Estrogen: The Telomere Anti-aging Hero
What are the causes of aging and disease? The nitty gritty causes of aging are systemic inflammation, telomere shortening, mitochondrial impairment, and an accelerated epigenetic clock. Today we’re going to talk about telomeres.
Telomeres are the caps at the end of our chromosomes that provide protection for our DNA. The longer the telomeres, the healthier our cells. Similar to the way the plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces prevent laces from becoming unraveled, telomeres prevent our DNA from becoming unraveled. Our cells will stop dividing and replicating if the telomeres become too short. Telomeres are sensitive to oxidative stress and are predictors of most diseases that come with aging. Longer telomeres also predict a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. 1
The average lifespan for a man is 78 years and for a woman is 83 years. Females are born with longer telomeres, which are on average 8 years “longer” by telomeric aging. 2 Estrogen may play a role in this beneficial characteristic because it is an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory and therefore plays a protective role for telomeres and mitochondria. Estradiol (one form of estrogen) and testosterone also increase the activity of telomerase, the repair enzyme that helps to rebuild and lengthen the protective telomeres. Research shows that the later a woman’s menopause, the longer her telomeres -- indicating that the longer a woman has been exposed to estrogen, the longer her telomeres will be. (Read more about The Estrogen Window in our last blog post here.)
How can I lengthen my telomeres (extend my health span)?
- Eat whole foods – lots of vegetables and fruit, and give your liver a break by limiting sugar and alcohol.
- Get at least 6 hours of good quality sleep per night
- Exercise. High intensity interval training seems to be the best for telomeres, but any movement is good. 3
- Avoid stress. OK, so I know this is another “duh” moment. And of course we often have no control over stressors thrown at us, but…. We can at least try to manage our reactions to stress by utilizing tools such as rest, meditation, good sleep, regular exercise, and avoidance of media or triggers that hurt our hearts.
- Nurture your social network. Research shows that adults over the age of 65 have longer telomeres when they have good solid social support systems. 4 We also know that loneliness is as harmful to our health as smoking.
- Avoid hormone disruptors found in BPA (bisphenol A) and plastics which lessen the biologic advantage women have from estrogen. Plastics that mimic and block estrogen receptors prevent estrogen from protecting the telomere. 5
Hopefully you'll take some time to thank your telomeres and think about how you can help them stay strong and healthy, whether that includes supplementing your estrogen levels or not.
Dr. Leslie Meserve
Chief Medical Officer, CurieMD
- Forero DA, González-Giraldo Y, López-Quintero C, Castro-Vega LJ, Barreto GE, Perry G. Meta-analysis of Telomere Length in Alzheimer’s Disease. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2016;71(8):1069–73.
- Needham BL, Diez Roux AV, Bird CE, et al. A test of biological and behavioral explanations for gender differences in telomere length: the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Biodemography Soc Biol 2014;60(2):156–73.
- Tucker PS, Scanlan AT, Vella RK, Dalbo VJ. Genomic Integrity Is Favourably Affected by High-Intensity Interval Training in an Animal Model of Early-Stage Chronic Kidney Disease. Sports Med Open 2015;2:28.
- Carroll JE, Diez Roux AV, Fitzpatrick AL, Seeman T. Low social support is associated with shorter leukocyte telomere length in late life: multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Psychosom Med 2013;75(2):171–7.
- Awada Z, Sleiman F, Mailhac A, Mouneimne Y, Tamim H, Zgheib NK. BPA exposure is associated with non-monotonic alteration in ESR1 promoter methylation in peripheral blood of men and shorter relative telomere length in peripheral blood of women. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 2019;29(1):118–28.
- Lecture by Dr. Elissa Epel, co-author of The Telomere Effect at NAMS Annual Meeting October 2018.