A woman’s DNA may be responsible for a woman’s longevity. According to statistics in the United States, women live an average of 4.9 years longer than men.
Researchers have now discovered the reason for the difference in life expectancy between men and women, and it has to do with DNA called telomeres (endcaps of DNA strands that protect chromosomes). Study have found that women possess better telomeric health compared to men.
In females, telomeres are longer from birth than men. Telomeres are extremely important to healthy longevity, according to researchers. When telomeres are worn away, it causes the DNA to be damaged, and a damaged DNA is shorter, a shorter DNA cuts years off your longevity.
Though scientists are yet to ascertain what exactly maintains a woman’s telomeres.
The research was carried out by Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher and professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. It was presented at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting in San Diego. research she’s conducted to understand why women might have a better chance at a long life from a cellular level.
Her research examines the effects of sex hormones and estrogen on telomere health, and the influence of reproductive health and mental health.
How Estrogen Protects Health
Estrogen helps rids bad cholesterol (LDL) from the body, meaning it may help against cardiovascular disease and other diseases related to cholesterol.
Dr. JoAnn V. Pinkerton, NCMP, executive director of NAMS, says estrogen also enhances good cholesterol (HDL), and dilates, smooth, and reduces blood vessels, which can cause increased blood flow.
According to Epel’s presentation, her study reveal estrogen may also protect the telomeres.
In a statement for NAMS, Epel said;
“Some experimental studies suggest estrogen exposure increases the activity of telomerase, the enzyme that can protect and elongate telomeres.”
Pinkerton said estrogen also acts as an antioxidant. Where free radicals can damage DNA, including telomeres, estrogen acts as a barrier, protecting the delicate DNA strands from wearing off.
However, estrogen cannot always guard telomeres from damage. Telomeres can lose length because of stress and chronic or psychological adversity, such as abuse. Old age adds additional stress to the body and DNA, which can decrease telomeric length.
According to Pinkerton;
“With age, sometimes telomeres can’t protect chromosomes properly and then the cells aren’t replenished and don’t function well which can lead to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and weakening of the immune system.”
Epel’s research is not enough for doctors to begin prescribing estrogen as a life extender, or even to prevent heart disease.
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“Estrogen in postmenopausal hormone therapy appears to have mixed effects on the heart. The largest randomized, controlled trial to date, the Women’s Health Initiative, found a small increase in heart disease in women taking both an estrogen and a progestin, but this was primarily in women over age 60, or more than 10 years from menopause,” Pinkerton says. “Estrogen alone showed a decrease in heart disease for women close to menopause, but due to other potential risks, estrogen therapy is recommended for relief of menopausal symptoms or in women at higher risk of fracture, but not to prevent heart disease.”
Pinkerton however added that the results are encouraging.
“The most promising area of testing for telomerase therapy is in regeneration and possibly rejuvenation,” she says, “but more science is needed on benefits and harms.”
How to Improve Telomeric Health
Pinkerton says the best ways to boost telomerase and perhaps gain back some of the lost telomeric length is to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy (Mediterranean diet), manage stress, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly.
Pinkerton said there are treatment to rebuild or lengthen telomeres, such as taking telomerase. But there is a risk attached to it. The downside is cancer cells use the telomerase also, and scientists are apprehensive that enhancing telomerase may cause cancer.
Pinkerton added that there are available tests for people who are interested to know the length of their own telomeres.
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