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The human body continues to reveal the most incredible surprises. For example, just last week scientists announced the discovery of a brand new organ called the mesentery that has been hiding in our intestines all this time. And in June 2015 researchers announced the discovery of a network of lymphatic vessels in the central nervous system which had never been detected before. It’s findings like these which make science so exciting, and for these researchers it must feel as euphoric as explorers from centuries ago who discovered new islands and continents for the very first time.

For scientists it’s not only the discovery of new “hardware” within the human anatomy that is changing our understanding — it’s also the the discovery of how our complex genetic “software” operates that has an enormous ripple effect on our knowledge of the human body as well. The genetic code that is given to us in our DNA from the moment we are conceived remains with us for our entire life span, but our environment and lifestyle can affect every line (i.e. gene) of this enormously complex code in what’s known as epigenetics. The air we breathe, the food we eat, and the toxins we are exposed to all have the power to activate dormant genes and “turn on” various forms of cancer, accelerated aging, hormone imbalances, obesity, various diseases, and so on and so forth. But research is showing how healthy lifestyles and food choices are powerful enough to turn these dangerous switches back to their healthy “off” positions once again.

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 her fascinating new book entitled The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, Blackburn and co-author Dr. Elissa Epel, take us on a journey into the incredible world of our telomeres and telomerase, showing us the role these DNA tips play in the aging process and how specific lifestyle and psychological habits can protect telomeres, slowing disease and improving life.

One of the most powerful of these habits being meditation, which Blackburn and Epel’s research has proven to have an astonishing ability to safeguard our telomeres. Their studies have proven that chronic stress, depression, and ruminating negative thinking all act together to eat away at the length of telomeres and take years off a human life span. But through mindfulness and meditation this corrosive effect is shut down, effectively adding years to your life.

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.”

One way to look at it is like this: the next time you complete a session of mindfulness or meditation, you are effectively younger than you were when you started.

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