biologist Elizabeth Blackburn shared a Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres -- structures at the tips of chromosomes2
that play a key role in cellular3
aging. But she was frustrated4
that important health implications of her work weren't reaching beyond academia.
So along with psychologist Elissa Epel, she has published her findings in a new book aimed at a general audience -- laying out a scientific case that may give readers motivation to keep their new year's resolutions to not smoke, eat well, sleep enough, exercise regularly, and cut down on stress.
The main message of "The Telomere Effect," being published Tuesday, is that you have more control over your own aging than you may imagine. You can actually lengthen5
your telomeres -- and perhaps your life -- by following sound health advice, the authors argue, based on a review of thousands of studies.
"Telomeres listen to you, they listen to your behaviors, they listen to your state of mind," said Blackburn, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.
Telomeres sit at the end of strands6
, like the protective caps on shoelaces. Stress from a rough lifestyle will shorten those caps, making it more likely that cells will stop dividing and essentially8
Too many of these senescent cells accelerates human aging, the pair say. This doesn't cause any particular disease, but research suggests that it hastens the time when whatever your genes9
have in store will occur -- so if you're vulnerable to heart disease, you're more likely to get it younger if your telomeres are shorter, said Epel, director of the University of California, San Francisco's Aging, Metabolism10
and Emotions Center.
"We can provide a new level of specificity and tell people more precisely11
with clues emerging from telomere science, what exactly about exercise is related to long telomeres, what exact foods are related to long telomeres, what aspects of sleep are more related to long telomeres," Epel added.
Other researchers in the field praised Blackburn and Epel's efforts to make telomere research relevant to the general public, though several warned that it risked oversimplifying the science.
"I think it's a very difficult thing to prove conclusively12
" that lifestyle can affect telomere length and therefore lifespan, said Harvard geneticist and anti-aging researcher David Sinclair. "To get cause-effect in humans is impossible, so it's based on associations."