Gene expression is to the human body what computer codes are to programs. Genetics and epigenetics are the blueprints that make us who we are. These blueprints are both permanent (DNA) and under a constant state of revision (epigenetics). This genetic dance controls our physical appearance, our personality, our health — and even how long we live. Our DNA’s genes are contained in microscopic double-spiraled threads called chromosomes, and at the tips of these chromosomes are our telomeres — akin to the plastic tips on the ends of our shoelaces. The healthier our lifestyles are, the longer these protective telomeres are. And the more unhealthy we are, the shorter these protective telomeres get. Effectively, by looking at their length they can tell us how much life we have used and how much life remains inside of us.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn is the renowned biologist who won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of how the length of these telomeres is regulated. Her groundbreaking research revealed a biological indicator called telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes our telomeres and protects our genetic heritage. It’s Blackburn’s discovery that led to the first genetic indications of a fountain of youth hiding inside our DNA. If you’ve ever wondered why some sixty-year-olds look and feel like forty-year-olds and why some forty-year-olds look and feel like sixty-year-olds, the answer lies in our telomeres.
In one of their studies, for example, Blackburn and Epel write: “We review data linking telomere length to cognitive stress and stress arousal and present new data linking cognitive appraisal to telomere length. Given the pattern of associations revealed so far, we propose that some forms of meditation may have salutary effects on telomere length by reducing cognitive stress and stress arousal and increasing positive states of mind and hormonal factors that may promote telomere maintenance. Aspects of this model are currently being tested in ongoing trials of mindfulness meditation.”