Everytime our cells divide, our telomeres become a little bit shorter (R). Just as a shoelace can easily become frayed when it losses it’s protective endcaps, your DNA can also lose it’s integrity when it’s telomeres become too short. When this happens, our cells stop dividing, except for our reproductive and stem cells. Stem cells constantly produce an enzyme called telomerase, which extends the length of our telomeres and may have anti-aging effects in certain tissues. But how important is telomerase expression during normal aging? The short answer is, it’s complicated.
While it seems to be a simple relationship between shorter telomeres and faster aging, there is more to the story. Their shortening is a downstream cellular process and hence many scientists don’t focus on them as the ultimate target for regenerative medicine, but rather an indicator of the cellular processes going on in the cell (R).
Another thing to consider is that long telomeres don’t always correspond to longer lives. Mice, for example, have longer telomeres than humans, yet die after 2 years of age (R). Even mice that are genetically engineered to constantly produce telomerase in their somatic cells (non-reproductive, adult cells) don’t live much longer than regular mice. However, they do have a lower incidence of age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and other degenerative conditions (R).
It is also known that there are multiple cellular pathways to extend telomeres and that cancer cells are known to keep dividing because they can overexpress telomerase. So there are fears that if telomerase is constantly activated it may lead to cancer. Yet, the overexpression of telomerase has not yet been proven to cause cancer in healthy humans or mice (R).
Some ways to extend your telomeres include:
Exercise, Carnosine, Sunlight, Stress reduction, Good Nutrition, Astragalus, Milk Thistle, Rhodiola,
There is still much to learn concerning telomeres and ways to extend them for longevity and health.
If you would like to learn more about this topic look at these papers which explain the topic better than myself.