Unwinding The Aging Clock

Telomeres are like the little caps at the ends of shoelaces that prevent the laces from unraveling. In this case, they prevent rodlike chromosomes from fraying and tangling with other chromosomes.

Without telomeres, genetic information would degrade, causing cells to malfunction, increasing the risk of disease, or even hastening death.

Every time a cell divides, its telomeres get a little shorter. Years of replication can eventually wear telomeres down so far that cells can’t divide anymore, and they become dormant or die. As more tissues have trouble rejuvenating, the body follows the cells, aging and eventually breaking down. In short, your cells have an aging clock built into them. But your chronological age in years doesn’t set the clock—your biological age in telomere length does.

In the largest study on telomere length and health to date (it matched telomere measurements with electronic medical records and other data on more than 100,000 adults of different ages), the 10% of people with the shortest telomeres were almost 25% more likely to die in 3 years than people with longer telomeres.

Here from Dr Bill Andrews as he talks about telomere division.

“What we don’t know is whether telomere length is a passive marker of health and aging or if it actively determines things like whether you’re going to be susceptible to heart disease or how long you’ll live,” says study leader Catherine Schaefer, PhD, director of the research program on genes, environment, and health at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, CA. Either way, the association is significant.

“Finding out you have short telomeres isn’t the same as getting a death sentence,” Dr. Schaefer says. “But the increase in risk is about the same as if you smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.”

In theory, if telomeres don’t shorten, cells might become immortal. And research suggests a way that might happen. For most of our adult lives, telomeres seem to stay fairly stable, shortening mostly after middle age. However, at any given age, there is a lot of variation in telomere length between individuals. Some people’s telomeres are from two to three times longer than other people’s.

Studies find that 15 to 25% of people’s telomeres actually lengthen, on average, over 2 to 6 years—though not much beyond that. Studies suggest that when telomeres are lengthier to start, they tend to change less with time. Telomerase plays a role. This enzyme lengthens telomeres and prevents them from eroding.

In fact, cells produce more telomerase to prevent the shortest telomeres from going critical. Could enough telomerase prevent cells from dying?

About The Author

Katherine Baltazar

I am a media reporter writing for the Hair, Beauty and Spa Industry. I've been writing and covering salons, beauty products and hair treatments for the pace 5 years.