Why does a fruit fly live for only a few months, a mouse a couple years, a human 80 or so, and a turtle over 130? What establishes these set guidelines? Is there some kind of clock that winds down on us? The answer is it’s primarily because of your telomeres, the tiny limit setters on cellular division. These guys can bluntly show you exactly how long you will be with us, but the interesting thing is that their length is actually subject to our control to a certain extent. There are ways we can extend it, and thus our ultimate lifespan. The implications are incredible – imagine being able to take up a new sport in your 90’s or having your first child in your 80’s. This is all being predicted by the amazing research coming out of the lab, I will briefly show you what this means in your everyday world.
First a little background. Telomeres are the little caps or hoods on the ends of chromosomes. They are often compared to the little plastic tips of shoelaces that keep the ends from becoming frayed. They work somewhat similarly on chromosomes, but because of the fact that they shorten a bit with each division of the cell (mitosis) they put a limit on how many times this process can occur. When they have become too short the cell simply shuts down. In other words it dies. Of course, when enough cells have died, we naturally follow.
Here in brief is how the process actually works: The cell is constantly checking the state of DNA to ensure that no damage has occured or no mutations have formed that could be mistakenly passed on. Certain regulatory proteins – RB, P51, P21, etc. release a protein that puts the brakes on mitosis to avoid this. These regulatory proteins are usually tied up and held in check with “Damaged DNA Binding Proteins” or DDBP’s; however, when the telomere gets too short the cell senses the DNA as damaged, and the DDBPs begin to attach to it instead. This in turn frees up the P51 et al and allows them to secrete the protein that puts a halt to the process. The cell stops dividing and eventually dies.
Whats important to note from all this from an “anti-ager” perspective is that all of the other so called factors of aging – free radicals, glycation, impaired methylation and mitochondrial function etc., are pretty much kept in check when we are younger and healthier, and with longer telomeres. We can usually mount an easy defense against them at this time. The reverse is true likewise, any protocol we can initiate that delays this shortening also extends the life of the cell. Here’s another interesting fact – The life forms that have perpetually long telomeres – bacteria, cancer, certain worms, etc., are all considered technically immortal. They will live forever unless killed. This is all interesting stuff. The question is this: can we alter our chromosomes so that our telomeres don’t shorten?
A certain enzyme was discovered back in 1984 by molecular biologists Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider with the University of California. They received a Nobel Prize for their efforts. They discovered that this enzyme, which they naturally christened “telomerase” could actually rebuild the ends of telomeres. If repeated as necessary it could technically induce a state of immortality, just like that in other organisms. Of course this created an ensuing fear that by causing this expression of telomerase and maintaining perpetually long telomeres we would foster the development of cancer in th0se cells. (cancer does just this by the way – express telomerase). The good news is that we have shown in the intervening years that this is not the case. The main distinguishing factor of cancer is not it’s immortality but its diseased nature. So the door has been opened for a promising group of drugs that could lengthen your telomeres and theoretically create your own state of immortality. – Doesn’t all science fact start out sounding like SciFi?
As I write there are currently biotech companies seeking chemical compounds to stimulate telomerase. One of these, T. A. Sciences, Inc. of New York, New York, has begun marketing its product TA-65 which has shown promise in the lab for lengthening the shortest telomeres. (The research is limited however). If you can afford the hefty price tag – to the tune of $4,000-$8,000 per year, you can pick some up one and begin your own program of telomere lengthening. I’m sure that as new products develop we will soon have other routine, inexpensive alternatives we can turn to. Keep in touch.
In the mean time there are quite a few things you can do to slow or reverse the shortening of your telomeres and potentially increase your own lifespan. Basic simple lifestyle choices and habits work on a fundamental level for maintaining your health, and one of the mechanisms they use is your telomeres. So follow the simple guidelines:
Eat a healthy diet, exercise, get enough sleep and use “telomere enhancing” supplements like fish oil, Lipoic acid, Coq10, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, and a good multivitamin. These will lower systemic inflammation, reduce “AGEs” (glycated end-products), free radical and mitochondrial damage. Also watch those processed carbs as they raise insulin which is a growth factor that shortens telomeres. Does this all sound familiar? Its all part of the simple plan I and other health advocates trumpet about daily. No denying that it works!
For more specific information on a “telomere friendly lifestyle” you should read this book on it. (The Immortality Edge) It is the best I’ve found to date.