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Telomeres & Aging: What Role Do They Play In How We Age?

The biology of aging is something that many people overlook when trying to gain back some of their youth. Most people want to know how to reduce wrinkles and lines when in reality, they should be diving a little deeper to understand the aging process and how it ultimately leads to the signs and symptoms of aging they see.

Biological age is an interplay of many different factors. Environmental factors, biochemical mechanisms, and the genetic process of cells greatly impact how people age and how quickly their body appears to age. The genetic aging of cells has to do with a structure known as telomeres and how it is altered over time.

Below is a closer look at telomeres and what role they play in how we age. Equipped with this knowledge, you will be able to understand the genetic aspect of aging and how to best support your genes to allow you to age better.

What are telomeres?

The genetic information of every cell within your body is contained in a material known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This is essentially a really long strand that provides instructions for how to produce all of the proteins, enzymes, structures, and more within the cell. These instructions are laid out in a specific sequence of molecules found within the DNA known as base pairs. The human genome consists of roughly 3.2 billion base pairs and provides all the instructions on how to make you, specifically.

Telomeres are extended portions of non-coding DNA that are present on either end of the DNA strand. These non-coding portions do not give directions for how to make a protein, but they do provide a vital function to allow cells to replicate and age.

What is the function of telomeres?

The main function of telomeres is to protect the parts of the DNA that do code for a protein. Telomeres can be thought of as bump stops or cushioning for the DNA to protect it from degradation. They mainly act as a protective cap for the chromosome ends to ensure DNA stays intact and unaltered.

The main reason telomeres are needed in plants, animals, and humans is that they all contain linear DNA. Linear DNA is basically made of long lines of code that have two endpoints on either side. While this works great for organisms, it isn’t exactly the most efficient and has its drawbacks.

The main drawback of linear DNA is that when a new copy of DNA needs to be made, the process results in a few base pairs being chopped off on either side. DNA replication and making new copies of DNA need to occur any time a cell grows and divides. Over time this would lead to shortened DNA that would lack certain important information.

The telomere DNA acts by providing stretches of noncoding DNA at the ends that enable cell replication to occur without impacting the main code. Rather than cutting off vital informative DNA, portions of the telomeres are removed and act as a sacrificial structure.

A phenomenon known as Hayflick's limit is utilized to describe the finite number of cellular divisions a cell can perform. Leonard Hayflick was a scientist that cultured human cells and consistently noticed cells simply stopped dividing after 40 to 60 times. This limit is thought to be brought about by components such as telomere shortening and DNA damage due to oxidative stress.

What is telomerase?

Telomeres are an evolutionarily advantageous structure that many organisms have within their DNA. While superfluous DNA at the ends can protect coding DNA in the short term, in the long term, telomeres can also shorten to a point where it begins to interfere with normal DNA coding.

Telomeres in humans are anywhere from 8,00-10,000 base pairs in length and while this may seem like a lot, in comparison to the 3.2 billion base pairs in the entire human genome, telomeres are relatively small. Thanks to the enzyme telomerase, these short telomeres can be more effective.

Telomerase is an enzyme that is responsible for lengthening the telomeres, and it can effectively lengthen the number of cell replications a cell can undergo. Without telomerase, there would be an exact finite number of cellular divisions a cell would undergo. Because telomerase continually is adding more telomere sequences, it allows cells and organisms to live longer thanks to additional cell division.

Can you reduce telomere shortening?

Telomere shortening is an inherent part of life and for the most part, there is very little that you can do to stop telomere shortening from happening at all. Some studies are looking at utilizing the power of telomerase to keep telomere length, but these have yet to be proven safe or effective.

The best methodologies to slow the rate of telomere shortening and premature cellular aging is to live a healthy lifestyle that consists of a healthy diet high in antioxidants and regular physical activity. These two actions can not only improve your health but can support your cells to work more efficiently and potentially extend the amount of time with an adequate telomere length.

Cellular health

The best thing that you can do is try and support your somatic cells at a microscopic level so they have the easiest time replicating, growing, and functioning. Mitochondrial health, membrane health, and DNA health all play a vital role in cellular health.

Cellular health is a different approach to health and wellness that looks at humans in their most basic form, the cell. With this bottom-up approach, you can ensure the cells in your body are supported with what they need to work at their best. When your body is supported at a cellular level, it can contribute to greater wellbeing and health outcomes.

Mitochondrial health

The mitochondria are a structure within nearly every cell that converts glucose into ATP, which is the usable form of energy within the cell. ATP is utilized for many cellular processes including cellular replication, DNA replication, protein synthesis, and many more.

One of the best ways to support your mitochondrial health is to ensure it is running at its absolute best. Much like shorter telomeres being indicative of aging, the mitochondria also face some decline and oxidative damage due to age.

The mitochondria contain an antioxidant known as CoQ10 within their membrane. This antioxidant helps to protect the integrity of the mitochondrial membrane which plays an important role in the mitochondria’s ability to convert glucose into ATP.

CoQ10 levels within the body can decline with age and as a result, lead to the mitochondria becoming less efficient at their job. This impacts the entire cell because ATP is not being produced at the same rate and could result in slowing down important functions.

MitoQ is a supplement that can be taken every morning to help support a normalized CoQ10 level within the mitochondrial membrane. MitoQ is a tailor-made CoQ10 molecule that is readily absorbed and implemented into the mitochondrial membrane, something that standard CoQ10 supplements have a harder time doing. This allows MitoQ to be a highly bioavailable source of CoQ10 to help support your cells where it counts.

Membrane health

The cellular membrane is the structure that surrounds the cell and keeps the contents of the cell and the environment separate. Cell membranes in humans consist of a lipid bilayer and many surface proteins that allow the cell to interact with the environment around it and obtain nutrients. Membrane health would be analogous to proper skin health but without the ease of applying moisturizer.

Taking care of your cell membranes involves providing your body with the building blocks to make healthy cell membranes. A health source of lipids like omega-3s can give your cells the tools they need to build cell membranes that can stand the test of time.

Additionally, protecting your cellular membranes from premature damage can help immensely. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are a byproduct of some biochemical pathways within the cell. ROS are compounds that strip electrons away from nearby structures, and the cell membrane can be damaged, leading to oxidative stress of the cell.

By having a diet or supplement with ample antioxidants, you can help protect your cell membranes from oxidative stress.

DNA health

The best way to support DNA health is to ensure it is protected against outside stressors. Carcinogens and UV radiation are two of the most impactful factors that can cause DNA damage and even DNA mutation, which are big causes of age-related diseases.

Eating a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to avoid carcinogens, and applying sunscreen when you are outside can significantly help reduce the risk of sun damage. With your DNA adequately protected, your cell can work better without having to deal with repairing damaged DNA or possibly having a mutation.

Conclusion

Aging is a complex process that all living things undergo. For humans, one of the largest limitations on our ability to be immortal is our DNA and telomere length. As you get older telomeres naturally shorten, but by living a healthy lifestyle and supporting your cellular health you give your body the best chances of living a long life.

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