Stay Thin and Stay Away From Cigarettes. They may speed up the aging of your cells.
An excellent anti-aging strategy may be staying thin and staying away from cigarettes, concluded new research.* Among more than 1,100 women studied, the white blood cells of those who were obese or smoked were “older” than those of normal-weight and nonsmoking women.
The age of a cell is indicated by the length of its telemores, which are the sequences of DNA strands at the tips of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telemores shorten, and the shorter the telemores, the older the cell, summarized the authors, a team of British and American scientists from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and the University of Medicine of New Jersey.
Among the 1,122 women ages 18 to 76 studied, telomere length fell steadily with age, as expected, the scientists found.
But further analysis showed that among the 119 women who were obese, telomeres were significantly shorter than lean women of the same age. “The difference between being lean and being obese corresponds to 8.8 years of aging,” concluded lead author A.M. Valdes, PhD, of St. Thomas Hospital. The team predicted, in effect, that the obese women would live on average nearly nine fewer years than normal-weight women of the same age.
“Our results,” reported Dr. Valdes and colleagues, “emphasize the pro-aging effects of obesity.”
Smoking was also linked with telomore length. Each year of smoking a daily pack of cigarettes was equivalent to an additional 18% of telomore length lost compared to women of the same age who did not smoke. Smoking a pack a day for 40 years corresponded to 7.4 years of aging.
“Our results emphasize the potential wide-ranging effects of the two most important preventable exposures in developed countries – cigarettes and obesity,” stated the authors.
“This new research is certainly consistent with previous studies indicating that smoking and/or obesity shorten life expectancy. That’s why obese people and smokers have to pay more for life insurance,” notes Jay Kenney, PhD, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center® & Spa in Aventura, Florida.
The good news
Research is finding that the flip side is true: People who do not carry excess weight tend to live longer – and more healthfully. The people, for example, with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world – and the highest percentage of centenarians (people who live to be 100 or more) – are the people of Okinawa, Japan. Their average BMI (body mass index) ranges from 18 to 22 (lean is less than 23).
After examining more than 600 Okinawan centenarians and numerous “youngsters” in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, researchers found that in addition to being lean and robust, they have 80% fewer heart attacks and 80% less breast cancer and prostate cancer than Americans. Their diet: a low-fat, high-fiber diet full of natural, unrefined carbohydrates (up to 20 servings daily). Daily foods include sweet potatoes, dark green vegetables, green peppers, a large variety of fresh fruit, tofu and other forms of soy, rice, noodles, and seafood rich in omega-3s.
* Lancet, published online June 14, 2005. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)66630-5
** Makoto Suziki, Bradley Willcox, and Craig Willcox. The Okinawa Program. Three Rivers Press: 2002.