I’m reading a book in the anti-aging field called The Immortality Edge by two doctors. They are so excited by what research has already shown about telomeres that I decided to start a new section or category on this subject. I suspect more and more news will come out on this combined topic and indeed there are already a couple posts on this site regarding aspects of the subject. I will add notes here as I learn and also post notes over under the book title in Anti-aging Books.
What Are Telomeres?
The first question that needs answering is probably what are telomeres? You probably know that the cells within us divide and multiply. That is how babies are formed from two cells and how our bodies repair themselves. Within those cells are the DNA which tells each cell what they are going to do and be. Your DNA determines your bodily characteristics such as red hair or blonde, tall or short, and so on.
We’ve known about DNA in our chromosomes for several decades now. But scientists didn’t understand how cells with their DNA could keep dividing and replicating without damaging the DNA. What protected it, in most cases, from being damaged or warped or having defects being introduced? When you learn that a fetus’ cells divide about 5,000 times before a baby is even born, you can understand the concern. How are babies even born without damaged genes and cells?
It was a puzzle that kept scientists searching. They even called it the “end-replication problem” as the ways the genes replicated themselves to the new cells did destroy whatever was lying at the ends of the DNA. What a puzzle they had.
Researchers found their answer to the puzzle. They have known the answer since the mid-1970s. Quite simply, there is junk at the end of the chromosomes. This junk DNA is what is lost, not the important DNA that our cells need. This junk was named telomeres and there are about 15,000 chunks of this garbage.
The description to explain telomeres I have most often read or heard compares it to the aglets on your shoe laces. You know, those little pieces of plastic on the ends that keep the laces from unraveling. That is generally the same thing telomeres do – keep the chromosomes from unravelling and your good DNA from being damaged.
It’s funny how this discovery was made so long ago and yet we are just now beginning to see some affects. For instance, this discovery has led to the idea that your “real” age can be determined by the length of your telomeres. That is because the shorter they are usually means the less time you have to live. Pick two people the same age. Person A has longer telomeres than Person B. Outside of accident, violence or other things that can occur, Person A is going to live longer than Person B. That has led to concerns being raised about insurance rates among other things as the result of the new blood test to determine telomere length (see below) that was discussed earlier this year.
Since this was learned there have been dozens of studies done that correlate telomere length to disease and death. Shorter telomeres have been found in sufferers of many diseases that we usually associate with aging such as cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and so on (including your skin looking old). When the cell’s telomeres get too short, quite simply they die.
The Secret of Telomerase
As you can assume, the research turned to looking for something that would halt the shortening of the telomeres. All sorts of findings in the research were pointing to the fact that not all cells acted the same way in shortening their telomeres nor even at the same rate within the same group of cells. Some even showed signs of getting longer. It was weird. And as scientists do when faced with a puzzle, they look and look especially for whatever it was that caused the telomeres to grow. Just think about what that means.
Now this is part of what gets me. Finally in 1984, Elizabeth Blackburn and her grad student Carol Greidner proved the existence of telomerase, the enzyme they found proof of that affected telomeres. WOW! Something that can cause the ends of our chromosomes to grow again. There is a gene that contols teleromase.
Unfortunately, they also discovered that that gene is turned off in most of our cells.
The research turned to first proving that turned on cells actually reverse aging, which they did. Some of this will appear in another short article later on including some ideas for what that can mean to us.
Turning on Telomerase
So now the question is how can we turn on telomerase in each of us? What substance or drug or whatever will do this job? And that is the $64 billion dollar question, or more precisely, answer. As I am sure you can realize, any company that provides that drug or substance will be able to write their own ticket in the anti-aging market.
Right now there are companies trying to do that. One substance that has come out but that is pretty expensive still at this point is TA-65. It is an anti-aging supplement from the T. A. Sciences company and is derived from the astragalus plant used for thousands of years by the Chinese. There are several doctors who are presently licensed to sell the supplement including one of the doctors who authored The Immortality Edge as well as Dr. Sears of Primal Force whose products appear in other places on this site.
Does TA-65 work? I’ve seen a video of a seminar that discussed this very thing. The authors of The Immortality Edge say that it seems to work better the longer you take it. It seems to stop the shortening of your telomeres and may even minutely lengthen them. But it is the first such telomerase type product to come onto the market. Who knows what other supplements will be available over the next 20 years?