[caption id="attachment_1681" align="alignright" width="300"]
These are chromosomes. The fluorescent tips are telomeres.[/caption]
Most people notice aging by gray hair, wrinkles around the eyes, age spots on the forehead and a host of other physical signs but aging actually occurs at the cellular level. Wrinkles are just the outward sign that the skin cells are not functioning as well as they used to. So keeping your cells healthy, be they skin cells or brain cells is one way to prevent or slow down aging and the signs of aging. This is where Telomeres come in.
Telomeres are the end part of a chromosome (a protective cap if you like, much like a toecap on a shoe or boot.) that protects it from disintegration or fusion with other chromosomes....
….whoah there, let's back up a bit.
It's estimated that a human is made up of around a trillion cells that work together to make us what we are – human.
Chimpanzee cells are similar but slightly different.
Thus Chimpanzees have many similarities to humans but are distinctly different. Plants cells are even more different than chimpanzee cells and thus plants look and behave radically different to humans.
Structurally, the most important part of a cell is the nucleus. The nucleus is the control center of a cell. It maintains the integrity of the genes of the cell. The genes are like a blueprint of how the cell should act – what it should do and how it should do it. They also help the cell duplicate or clone itself which is done on a regular basis as the cells age.
Genes are stored in a chromosome or chromosomes in the nucleus of the cell. And these chromosomes have the protective caps known as telomeres.
So What Is So Important About Telomeres ?
The cell duplicates when the DNA chromosome in the nucleus divides. When the DNA chromosome has completely divided, the cell must divide as it can't have two sets of DNA Chromosome in it.
This is good for the organism (us) as it rejuvenates the part of the body made up of those cells. Thus in skin cells it may give you a more youthful appearance as the new skin cells are younger.
However, each time a cell division occurs the telomeres on the DNA Chromosome get shorter. This provides less and less protection to the chromosome until it gets to a point where it provides no protection at all.
This opens the DNA chromosome up to fusing with other chromosomes or just unraveling and becoming useless. This has two affects :
- The cell can't divide meaning it starts to get old
- The old cell realizes that it is of no use anymore and dies (known as apoptosis).
Both of these results are not good for the organism. It starts to age because it's cells are dieing and not rejuvenating.
So if the telomeres didn't shorten each time the cell divided, cells would continue to rejuvenate, keeping the individual younger at a cellular level.
This is where telomerase comes into the picture. Telomerase is a substance (a protein) that rebuilds the telomeres. It occurs naturally in most human cells in varying amounts. When the cells use up their telomerase, the cellular aging process, as described above commences.
So by replenishing the telomerase, we can prevent cellular aging but how is this done ?
That seems to be a major research area for people studying anti-aging.
Initial research suggests that stress may influence the ability of the cells to rebuild it's telomeres.
Relieving chronic stress through regular exercise, meditation or even a passionate hobby may help telomere rebuilding.
Other studies suggest that Omega 3 and Vitamin D intake can influence how short a persons telomeres are.