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How We Age: The Effects Of Telomeres And Telomerase

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The aging process is something that has always been a bit of a mystery. Little was known about it in the past and even as recently as twenty years ago. Many theories were propounded, however the scientists and experts were uncertain about the truth of them. Luckily, today there are breakthroughs on how and why we age.

The best way to explain the aging process and everything that affects it is through the effects of telomeres and telomerase.

What Are Telomeres And Telomerase And How Do They Function?

Despite this being a very complex concept, I am going to keep this as simple as possible…

Our human bodies have more than 100 trillion highly specialized cells. Each one of them is working when we are active, and each one of them contains DNA and RNA. While DNA is the genetic code that you have, RNA is a compound that tells each cell what its main job is. At the end of each chromosome there are “cap” pieces called telomeres – which are in charge of keeping the DNA and RNA intact with all of the activity that goes on inside of the cells.

According to Biologist – Elizabeth Blackburn the vast majority of the cells in our bodies are mortal and have a fixed lifespan. The average number in which they can divide is 52 times – and no more. When they cannot divide anymore, they are senescent (the process of deterioration with age) and susceptible to disease, infection, malfunctioning and death. The reason why they cannot divide more than 52 times is that half of them go with the newly cloned cell and half stay with the parent. The telomere (the “cap” pieces) are so short in these cases that it cannot divide into two.

Immortal cells also have telomeres that split into two – but an enzyme called telomerase restores the telomeres to their full size after cell division. For some reason, the mortal cells in our bodies do not allow telomerase inside – and only the immortal cells do so.

If you are wondering why are we explaining this science in this blog that is supposed to teach you how to look and feel younger, you are probably not the only one. However, there is a big point in this piece which proves that telomerase is an essential process that can slow down aging and offer many other benefits.

The Real Benefits Of Telomerase (And How To Channel Them)

There is a tiny percentage of the cells in our bodies that are immortal and ones that can divide again and again without any limit. These immortal cells are part of our immune system and are able to fight off diseases.

As we said above, only the immortal cells can welcome telomerase inside and restore themselves. However, according to recent research, scientists are working on methods to introduce telomerase into mortal cells. If that happens, the trillions of cells in our body can make the Fountain Of Youth a reality.

Now, telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process – and people with shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. So, if telomerase makes cancer cells immortal, it may also prevent normal cells from aging.

Richard Cawthon, a doctor and scientist, has found that after age 60, the risk of death doubles every 8 years. That way, a 68-year old has twice the chance of dying within a year compared to a 60-year old. Obviously, all this has to do with the telomere shortening – however – scientists still haven’t proved that telomere shortening links to aging or actually contributes to aging in humans. But studies of a certain type of Jelly Fish (yes, Jelly Fish) whose cells are mainly able to receive telomerase age very, very slowly.  Hence the interest in pursuing this research on humans.

The good thing is Cawthon's study found that the lifespan could be increased by increasing the length of telomeres. Below, we are actually getting to the point of all this.

What To Do To Keep The Telomeres Longer (And Extend Your Life)

A major cause of aging and telomere shortening is what we know as “stress” and what is known by scientists as “oxidative stress”. In a nutshell, stress does damage to our DNA proteins as well as the lipids (fats) caused by oxidants which are highly reactive substances that contain oxygen.

These oxidants are produced normally when we breathe but can also result from inflammations, infections and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. In one study, scientists exposed worms to both substances that neutralize oxidants and the worms' lifespan increased for an average 44%.

Aside from the bad habits such as smoking, alcohol and the ultimate reason for telomere shortening which is stress, there is another factor in aging known as “glycation”. This process basically happens when glucose (the main sugar that we use for energy) binds to some of the DNA, proteins and lipids and leaves them unable to do their jobs. As we age, the problems become worse and cause body tissues to malfunction, therefore resulting in disease and death.

So, the conclusion of this is that oxidative stress, glycation, telomere shortening and the chronological age – along with some various genes- all work together to cause aging and eventually death.

According to Cawthon, human lifespan has increased significantly since the 1900 and a lot of that had to do with clean water, antibiotics, refrigeration, vaccines and other medical break throughs. According to many scientists, average life expectancy is about to increase again – and some of them say that vastly longer lifespan is definitely possible.

So, How To Lengthen Your Telomeres And Live Longer?

The best advice as given by doctors, experts and scientists is to:

  • Control and reduce your stress,
  • Exercise regularly,
  • Eat a range of foods that are full of antioxidants and vitamins and
  • Practice meditation and yoga as the best way to unwind.

These are all habits that can increase the length of your telomeres and therefore extend your life. Despite the fact that science still doesn't know exactly how telomere length affects our age, they do know that these habits have been backed by studies and are all linked to lengthening your telomeres.

Rosemary Richards