The human body is an organism formed by adding many organ systems together. Those organ systems are made of individual organs. Each organ contains tissues designed for specific functions like absorption and secretion. Tissues are made of cells that have joined together to perform those special functions. Each cell is then made of smaller components called organelles, one of which is called the nucleus.
The nucleus contains structures called chromosomes that are actually “packages” of all the genetic information that is passed from parents to their children. The genetic information, or “genes”, is really just a series of bases called Adenine (A), Guanine (G), Cytosine (C), and Thymine (T). These base pairs make up our cellular alphabet and create the sequences, or instructions needed to form our bodies. In order to grow and age, our bodies must duplicate their cells. This process is called mitosis. Mitosis is a process that allows one “parent” cell to divide into two new “daughter” cells. During mitosis, cells make copies of their genetic material. Half of the genetic material goes to each new daughter cell. To make sure that information is successfully passed from one generation to the next, each chromosome has a special protective cap called a telomere located at the end of its “arms.” Telomeres are controlled by the presence of the enzyme telomerase.
A telomere is a repeating DNA sequence (for example, TTAGGG) at the end of the body’s chromosomes. The telomere can reach a length of 15,000 base pairs. Telomeres function by preventing chromosomes from losing base pair sequences at their ends. They also stop chromosomes from fusing to each other. However, each time a cell divides, some of the telomere is lost (usually 25-200 base pairs per division). When the telomere becomes too short, the chromosome reaches a “critical length” and can no longer replicate. This means that a cell becomes “old” and dies by a process called apoptosis. Telomere activity is controlled by two mechanisms: erosion and addition. Erosion, as mentioned, occurs each time a cell divides. Addition is determined by the activity of telomerase.
Telomerase, also called telomere terminal transferase, is an enzyme made of protein and RNA subunits that elongates chromosomes by adding TTAGGG sequences to the end of existing chromosomes. Telomerase is found in fetal tissues, adult germ cells, and also tumor cells. Telomerase activity is regulated during development and has a very low, almost undetectable activity in somatic (body) cells. Because these somatic cells do not regularly use telomerase, they age. The result of aging cells is an aging body. If telomerase is activated in a cell, the cell will continue to grow and divide. This “immortal cell” theory is important in two areas of research: aging and cancer.
Cellular aging, or senescence, is the process by which a cell becomes old and dies. It is due to the shortening of chromosomal telomeres to the point that the chromosome reaches a critical length. Cellular aging is analogous to a wind up clock. If the clock stays wound, a cell becomes immortal and constantly produces new cells. If the clock winds down, the cell stops producing new cells and dies. Our cells are constantly aging. Being able to make the body’s cells live forever certainly creates some exciting possibilities. Telomerase research could therefore yield important discoveries related to the aging process.
Cancer cells are a type of malignant cell. The malignant cells multiply until they form a tumor that grows uncontrollably. Telomerase has been detected in human cancer cells and is found to be 10-20 times more active than in normal body cells. This provides a selective growth advantage to many types of tumors. If telomerase activity was to be turned off, then telomeres in cancer cells would shorten, just like they do in normal body cells. This would prevent the cancer cells from dividing uncontrollably in their early stages of development. In the event that a tumor has already thoroughly developed, it may be removed and anti-telomerase therapy could be administered to prevent relapse. In essence, preventing telomerase from performing its function would change cancer cells from “immortal” to “mortal” .
Knowing what we have just learned about telomeres and telomerase, it can be said that scientists are on the verge of discovering many of telomerase’s secrets. In the future, their research in the area of telomerase could uncover valuable information to combat aging, fight cancer, and even improve the quality of medical treatment in other areas such as skin grafts for burn victims, bone marrow transplants, and heart disease.
How Can We Lengthen Our Telomeres and Slow Aging?
While science still isn’t 100 percent sure how telomere length affects how we age, it’s clear that the longer our telomeres are, the better. There are a variety of lifestyle changes we can make today to lengthen our telomeres. Another way to lenghten out telomers is to take the telomere lengthening dietary supplements.
Recommended lifestyle changes
Controlling and Reducing Stress
Several studies have linked chronic stress to shorter telomeres. A 2004 study compared healthy women who were mothers of healthy children (the control moms) and those who cared for chronically ill children (caregiving mothers). On average, the caregiving mothers had telomeres that were 10 years shorter than the control moms. That is, their cells behaved as if one decade older.
Another study that examined African-American boys found that those who came from stressful environments had telomeres that were about 40 percent shorter than peers from stable homes.
The conclusion? Chronic stress doesn’t just put us in a bad mood; it contributes to aging in a very real way. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and carving out time for ourself daily are all easy ways to help bust stress.
From boosting happiness to providing an energy boost, the benefits of exercise are well documented. Now there’s another reason to hit the gym.
A recent study found that a person who did some type of exercise was about 3 percent less likely to have super short telomeres than a person who didn’t exercise at all. Not only that, but the more a person exercised, the longer their telomeres. The correlation between telomere length and exercise activity seemed to be strongest among those in middle age, suggesting that it’s never too late to start a fitness program and keep those telomeres from shortening.
Another study about how exercise keeps your cells young found that middle-aged adults who were intense runners (we’re talking 45–50 miles a week) had telomere lengths that were, on average, 75 percent longer than their sedentary counterparts. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to become an ultramarathon runner. It does, however, suggest that regularly engaging in intense exercise, like HIIT workouts, can keep telomeres long and happy.
Eating a Range of Foods for Antioxidant and Vitamin Benefits
Foods high in vitamins are believed to protect cells and their telomeres from oxidative damage. A diet high in antioxidant foods, like berries and artichokes, can slow down aging and help prevent or reduce cell damage.
Several studies found that participants who ate foods high in vitamins C and E had longer telomeres. Oranges, peppers and kale are among the top vitamin C foods. For vitamin E, turn to almonds, spinach and sweet potatoes. Another studies found that you also need vitamin D. You can get it from cod liver oil, herring, catfish, cooked mackerel or salmon and sardines or tuna canned in oil.
Folic Acid also stimulates the activation of telomerase. You should eat lentils, spinach, asparagus, lettuce, avocado, broccoli, and tropical fruits.
Our body also need Acetyl L-Carnitine. This amino acid is a brain booster as well as an activator of the human telomerase gene. Food sources include beef steak, ground beef, pork and bacon.
But, as always, we should avoid sugary and highly-processed foods. One study found an association between sugar-sweetened soda consumption and shorter telomeres.
Practicing Yoga or Meditation
In one study among breast cancer survivors, those who participated in mindful meditation and practiced yoga kept their telomeres at the same length; the telomeres of the control group, who did neither activity, shortened during the study time.
Another study among men found that, after three months of a vegan diet, aerobic exercise and stress management, including yoga, there was increased telomerase activity. A follow-up study found that those lifestyle changes are associated with longer telomeres.
Meditation comes in different forms for different people. For some, it’s healing prayer and setting aside
time to reflect. For others, it might be setting an intention for their day, attending a regular yoga class or spending time with loved ones without the distraction of technology or work. Whatever your meditation looks like, it’s clear it’s good for our minds and bodies.
While we wait for science to unravel all the mysteries of telomeres and how they work for — and against — us, we can make changes to lengthen them and positively affect the rest of our lives.
Taking Telomerase Lenghtening Dietary Food Supplements
Taking a vitamin supplements to bridge the gap between the foods we are eating and what our body needs might lengthen telomeres as well.
One study found that women who took a daily multivitamin supplement had telomeres that were about 5 percent longer than nonusers.
This vitamin is crucial for boosting the immune system, Vitamin D also activates telomerase activity by as much as 19.2%.
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Telomerase is an enzyme that boosts the development of telomeres. This enzyme plays a big role in ensuring that the telomeres continue to grow and become longer.
However, when cell division happens, the telomerase becomes depleted and this leads to the development of shorter telomeres. It is observed that if scientists came up with a way of increasing telomerase, then the production of telomeres would be impacted and this would result in the development of longer telomeres.
This would mean that the lifespan of individuals would be lengthened and some of the dangerous diseases will not have an opportunity to attack the body. Their risks would become very low.
This has left scientists working on the ways to enhance more production of this enzyme to encourage youthfulness and promote the proper functioning of cells, preventing attacks by diseases.
In the endeavor to increase the body’s production of telomerase, here is a study that was done using mice. The mice were left without telomerase enzyme for a while and they become thin and almost dying. They bounced back to life when the enzyme was replaced.
This reawakening is a confirmation that human beings are likely to benefit from the reawakening of the telomerase enzyme, hence promoting telomeres. This will automatically lead to a new development that promotes slow aging and higher resistance to some diseases. Therefore, the telomerase has been viewed as a potential anti-aging intervention.
The discovery about the impact of this enzyme in the development of more and longer telomeres is wonderful. However, this enzyme features a great threat to individuals suffering from cancer. Their cells are active and since this enzyme promotes the development of telomeres, the existing tumors are likely to grow faster with patients of cancer.
This is a big challenge and scientists wish to discover ways in which telomerase can be harnessed to promote the growth of telomeres only and to remove the aspect of stimulating cancer cells to grow.
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