The study of telomeres is a popular one among the anti-aging research and medical community. So much good scientific information regarding telomeres and health is coming out all the time. I want to share some of that info with you in the future. So, today I will go over the basics of telomeres … and why you should care!
Let’s start with the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine … it went to 3 scientists for their discovery of “How chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.” Wow, 2009, that is pretty recent!! Telomeres were first identified decades earlier but for a long time no one knew what they actually did. The scientists who received the Noble Prize spent over 30 years doing research on telomeres to figure it out. In the process of all that work, they also stumbled upon an enzyme responsible for making healthy telomeres and naming that enzyme telomerase.
What are telomeres? Basically, they are the protective end caps of our chromosomes that essentially keep our chromosomes from fraying when an old cell is dying off and being replaced by its daughter cell.
Here’s the basic biology lesson –
We are made up of many different organ systems. The organ systems are made up of different organs … that are made up of different tissues … each designed for specific structures and functions. Tissues are made of cells that are joined together to do the job of that tissue or organ. Cells are made up of smaller components called organelles, and one of those organelles is the nucleus. Even though our various cells can have hundreds of very different functions, they all contain the exact same “blueprint” in the nucleus. That blueprint is DNA. DNA is made up of 2 chromosomes into which all of our genes are packed, half from mom and half from dad. The chromosomes, and all the genetic information they contain are made up of varying combinations of nucleotides. Here is where the telomere comes in … the end of every human chromosome has the exact same repeating sequences of nucleotides. Every time a cell becomes old it is triggered to replace itself with a new daughter cell. The new cell has everything the same as the old cell … except the telomere has shortened. When the telomere becomes too short the ability of the cell to replicate itself stops. When that cell dies, there is no replacement. That equals aging!
Our genetic material, our DNA cannot be changed by lifestyle choices … except for telomeres! Even though telomeres are genetic material (sequences of nucleotides), the length of telomeres are affected by dietary and lifestyle choices! With telomeres ….. long is good, short is not … and the choices you make can make a difference!
If we would do things to keep our telomeres long, we would have cells that can replace themselves for a longer time. Cell replacement = cell youth!
Here are a couple of examples about telomere length that link back to some previous blog topics:
● I recently blogged about the exercise hormone, Irisin. A study from 2014 entitled “Plasma irisin levels predict telomere length in healthy adults” showed that irisin released by exercising increased telomere length.
● I had a series of blogs on the incredibile health benefits of the sunshine vitamin, Vit D. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found longer telomere lengths in women with higher Vit D levels (only women were in the study).
The list of information about telomeres is growing very quickly. It is a hot medical and research topic. Watch what happens over the next 10 years in the global conversations about telomeres!! If our cells can stay healthy and maintain healthy telomeres, we will age more slowly. And, yes, the lifestyle choices we make really do matter. Gosh, I feel younger already!