Everyone’s interested in ways to stay healthy, fit and looking young. Myriads of products and exercises are promoted by marketers claiming they can keep us young and looking like we’re 20 well into our 40s.
Natural green drinks, skin care products, natural detox remedies, and a whole lot of other methods are the norm in today’s marketing ads for a healthier and younger you.
What a lot of these marketers aren’t telling us is that there’s a FREE way to make ourselves look younger, healthier and age much slower. More specifically, the single most important factor that affects aging lies within us.
Although they help to a very limited extent and only temporarily, it’s not the skin care products we put on our face and not the detox smoothies we make. This is something that we affect everyday of our lives.
What if I told you there’s a free way to achieve the younger you? A way that doesn’t require you to fork over any money from your bank account. A method that anyone of us can apply to achieve that younger self regardless of age, gender, etc.
This is all possible because of something called Telomeres.
What In The World Are Telomeres
Telomeres and its functions are still being researched and discoveries are still being made. Breakthroughs on the functions of telomeres we made within the past few decades resulting in 3 scientists receiving the Nobel Prize for their work.
Needless to say, there’s A LOT of scientific and technical information behind this. I’m going to try my best to spare you guys the boring geeky stuff.
Telomeres are nucleotide sequences that are located at the end of all of our chromosomes. There’s a specific sequence that’s unique to vertebrates only.
Telomeres are unique to eukaryotic organisms (organisms composed of cells with membranes for those of us that slept through biology). Most prokaryotic organisms (I don’t have to explain this I don’t think) on the other hand, lacks telomeres because their chromosomes are circular, so there are no ends points to them.
Okay, maybe we got just a tiny bit geeky with the biology. But that’s all the nerdspeak you’ll have to put up with.
You’re about to find out the functions of our telomeres, and why it is that prokaryotic organisms don’t have them (or need them).
Our cells are constantly dying but also renewing. When our cells divide, they also divide up their internal structures. Mitochondria, ribosomes, cytoplasm, and other cellular parts are split up so that each resulting cell has all it needs to function properly.
DNA is no different. When our DNA undergo replication for cell division, the enzymes responsible for this process can’t replicate the ends of the chromosomes. If the replication process just continued with the ends of the chromosomes being left out, the resultant divided cells would be missing vital DNA data!
This is where Telomeres come in. They “cap” the ends of the chromosomes, which protects the data from being lost during replication. They themselves are “lost” in the process, while all the DNA data gets copied over to the new cells.
This may sound great and all, but wouldn’t that eventually eliminate all my telomeres? Wouldn’t I start to lose DNA in my new cells eventually if the telomeres keeps getting cut off?
In germ cells, certain stem cells and white blood cells, there’s an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme actually grows back the telomere that gets cut off during the DNA replication process. Pretty cool, eh? More on that later.
But this enzyme is only active in those cells I mentioned: germs cells, certain stem cells and certain white blood cells.
This means that the telomeres in the rest of the cells in our bodies are constantly getting shorter, little by little.
Since multiple studies have shown telomere shortening to be associated with aging, we want to keep them from shortening as much as we can.
What They Mean For Us
In addition to protecting the ends of of chromosomes during cell division, telomeres act as a “timed fuse” of sorts.
Once the telomere of our cells are shortened to a certain length after numerous cell divisions, the cells stops dividing. Further DNA replication would just create cells without the complete DNA sequence since the ends of the chromosomes would now be missing in the new cells.
The cell then stops dividing and eventually dies.
We definitely don’t want them to be too short. In the case of cancer, if our telomeres are too short, our immune function may be impaired and we may be more susceptible to cancer and other diseases.
Another reason why we don’t want our telomeres to get too short is they may unfold and loosen from the ends of the chromosomes. The cells then detect this as DNA damage, which responds with either:
- Stopping cellular growth
- Goes into senescence (cellular aging), or;
- Goes into apoptosis (cellular destruction)
Growth cessation, cellular aging, and cellular destruction, yup. We don’t need a biology degree to see that none of these are particularly good for us.
Another possible scenario is the fusion of chromosome ends. Without telomeres to “cap” the ends, the chromosome ends are susceptible to fusing with other chromosomes. This results in damaged cells and eventually into apoptosis.
Organ deterioration and other age related diseases are often associated with shortened telomeres also.
So for us, it means we need to do our best to keep our telomeres long if we want to live a healthy life. And as we’re going to see later, there are things that we can do, or might already be doing, that’s either lengthening or shortening them.
What We Can Do About It
It seems that we’re at the mercy of our telomeres doesn’t it? Trying to keep something from being too short isn’t something quantitative. Even now, scientists can’t agree on what the “ideal” length is. And judging from anecdotal evidence, it seems that “ideal” length varies between individuals.
Even now, there’s no sure way to measure the length of our telomeres, at least not to the accuracy where all scientists can agree on.
So besides just sitting idle and letting life take its course, there are some things we can do to affect the length of our telomeres. Yes, we can do something about those chromosome end caps.
We already know that telomeres are shortened with the natural process of DNA replication that happens when cells divide. This puts telomeres in a “constantly shortening mode” as I like to call it.
Just by simply living, we are shortening our telomeres. No extra effort is required on our part.
But there is another way that telomeres can be shorten on top of the already shortening that takes place. And it’s something that many of us are familiar with.
Oxidative stress on our bodies releases free radicals, which many of us know damages our tissues, organs and disrupt normal functions like hormone release, digestions, etc.
Well, those free radicals can damage our telomeres too. And here’s the worse part.
The shortening of our telomeres from free radicals have a bigger impact on the overall shortening of our telomeres than the shortening from DNA replication.
This means that oxidative stress-induced free radicals shortens our telomeres more than the natural process of cell division does. Not good!
A study called the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project was conducted with women at risk of breast cancer. It was found that those with the shortest telomeres had an increased risk of breast cancer. Those women also consumed less antioxidants in their diets relative to those with a lower risk of breast cancer.
This study alone is not conclusive of anything. But it is anecdotal evidence that shorter telomeres are associated with increased cancer risk. In this case, it seems the unnecessary shortening from lower antioxidant intake resulted in more oxidative stress-induced free radicals in the women with the increased risk.
Scientists involved in this study theorized that it’s quite possible that the increased free radicals and resultant shorter telomeres both work synergetically to increase cancer risk. This is a case where we DON’T want synergy!
Here is the good part that we’ve been waiting for. How in the world do I lengthen these babies?
My body is constantly shortening them as it is. And now I’ve got free radical to deal with. It’s not even a fair fight unless we have something we can do to counteract all this telomere shortening going on.
A study conducted in Belgium looked at the effects of endurance exercise on the length of telomeres. A group of 10 volunteers rode on a stationary bike for 45 minutes. Muscle biopsies and blood were drawn right before and after the exercise, and2.5 hours after the test as well.
Comparing the before and after samples, the latter showed an increase in a chemical that’s a precursor to telomerase. Another chemical is found that is directly involved in the production of telomerase¹.
Do we remember what telomerase does?
Just a refresher in case we don’t, telomerase lengthens our telomeres. They’re usually only found in certain types of cells, but the researchers found the chemical related to their processes in various cells after the endurance exercise.
This is by far one of the best ways to increase the length of our telomeres. Endurance exercise is something that we are in 100% control of, regardless of who we are.
Of course, the researchers went on to conclude that lifestyle, habits, diet and other factors play a huge role as well.
Doesn’t this sound awfully familiar?
It’s almost as if the way to lengthen our telomeres is to generally live a healthier lifestyle?
Is Telomerase The Answer?
It may seem that getting more telomerase can make us immortal. While it may seem like that on the surface, it doesn’t necessarily work that way.
Our bodies produce telomerase naturally when it’s needed. As long as we’re healthy and free of any genetic disorders or diseases, our cells are growing and dividing at an optimal rate.
It’s been theorized that too long of telomeres leads to genomic instability and cancer cell development.
But cancer cells and tumors have mostly been shown to have much shorter telomeres than surrounding cells. So that theory doesn’t exactly hold up.
And on the topic of cancer, even though cancer cells have such short telomeres, about 80% of tumors have an telomerase in its cells, meaning they can divide the cells up and repair their telomeres.
That is something that no one wants, but this is exactly how cancer spread so fast. They just keep dividing and dividing because they can.
A fraction of cancer cells actually can lengthen their own telomeres by different methods. This allows them to spread at a rapid rate as well.
Although no extensive research data is available regarding this, just from looking at the way at which cancer grows, I believe that having more telomerase alone doesn’t guarantee a longer life.
It really comes down to a combination of limiting the shortening of our telomeres as much as we can by:
- Living as stress-free as possible (reduce stress)
- Regular exercise with endurance thrown in once in a while
- Eating healthy (more antioxidants and less/no refined sugars=less oxidative stress)
- Clean lifestyle habits (no smoking, drug use, etc.)
It just seems every new research on new topics with new data all points back to the same principles that’s been repeated for ages. There really is nothing new under the sun.
The next big skin care product or the next big exercise isn’t going to make us look younger for long, if at all.
So instead of relying on temporary fixes like make up or surgery, why not start the anti-aging process with something healthier and more permanent ?