We have a sophisticated and specialized part of our DNA that protects all of the genetic information in our cells. Let’s take a look at how the break-down of these important complexes contributes to the acceleration of aging.
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Age is the number one independent risk factor for all chronic diseases. The biological definition of aging is the many processes of cellular damage accumulation in the body and these are known in the scientific literature as the Nine Hallmarks of Aging. I’ve also talked about how the first four hallmarks are considered primary since they are believed to be actual causes of aging and have a definitively negative effect on DNA.
We talked about the first hallmark of aging, genomic instability, in our last blog. This week, we will look at the second hallmark of aging: telomere attrition. In order to understand what this particular process of aging means, we must again revisit high school biology.
The rungs on the twisted ladder
Our DNA is made up of smaller units called nucleotide bases. There are 4 bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C). Each of these bases forms a pair that shows the iconic visual of rungs on a twisted ladder. Adenine forms a base pair with thymine, and cytosine forms a pair with guanine. These base pairs spell out a letter code that allows the DNA to function in different ways in our bodies.
Remember that our DNA carries our genetic blueprint or instructions in the form of genes. Our DNA is tightly woven around protein to structure our chromosomes, which are found in the nucleus, or control center, of our cells.
Now picture the rungs of base pairs on that twisted ladder – there are millions of them. The middle section of rungs is made up of long stretches of our genes. The last few thousand rungs on ends of that twisted DNA ladder are called telomeres. They are repetitive, short sequences of non-coding nucleotide bases, bound by a special protein called shelterin. They protect the ends of our DNA, and thus our genetic information, in the same way, that the aglets, or plastic tips, on our shoelaces keep them from fraying.
This is extremely important as we age and our cells divide to produce new cells to replace those that are old and worn-out. Telomeres allow our cells to divide, and thus our DNA to replicate, without harming our genetic information. They do this by preventing the ends of chromosomes from fusing together, which would cause considerable genomic instability.
Telomeres do this with the help of the aforementioned protein called shelterin, which masks the ends of the chromosomes and suppresses the signaling process in the body that cleans up damaged DNA. The enzyme telomerase also helps to replenish the repetitive telomere sequences during each cell cycle.
Good things don’t last forever
This amazing protective mechanism in the body sadly does not last forever. In my book, The Longevity Equation, I point out that, “Our natural DNA replication mechanisms do not duplicate all of the telomeres when each cell divides, so each chromosome has fewer telomeres. Once the telomeres run out, you hit what’s called a cell growth arrest. This means you are limited to how much new tissue you can regenerate as you age.” Some say that telomeres are the molecular clock that stops cell division.
Each time a cell divides, 25-200 bases are lost from the ends of the telomeres on each chromosome. As telomeres start to fray and become shorter, they start to resemble broken DNA and become more likely to be targeted by a process called DNA damage response (DDR), which ultimately leads to cell death. Shorter telomeres are associated with most diseases of aging in humans.
Telomerase is an enzyme that adds DNA to the ends of chromosomes, which helps maintain chromosomal length. However, it is only found in low concentrations in somatic cells (any cells other than the reproductive cells) but in high concentrations of stem cells and germ cells (egg and sperm). For this reason, as we age, our telomeres reduce in normal function. Unfortunately, telomerase is also found in high levels in cancer cells, which enables these cells to divide indefinitely.
What all of this means is that we need to have enough telomerase activity to keep our cells healthy and prevent them from degrading prematurely, but not so much that it contributes to the growth of cancer cells. So in a word: moderation.
If our cells are exposed to stress or injury – such as hormonal stress, inflammatory stress, and oxidative stress – they will be forced to divide more frequently, and consequently, our telomeres will shorten more quickly. The end result: accelerated aging.
Some easy ways we can maintain our telomere length, and possibly extend them:
· Regular, moderate exercise
Let us provide you with guidance
Since telomeres are essential in cellular functioning, they continue to be actively researched as a therapeutic intervention in nearly every known disease state. They are considered a biomarker of aging, and thus we have the ability to test and measure telomeres directly. However, because of their direct and significant role in genomic instability, we suggest another way of looking at the current state of your DNA.
My best-selling book, The Longevity Equation, provides a step-by-step blueprint to hack your genes, optimize your health and master the art of existence. In my book, I take an in-depth look at aging, explore what it means to extend your healthspan, and outline the pathways and factors that lead to a lifelong solution to the burdens of aging.
In collaboration with TruDiagnostic™, I have developed The Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult. We are offering a revolutionary new way to access your health using an epigenetic test called TruAge™. This test will help tell you what your body is actually doing right now and what that means.
TruAge™ works by using mathematical models and a powerful algorithm to measure DNA methylation-based biomarkers. Methylation is what modifies the function of the genes in the body by adding what’s called a methyl group to DNA, which is what signals genes to turn on or off. DNA methylation is the best indicator of age-related changes and is the best-studied biomarker of age. This comprehensive testing method determines your epigenetic, or biological age, and can detect the acceleration of aging before the signs of aging even begin to appear.
The Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult is intended to give you a snapshot of your biological age, as well as the lifestyle and environmental shifts you can make right away to start adding vitality and wellness into your life. Click here to schedule your consult!
More about The Institute for Human Optimization
The Institute for Human Optimization is committed to helping you create a personalized plan for living your longest, healthiest life possible. My team and I leverage the most cutting-edge advances in genetic testing, nutritional analysis, and functional medicine to get to the root biological imbalances that cause aging.
The Institute for Human Optimization was created with the intention of pursuing a highly personalized approach to longevity medicine to help enhance healthspan. Where lifespan is the actual number of years we’re alive, healthspan is how many of those years are spent in health and wellness.
We believe that a long healthspan – not just a long lifespan – is the most important thing you can cultivate. A long healthspan means you don’t miss out on life as you get older. It means remaining independent and having the vitality to travel and see the world. A long healthspan means that you can be there – in full body and mind – for the people who need you the most and that every day will feel like a gift.
We know that each person is truly unique. From DNA to iris, we all possess a blueprint that is genetically inherited and environmentally influenced. By gaining a deeper appreciation for the person on a molecular level and addressing the root causes driving disease, we can help promote optimized health through our unique scientific, N of 1, approach to individualized care.
The Institute for Human Optimization provides the most comprehensive, data-driven, personalized approach to wellness. It is:
· Predictive – We use genomics and advanced biomarker testing to risk stratification and empowerment.
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· Preventive – We utilize highly individualized programs tailored to your unique genomic blueprint.
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I am so excited about the possibility to support you on this cutting-edge journey to extend your lifespan AND your healthspan. Click here to schedule Your Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult! Can’t wait to meet you!