More Information

What is a Telomere?

To put perspective on the important role of telomeres, let’s take a look at the chromosomes they protect.

Chromosomes are long, organized strands of DNA and proteins found in cells. These strands are in charge of all the processes that occur inside cells. The proper placement and functioning of chromosomes can predispose people to a normal, healthy body. Chromosomes also contain hereditary indicators that play very important roles in the development of an individual.

At both ends of every chromosome strand is a telomere. Telomeres act like bookends. Much like bookends are used to hold a row of books upright and organized on a shelf, telomeres keep chromosomes protected and intact. Telomeres prevent our chromosomes from becoming frayed, from fusing into rings, or binding with other DNA.

Cellular Aging

Cells are key to keeping our body going. They supply energy, regenerate to heal wounds, and are the foundation of our organs. With such an important role, it’s easy to see how keeping cells functioning in top form as long as possible is vital to healthy living. When cells are no longer able to replicate, the body’s ability to defend and repair itself, this leaves you susceptible to the complications of aging.

To understand the aging process, it’s important to take a look at the cellular level to discover how our cells age, and what impacts the aging process.

Cellular Aging Process & Telomere Shortening

Increased Free Radicals

Each day, free radicals are created inside our bodies through normal, necessary chemical reactions. We also are exposed to and absorb free radicals that exists in our environments through pollution, UV radiation, x-rays, and second hand smoke and through our own actions from stress, smoking, and weight gain.

Over-exposure to free radicals damages not only our cells’ ability to function, but also the integrity of our cells’ overall composition. This results in a next generation of cells that is less healthy and less productive than the cells they came from. As we grow older, the number of mistakes incurred by daily cellular reproduction increases. The body actually creates nonfunctional cells, leading to more rapid deterioration of the body’s functions. As this process continues, it creates an increase in oxidative stress.

Increased Oxidative Stress

Our bodies constantly react with the air we breathe. We breathe in oxygen, as well as many other pollutants and toxins in our environment. As we breathe and eat, our body uses the oxygen and food to help create energy. The energy creating process, as well as the pollutants in our environment, create highly reactive molecules. These molecules are called free radicals. When free radicals interact with other molecules within the cellular structure, damage to proteins, membranes and DNA can occur.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance in a cell’s production and handling of free radicals and its natural ability to repair the damage caused by the exposure. Telomere shortening is accelerated by oxidative stress and inflammation. Both of these processes are affected by diet and lifestyle.

Telomere Shortening

With a few exceptions, the natural process for human growth and healing involves cells dividing. Cells divide primarily to grow or heal the body by replacing worn out cells with new cells.

Telomeres play an important role in cell division. Each time a cell divides, the DNA unwraps and the information in the DNA is copied. When the cell is finished dividing, the DNA comes back together and telomeres re-assume their protective roles at the ends of the chromosomes. Unfortunately, the telomeres lose a little bit of length each time this happens, like a pencil eraser gets shorter each time it’s used.

Scientists have noticed that cells stop replicating when telomeres become too short. Without adequate telomere protection, essential parts of the DNA can be damaged in the replication process. In humans, a cell replicates approximately 40-60 times before the telomeres become too short. This limit is called the Hayflick Phenomenon (or limit). Research has shown the more a cell divides, the shorter the telomeres get, and the less time the cell will be productive and able to divide.

Diminished Antioxidant Defenses

Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules that are thought to oxidize molecules, causing oxidative and cellular damage and thus putting the body in a state of imbalance. Antioxidants are nature’s defense against the harmful effects of free radicals. They guard cellular structures and DNA against electron-scavenging free radicals. Antioxidants can donate or receive electrons to neutralize free radicals, stopping the cascading effect of oxidation.

The majority of the work is done by the body’s own master antioxidant, glutathione, and antioxidant enzymes including glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase. When telomeres shorten and fray, recent research suggests that these antioxidant defenses diminish and protection against free radicals goes unchecked.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Every cell in the human body, except red blood cells, is packed with tiny organelles called mitochondria. Mitochondria are often referred to as “powerhouses” because they produce the energy required for cells to function, and ultimately the body. Cells with a high metabolic rate, such as heart muscle cells, may be equipped with thousands of mitochondria, while other cells may only contain a few dozen.

Mitochondrial energy production is an absolute necessity for physical strength, energy, stamina, and life itself. Even the slightest drop in mitochondrial energy output, no matter how subtle, can lead to weakness, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties. Unfortunately, during a cells aging process, mitochondrial function becomes less efficient.

Recent research indicates as telomeres shorten the result is a signaling that causes mitochondria to become dysfunctional. Mitochondria in our cells create energy we can’t live without. As mitochondrial efficiency decreases, cell function declines and its natural defenses against free radicals is impacted, leading to an increase in oxidative stress.

Good News!

Fortunately, emerging research reveals we may be able to influence cellular aging processes in positive ways. This may affect how efficiently cells repair and replicate themselves, which affects your health, well-being and the aging process in various ways.