For centuries people have searched for the secret to longevity. Why do some people live a longer life than others? How is it that some people look and feel a lot younger than their age? Though some may say it is due to chance and good genes, the secret may lie in telomeres, their length and their configuration on chromosomes.
Telomeres are stretches of DNA found on the tip of chromosomes that protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold the secret to how we age and why we get cancer. These important endcaps prevent the chromosome from fraying and fusing together thereby keeping genetic information intact and preventing the scrambling of data. Each time a cell divides (which can be 50 -70 times in our lifetime) telomeres get shorter until they eventually can no longer offer protection resulting in an inactive or dead cell. Studies have determined that telomere length influences health and longevity and that there is a direct link between short telomeres and Alzheimer’s, hardening of arteries, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Whereas an infant has much longer telomeres than an adult, there are factors other than age that can reduce their length. These include: childhood trauma, sexual abuse, chronic and oxidative stress, alcohol, smoking, obesity and inflammation. Telomeres only shorten in tissues where cells divide continuously such as skin, muscle, blood, and those in most internal organs as well as cancerous cells. Compromised telomeres can cause chromosomes to fuse, resulting in genetic instability that leads to cancer.
Cancerous cells divide prolifically and though telomeres do get shorter as a result, the cells do not seem to die. This is because an enzyme called telomerase, whose function is to maintain the length of the telomeres, is activated. Scientists believe that finding a way to inhibit telomerase activity in cancerous cells would restrict the replication of these tumorous cells and eventually kill them off.
Several varieties of mushrooms have been studied for their ability to reduce telomerase activity in cancerous cells. These include: Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris), Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), and Wood ear (Auricularia auricula).
- Reishi – In a breast cancer study done in 2011, Reishi was shown to contain biological compounds that are cytotoxic to cancer cells while leaving non-cancerous cells intact. Separately, researchers concluded that Reishi could be a potential source of chemopreventive agents for bladder cancer due to its ability to suppress telomerase activity. Others believe that Reishi’s effectiveness in inhibiting telomerase activity is due to its ability to reduce damage from oxidative stress.
- Cordyceps – Lung cancer researchers determined that Cordyceps constrained telomerase activity in tumorous cells by decreasing a subunit of telomerase (hTERT). Another study involving Cordycepin isolated from Cordyceps, showed its ability to inactivate telomerase in Leukemia cells.
- Oyster Mushroom, Shiitake and Wood ear – Several studies involving these mushroom extracts concluded they all have cytotoxic effect on cancerous cells and a “strong positive telomerase inhibitory activity”.
With such promising anti-cancerous results, particularly as it relates to telomerase inhibition, mushrooms (both edible and medicinal) are of considerable importance to human health. Furthermore, mushrooms are one of the few food groups that naturally produce Vitamin D, one factor that can lengthen telomeres and thus extend life. (Other factors are Omega-3, Folic acid, meditation and exercise). Research shows that people with low concentrations of Vitamin D have 5 less years of life compared to those with sufficient levels.
Longer telomeres lead to longevity and telomerase inhibition destroys cancerous cells, two good reasons to continue to consume mushrooms for your health, wellness and a longer life.
Terrafunga does not offer medical advice. Readers should seek medical advice from a licensed physician or other qualified health care professional and not rely on information they may gather from secondary sources such as the internet.
Sources: learn.genetics.utah.edu, alive.com, Park, EP et al Food and Chemical Toxicology (2009), Journals of Medicine and Hygiene (2013), Liu, J et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013), Tuohimaa, P Journal of Steroid Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (2009), PubMed 21888505, 25282637, 24940901.