What in the world is Telomeres? – you say
Well, if you have not heard of the word Telomeres, I will explain it here, since it is likely that you will be hearing about it more and more. Especially, if you are interested in optimal health, living long and living health.
So, first here are some useful terms.
What is Telomere?
Telomeres are disposable buffers at the ends of chromosomes which are truncated during cell division. Their presence protects the genes before them on the chromosome from being truncated. During the process of each cell division, the telomere ends become shorter.
An American scientist Leonard Hayflick established limits to cell replication what is now called Haflick Limit. The Hayflick limit is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops. Empirical evidence shows that the telomeres associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length.
Most cells will divide between 50 to 70 times before they cannot divide any more.
Role of Telomeres in Cellular Aging
As Hayflick first demonstrated, human cells have an inborn “counting mechanism” that tells them when to senesce, or stop dividing: Each time a cell replicates, the ends of each chromosome, i.e., telomeres, get shorter, and once the telomeres get too short, they trigger a “senescence program” that arrests the cell’s growth.
In short, telomeres represent body’s clock that determines our life-span and our health span.
Telomerase to the Rescue!
Telomerase is an enzyme that adds length back to the end of telomeres. In a simple leap of logic, you can quickly figure that telomerase enzyme is an antidote to shortening of the telomeres.
As you can also guess things are probably not that simple. They never are when it comes to human biology. But for this brief blog post, I will keep it simple.
So, with this premise of telomeres determining when cells say “uncle”. And, Telomerase offering an antidote, race is on for researchers and entrepreneurs on many fronts. Numerous questions are being asked and some have even been answered:
- How do you measure telomeres inexpensively?
- Do telomeres really correlate with one’s biological age?
- Does telomere length account for life styles that have been known to determine one’s health span and lifespan?
- What factors stimulate telomerase activity? Can we measure that?
- What about the role of telomerase in cancer, where cell replication goes on without any limit?
- And, so on and so on..
Some hard answers have emerged, well-rooted in hard science. On the other hand, other answers are preliminary and people are making wild leaps of logic to get to the market first with commercial products and services.
Several companies now offer services to measure telomeres. For example, Titanovo, Inc., SpectraCell Laboratories, Telome Health, Inc., Telome Home. Basically, you send them blood or swab and they will send you your telomere measurements.
I recently got my telomeres measured by Titanovo, Inc.
I signed up online. They sent me a kit. I swabbed inside of my cheeks and mailed it back. I also filled in a lifestyle survey on their website they use to correlate the results with lifestyle.
Few weeks later, they posted my results on their website. The following pictures represent result I received. (You can click on these to enlarge and make them readable)
What do my results mean?
Here is my take away. My relative telomere length is 0.62, which if you interpolate on one of the charts that means my telomere corresponds to a 48 year old male. 13 year younger biologically sound pretty good to me!
I reported my diet as vegetarian. If I were to change my diet to vegan, according to the last chart, my telomere length could be 0.67. That represents an additional opportunity for 8% advantage in terms of biological age. 8% increase in lifestyle is pretty significant to me.
Since I just started experimenting with a vegan diet about 3 week ago, I will be interested in retesting the telomere length in a year to see if the results correspond to what Titanovo is forecasting.
Titanovo sells bundles of multiple kits, so people can play with their lifestyles choices and then see the impact, in say 3 months at a time.
- This area of telomere and measuring impact of lifestyle choices through measuring telomere is quite exciting.
- A lot of research is going on in both gaining fundamental understanding as well designing interventions that could potentially defeat body’s lifespan clock.
- Sound like pretty cool stuff to me, if this works as advertised.
- I bet we will be hearing a lot about this topic, so stay tuned.
What is your perspective of this topic?
I would love to hear and learn from you.
Please click on the “Comments” link to share you thoughts.
Bruce Buchanan said:
thanks for sharing with us, Ashok. My follow up question is: what can we do to increase the length of our individual telemones? You referenced the benefit of your vegetarian diet. I wonder what other behaviors would be helpful. thanks again!
What behaviors are helpful in making the telomeres longer? That is a very good question. But does not have simple answer at this time.
As I mentioned in the post, answering this question is where the research is at.
There are some studies, but at the same time there seem to be a lot of speculations at this point of what might help and what might hurt.
In general all the usual lifestyle actions – exercise, better diet, meditation, clean living are expected to be positive. Researchers are testing these factors one at a time to see which ones have more significant impact. Some studies measure impact on actual telomere lengths, others just measure telomerase activity to evaluate the impact.
There are also known pharmaceuticals that increase telomerase activity and in turn increase telomere length. However, we all know that pharmaceuticals come with side effects.
The lab that I used reports metrics only for different dietary regimens, by co-relating diet with telomere lengths for its clients. Hence my comment about becoming vegan to gain an 8% advantage. According to their data, changing diet from mostly fast-food to vegan can be as much as 40% advantage.
Congrats on your telomere length! Very interesting stuff! I guess we have to go vegan to optimize. That is what the Food Revolution website is saying as well.