Telomeres

Improving health and wellness at the cellular level

A quickly progressing area of research is promising positive impact for the spa and wellness industry. Dr. Elissa S. Epel, co-founder of Telome Health and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, is unravelling the mysteries of telomeres and pointing to ways these little genetic accessories might offer guidance and measures for future health and wellness programs.

Epel, who has an interest in the impact of stress physiology on premature aging at the cellular level, describes telomeres as the caps on the end of our chromosomes that protect our genetic data and may provide a deeper understanding into how we age. She sees great potential for incorporation of telomere knowledge into spa programs. "This is a wellness industry that is looking into how to improve people's health and wellness in the longer term, not just the few days they're at the spa," says Epel.

When a cell divides, the telomeres shorten. Once they get too short, the cell can no longer divide and dies. Factors that can shorten telomere length include poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, smoking, depression and anxiety, prolonged periods of grief, and exposure to violence and/or abuse. However, lifestyle changes may reverse shortening. "We believe that telomeres are dynamic, that they change in response to lifestyle, mental state, and nutrition," says Epel.

Using telomeres to establish long-term relationships
"There's evidence to suggest that an intense spa experience with follow up should improve telomere length, but of course we want the data," says Epel.Many spa owners have expressed interest and are waiting to learn more about pricing, delivery methods, and how they can integrate telomere monitoring into their services. However, no spas currently monitor their clients' telomeres because the testing is not easily available yet.

Before the end of the year, Epel and her team plan to test whether an intensive destination spa experience affects telomere length. The process will include client follow up and data comparison to a control group. "Telomere monitoring will give people a chance to see what their risk level is and then see if their effort to promote wellness can maintain or improve their telomere length," says Epel.

As the spa industry moves toward using services such as individual coaching and biomarker testing to encourage clients to return, telomere monitoring has the potential to become the next big support for extended health and wellness.



by Julia Teeluck | Fall 2012