctor about and something that’s really beyond the depth of something that I’m able to talk about in general.
Ben: Yeah, talk to your doctor or your pocket scientist about that. So you’re measuring white blood cells by the way, and this got me thinking, and we’ll get back on the nutrition bandwagon in just a second, but it got me thinking about white blood cells in general and how they seem to be very responsive to immune system reactions and also inflammation, and when you’re measuring just white blood cells, do you think that in an athlete who’s experiencing a lot more inflammation, who’s eating a higher number of calories and potentially getting some of the potential for autoimmune issues or immune system issues related to a lot of calorie consumption combined with inflammation that white blood cell telomere length, or measuring the average white blood cell telomere length, might not give you as big a picture when it comes to their actual age compared to measuring all the other telomeres in all the other tissues, or have you looked into specifically, like an athletic or a very active population with respect to which part of the telomeres you measure?
Jason: Well I think it does matter, the benchmark of who you compare people to. I mean what we use, our benchmark is the typical, average, not unhealthy US population as our control. I think it could matter when you get into especially high-performance athletes, professional athletes. I mean there might be a different way of framing how you think about it, so I think it’s worth considering in testing, but no we haven’t really looked at high-performance athletes and how their telomere length does or doesn’t change. I mean we are, maybe I’ll just make a comment about biomarker like telomere length in general as you want to say hey, for a specific population, what’s that mean?
Telomere length is a surrogate marker, and what that means is that it’s a biomarker that actually helps you know something that it predicts some kind of risk that comes down to pike in the future. And any kind of health marker that is looking at future risk, it does not do so perfectly. I mean, none of them do. Your cholesterol level doesn’t do that, your body mass index, obesity, your blood pressure, none of those are perfect predictors of future, but what they are is they do it powerfully, right? And there is data that exists that suggests that telomere length is an independent predictor of, for example, cardiovascular disease risk, and there are meta-analyses published about a year or so ago in the British Medical Journal that looked at the meta-analysis of something like 43,000 subjects that concluded that telomere length independently associated negatively with cardiovascular risk outcomes, independent of conventional vascular risk factors. Now does that mean if you have short telomeres, you are definitively going to have a heart attack whether you’re a high performance athlete or not? No, but what it does, like other biomarkers, is it suggests that you are at increased risk, so an analogy would be smoking. If you smoke, you are at increased risk of lung cancer. Now there are some people who will smoke and say hey, my dad lived to 73, and he didn’t get lung cancer after smoking. And I’d say well, some people have that, but you cannot deny the fact that these biomarkers are predictive of future risk.
Jason: The way that I try to ratchet that up to a populational health care, kind of discussion, is in the United States at least, the way that the health care system is set up today, by and large is a curative care system. It waits until something is broken, or until you have a disease, to go into the hospital and to fix the problem. And I think that most reasonable people can agree that it would be better to try to prevent some of these problems than to wait until they occur, and then address them, right? And that, I think this evolving shift in mindset that’s happening from curative sick care to preventive and personalized health care, and doing that takes a bit of a courageous leap to start and deal with future probabilities of risks, but what I think tests like ours do, regardless of the subset of the population is it puts you in control of those lifestyle risks. It gives you knowledge that you can then act on, before it’s too late, to make some modifications to your lifestyle, to help address and manage those risks. Because if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and you can’t control it, and that’s what we’re trying to do at TeloYears.
Ben: Yeah, I think the interesting thing too is I monitor pretty frequently, my blood glucose, and also my hemoglobin A1c. I’m not one of those guys who wears, they have these Dexcom G5 blood glucose monitor that will monitor your glucose. I don’t do that frankly because when I’m out doing a Spartan race and churning through the mud, those under-the-skin glucose monitors don’t hold up too well unfortunately, but just doing blood measurements, postprandial fasting when I wake up in the morning for my blood glucose, and then when I get lab tests, I pay attention to this value called hemoglobin A1c which is like a 3-month snapshot of your sugar levels. I do that not only because I’ve done 23andme genetic testing, and that’s revealed that I have a higher than normal risk for Type-II diabetes, but I also pay attention to guys like Peter Attia, for example. Are you familiar with Peter at all?
Jason: No, I’m not.
Ben: Okay, he’s a great blogger. He’s got a website called waroninsulin.com, and he’s very involved in kind of like the anti-aging sector, and the two variables that he recommends paying the most attention to when it comes to accelerated aging or risk of disease or death is your actual blood glucose value, your fasted blood glucose value, and whether or not your blood glucose is kind of staying stable throughout the day. Meaning that a) your fasted glucose should be low, but b) you should also not be getting frequent spikes from that number throughout the day like after you eat a meal, if your postprandial blood glucose is hanging out at over a hundred and twenty two hours later, that’s a good sign that you’re probably accelerating aging.
I think the interesting thing is that this white blood cell test that you guys are doing, I do know that white blood cells are very sensitive to the inflammation that can be caused by excessive fluctuations in blood glucose, so this is almost like a little bit of a corollary, getting your telomeres tested and your white blood cells tested, specifically to your blood glucose levels. Kind of a long train of thought there, but ultimately what I would expect to see if I’m able to control my blood glucose fluctuations and control my postprandial blood glucose and control my inflammation, my white blood cell telomere length should change accordingly I would imagine. We’ll find out when I retest.
So anyways though, we kind of took a little bit of a rabbit hole there but you talked about the Mediterranean diet. You also said that there were three other factors that I think in addition to diet that you mentioned.
Jason: Yeah. Well the second one was exercise, and we touched on that a little bit earlier, but the data suggests that about three times a week of moderate, not overly severe exercise which means get your heart rate up for at least 45 or so, 30 to 45 minutes, at least two or three times a week, has been shown to associate with getting people fit. Now these are standard recommendations that people hear, and you kind of made the point before of excessive exercise can actually start to take a toll on the body and on your cellular reserve. The ones that get more interesting I think maybe is in the area of sleep, and a lot of people say well geez, what’s to say about sleep? Try to get eight hours a day, but cut out in our blueprint for aging well not just what you should do in terms of how many hours of sleep, but there’s a certain type of sleep hygiene that I think that’s actually something that people can learn about and observe.
I mean, in the days of having TVs and laptops and computers in your room. You wind up doing things that may affect your sleep and your sleep cycles that could potentially not be as good, and so it’s a way to show not just a respect for your sleep and not just the hours, but sort of the environment of how you get sleep. And then, I think that’s an interesting area, and then I think the last thing that people somehow ask about is how about genetics? What does it mean, and there is a genetic component of telomere length and there is an environmental component of telomere length. And so pollution, various other types of environmental exposures can impact telomere length, and you know, I have anecdotally seen some people who get fairly surprising negative results, and they come to learn that they have been ingesting excessive mercury or they’ve been doing something they didn’t know that the test has really provided a benefit for them.
Ben: It’s really interesting. I just finished an excellent book. One of the better books I’ve read recently on cancer. My voice is going to fade as I strain my neck here to look at my bookshelf to tell you the title of this book. One moment. It is called “The Metabolic Approach to Cancer”, and interestingly three of the biggest variables that seem to affect specifically the potential for cancer cell growth or a few of the things that you mentioned, lack of sleep, pollution and metals. They talk about all three of those in this book, and it’s interesting that these seem to be things that affects telomeres as well. Now there are actual studies, I want to get exercise here in a second, but to touch on the sleep and the pollution component. Are there actual studies that show air pollution exposure can affect telomere length?
Jason: I’m sure that there are. I mean, there’s such an extensive body of literature that I’m sure if you searched it that you would find it.
Ben: Okay, got it. And is there any proposal as to like the mechanism of action for that? Would it just be inflammation and oxidative stress or something else that would affect the cells from something like that?
Jason: Yeah, to be honest, I don’t know. I mean I’m not familiar enough with that actual body of research. I’m sure it stems back to the mechanisms action perhaps of oxidative stress or something that impacts how cells are in some way unable to reproduce normally.
Ben: Well, here. There’s one study on PubMed, it’s entitled “Long Term Ambient Particle Exposures and Blood DNA Methylation”, and that looks like actual exposure for some of the particulates from pollution affects actual methylation, or an inability to methylate DNA, which of course would cause excessive DNA damage or a limit of DNA to be able to repair. When you limit DNAs ability to repair, Jason, does that increase the rate at which telomere shorten?
Jason: Well, I think it can certainly. I mean, I think as I’m looking at PubMed now, and I see studies right away that say long term exposure to air pollution is associated with biological aging. I mean, it’s not difficult to find studies that do and report exactly on that.
Ben: Gotcha, and when you see that term biological aging, if we see that in press releases and stuff, are they referring to telomeres?
Jason: I’m sure not always but generally that is what its referring to, and you can, you know, what I generally do is I find a study, I look at the abstract, I scan down to the results section and I for the conclusions that this study draws, and you can then go back and then analyze whether it’s a good study or a bad study who founded it. I mean there are so many anti-age found-it studies that are actively looking at these types of questions even, I’m not putting myself out as the head scientist who is perfectly knowledgeable of this field of knowledge. What I know is that there is a large and extensively studied and published body of scientific literature that sports lengths between telomere length and a variety of these things. And we think it’s useful as a biomarker, and frankly that’s why I think some of the most credible institutions in the United States are already using telomere length as something that is worthwhile measuring in their populations.
Ben: Yeah, I actually read the Journal Sleep quite a bit and what you said about sleep. I know you mentioned pollution and the loneliness of your environment, and you mentioned exercise and also the diet, but in the Journal Sleep, there’s quite a bit of talk in there about body repair, and I’ve seen several studies in there about the relationship between sleep and telomere length, and one of the most interesting things that I’ve taken away from that is the past several years has been even that sleep temperature seems to have an effect on that. Meaning, the lower your body temperature can drop as you sleep, the more efficient the DNA repair mechanisms become as you sleep. And so I go as far as to monitor my heart rate. I wear this little ring called an OURA. It monitors my heart rate while I’m asleep, and if my heart rate is normally at, let’s say 38 when I sleep at my normal room temperature which is 65 degrees, and I even have one of these things now called a Chilipad that makes the mattress cooler while I sleep and I can control with my little remote.
My wife can control her side with her remote in case she doesn’t want to sleep at the frigid temperatures that I sleep at, but what I found is that everything from like my deep sleep levels, and my REM sleep, and my sleep latency and all these important sleep variables, they are far better when I’m colder, when I sleep and when my heart rate during any given night is lower, and then the other thing that I look at is you can look at what point during the night your heart rate achieves its lowest point. And if it occurs late in the night, like 4 AM or 5 AM, that’s a sign that you’re sleeping hot versus if it occurs at 1 AM or 2 AM. So heart rate during the night and then the cooling effect of sleep seems to be pretty heavily correlated to this DNA repair and to this decreased rate of which telomeres shorten that sleep can offer you, which I think is really interesting.
Jason: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting too. I mean, that the things that you’re pointing out are just an example of this burgeoning health trend that people have an active desire to actively monitor their fitness and health regimens, and there’s more tools out there now than ever before, and telomere length measurement with TeloYears, I think is a great way of seeing this cumulative, overall effect that a variety of these things have on you at the level of DNA in a way that it can be then actionable to take some alternate steps and see how it changes.
Ben: Yeah, and coming full circle to what you describe which is actually shocking to me, I didn’t know this before we got into the call that it dropped from 44, and it showed you at 34, and you did this eight months of physical training, and you dropped down to 27. When you guys sent me the recommendations in the PDF, one of the things that I respected about that was it actually said hey, excessive physical exercise, chronic endurance exercise, et cetera, that can actually increase the rate at which these telomeres shorten, and there was an article that I actually wrote on my website called “Anti-Aging Secrets of Some of the Fittest Old People”, and when you look at the practices of some of these old guys like Don Wildman and I guess Laird Hamilton isn’t old, but I’ve got him in there and Mark Sisson and some of these other folks.
What I highlight in there is not only the frequency and the attentiveness that most of these folks give to long term weight training but also some of the studies out there that show the positive effects of strength training on telomere length in human skeletal muscles, and not mice or rats or anything like that, but in humans, it’s been shown that one of the most powerful things that you can do is strength training, and on the flip side one of the most deleterious things that you can do is long term chronic cardio endurance type of training, versus like heavy lifting and sprinting. So I’m curious too about your own protocol here where you’ve trained for eight months, you dropped from 34 down to 27. What were you doing as far as sets and reps? Were you going super heavy, where you kind of in a 12 to 20 rep range? What’s your protocol look like?
Jason: My personal protocol, like I said, I’m not the world’s fittest guy, but I started with, I would generally go in to the gym. I would start with some kind of warm-up on a bike, maybe 10 to 15 minutes. I would them go to maybe an elliptical for 10 to 15 minutes. I would then go through a series of various sort of isometric kinda exercises, stretching, getting loose. The kind of stuff when I go to the baseball game, I see baseball players doing before the game, you know that kind of stuff. I would do some stuff with weights then, maybe three reps of 12 doing some dumbbell squats, various other things like that, and then generally at the end I would try to save about, if I had gas left in the tank, maybe 12 minutes, running on the treadmill. I mean, nothing more complicated than that, but like I said, I did not come into it with really much of a basis for great physical fitness, and I was just trying to get my heart rate up and get back on track. You know, not be a peak performance athlete by any means, but just to get myself moving. The thing when you point out about athletes who really, and I know some of these guys, who do these hundred-mile marathons around where I live.
Ben: You’re talking to one of them.
Jason: What I wonder is what impact those activities have on the category that I kind of save for last which is stress. Okay like, what is it doing in terms of giving you heavy loads of chronic stress in the short term somehow in your body? I don’t know what that is, but there is a lot of data that increasingly links stress and the perception of stress and how one handles stress with impact on telomere length. And if you looked at our website and clicked on the blog, one of our scientists, Dr. Xu Lin, wrote a blog post about stress in telomere length, and she has published extensively on this.
The other thing that I’d say is there is a new book that came out in January by two of our co-founders. One of whom had won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and in the field of Tumor Biology, and the book was titled “The Telomere Effect”, and it talks a lot about stress and impact on your telomere length. So again, not trying myself to be the expert, just the conduit to direct people to expertise if I can. I think it’s a fascinating field, and what we’re dedicated to at TeloYears is we want to help develop the field. We want to promulgate this relatively new knowledge to people because I think when people take a look and start to find out about the growing and dynamic field of telomere science, they can’t help but start to say wow. I mean this is a biomarker that is worth measuring. It is something that’s already being used, and I for one believe that if this had been 30 years ago and the reimbursement environment was different in the United States, telomere length would probably already be a routinely, reimbursed measure that doctors would order as part of the typical cardiovascular workout, and I think in the future, every time a doctor orders HDL and LDL on somebody, they’re probably at some point going to order ATL, this Average Telomere Length that I talked about.
Ben: Well they didn’t need to order if you can just order to your own house, and have it done yourself, right? I guess people that are covered by insurance.
Jason: If you want to cover by insurance, that’s exactly right, and I think that ties to my point about trying to make a mental shift from sick care to preventative, personalized wellness care that really tries to prevent disease. I think that a lot of people, that resonates with a lot of people right now, and hopefully TeloYears can be one of the tools in the arsenal that helps people do that, and then all these interventions we’re talking about, by and large with TeloYears, we make suggestions, but we try to remain neutral. I mean what we are doing is we are selling the yardstick, and the interventions are really up to the individual, and we’re committed to providing an accurate, robust, scientific and understandable way of knowing what your telomere length is, how it compares and how it can change over time.
Ben: Yeah, and by the way, the back part if we’re just second on the exercise component, that study I was eluding to about the effect of strength training on telomere length, what they specifically looked at ’cause I was able to find that, and I’ll link to this in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest for those of you who want to look at this one. They found that telomere length was inversely correlated to specifically, when they compared power lifters to the general population, your squat strength and your deadlift strength. And so if there’s any take away from there, if you were going to focus on a couple of exercises and you’re going to do heavy, low-rep exercises to help you to age a little bit more gracefully, it would be like heavy loads placed on the body with a squat and a deadlift, and I’m right now working on an article with another guy about all these different barbell complexes that you can do with just a single barbell that allow you to use some of the same type of protocols. So I’ll publish that soon for those of you listening in over at the website, but in the meantime, do more strength training and pound the pavement less.
With the caveat that if you, and I guess you guys probably run into this sometimes Jason, it’s like who wants to live a long time if you’re constantly cold and skinny and fasted, right? It’s like if it makes you happy to cross the finish line of an Ironman triathlon or if you find great joy in running for three hours down a forest trail, I think that there’s some benefit to be found in just like the balance of happiness versus accelerated aging, right? As long as you’re not living too hedonistic of a lifestyle?
Jason: Yeah, there’s absolutely a balance, and sometimes people say to me well, look, what problem are you trying to solve with TeloYears? And I feel like we’re engaging with one of humankind’s, frankly oldest and biggest problems. We’re trying to help people who want to put more years in their life and more life in their years. It’s not just one or the other, so I think that balance is absolutely key, and living longer healthier and feeling younger longer I think is important to a lot of people.
Ben: And the test itself is not, I don’t remember, how much is it?
Jason: The test is eighty-nine dollars.
Ben: Yeah, so it’s a lot cheaper than like 23andMe genetic testing. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.
Jason: We have tried to offer the test at an affordable price. We recognize that 89 can, for many still not be an affordable price, but we think it’s a fair price for what we offer because we want to make broad-based, telomere length testing available and broadly available. You know, some people say hey, how do I get a discount on this and that. We tend to not offer discounts, we tend to say we have tried the best we can to put an honest fair price forward, to make this broadly accessible to people, and that’s been our pricing philosophy.
Ben: Yeah, I think it’s fair. I mean I got a lot out of the test, even in the blueprint that you guys sent over. I like to think that I know a little bit about aging and keep my nose into literature somewhat, but I learned some things from that, and I’ll put my result in the show notes for those of you listening in if you want to see what sample results look like, and I’ll also put links to the other stuff that Jason and I talked about like some of the books that we mentioned like “The Telomere Effect” and “The Metabolic Approach to Cancer” and few of the other articles and studies that we went over in today’s show. But in the meantime, you can access all of those over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest. If you don’t know how to spell telomere, what’s wrong with you? We’ve said it like a billion times already, but it’s TELOMERE, telomere test, bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest, and then Jason, I’m not sure if you’re going to be like Benjamin Button the next time I talk to you on like a small child, unable to form words. If that is the case, you’ll probably never be on the podcast again. But in the meantime, it seems like you’re doing things pretty right. You should probably just stop by the time you get to a biological age of 15, just so you don’t have to go through reverse puberty again.
Jason: I don’t expect it to go on you, or in fact I kind of fell of a wagon a little bit like a lot of people do.
Ben: I’m personally kind of obsessed with my dad, and now I want to go back and retest after I tried out a whole bunch of the things that you guys recommended to me.
Jason: Yeah, I think that the type of person who is intrigued and interested in this field, I think appreciates what we put forth up there, and we’re dedicated to putting up, like you said in the result, what we quote in the blueprint that comes with it, we want to talk about the best uses and the limitations of the test, and we try to put that out there, and we hope to continue to invest in it over time.
Ben: Awesome, got it. Well, we will link to all this stuff, and you can check out the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/telomeretest. Jason, thanks for coming on the show, and sharing this stuff with us. My geeked out mind thinks it’s pretty cool, so thanks for coming on, man.
Jason: Thanks for having me on, Ben. I enjoyed it.
Ben: Alright, folks. Well until next time, I’m Ben Greenfield along with Jason Shelton from TeloYears, signing out. Have a healthy and extremely long lived week.
Recently, I had my telomeres tested by the company “TeloYears“, which offers a simple and surprisingly affordable in-home genetic test that reveals the cellular age encoded in your DNA, specifically by using something called a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay.
Teloyears measure your average telomere length by analyzing the DNA found in the many thousands of white blood cells (leukocytes) in just one drop of blood. Then, they enter your data into a mathematical model they derived from measuring telomere length at the population level to calculate your biological age in TeloYears, or the actual age of a typical man or woman whose telomere length is similar to yours.
So, for example, my chronological age is 34, but my biological age (I was shocked) was far different. You find out what it was in today’s podcast with my guest Jason Shelton.
Jason Shelton joined Telomere Diagnostics in 2014 with nearly two decades of start-up, medical device, and consumer healthcare experience. Most recently, Jason was CEO of EarLens Corporation where he led the company’s efforts in product development, regulatory affairs, and operational milestones. Prior to joining EarLens, he served as Vice President of Marketing, Health Policy, and Clinical Affairs for Sonitus Medical, a medical device company marketing the SoundBite™ Hearing System. While at Sonitus he helped achieve critical milestones including product design, development, clinical trials, FDA clearance, reimbursement, and commercial launch in the US and Europe. Jason also held leadership positions at BioForm Medical, Align Technology, and SmithKline Beecham, Inc. (now GlaxoSmithKline). Jason received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from The Ohio State University and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-What telomeres are and why they are so important when it comes to anti-aging and longevity…[14:40]
-The results of the fascinating NASA twin study on astronauts on telomere length…[18:45]
-Why different people of different ages and populations have different telomere lengths…[22:05]
-How you can find out your age in “Teloyears” based on a single drop of blood that analyzes your white blood cells…[24:30]
-How often to repeat a telomere test to see if what you are doing is actually working…[31:05]
-How a “popular” Westernized version of a Mediterranean diet may be flawed when it comes to anti-aging effect…[33:00]
-The best kind of exercise to do if you want to decrease the rate at which your telomeres shorten…[49:40 & 64:00]
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
-Book: The Telomere Effect