Telomeres and How They Extend Life
By Lisa Wells, RN
Cells, Chromosomes, and DNA
The body is made up of trillions of functioning cells. Within each cell is found 23 pairs of chromosomes. The chromosomes contain long DNA sequences. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is known as the blueprint of life because it carries the genetic instructions for the development, growth, functioning, and replication of each cell in the body.
The telomeres are nucleotide sequences that form a protective cap at the end of each chromosome inside the cell. They protect the ends of the chromosomes and help to prevent them from becoming tangled or stuck together. They also prevent the ends of the chromosomes from becoming frayed, similar to the caps placed on the ends of shoelaces to keep them from unraveling or fraying.
Unfortunately, each time DNA is replicated and a new cell is made a small amount of the telomere is used and so it becomes shorter. Once the telomere becomes too short the cell can no longer divide and so it becomes senescent, which is an inactive state, and it eventually dies.
As the length of our telomeres shorten so does our life expectancy! A clinical study found that those with shorter telomeres have three times the chance of developing heart disease compared to those whose telomere lengths are normal.
What is Telomerase?
Telomerase is an enzyme that adds more repeating sequences of DNA to the telomeres thereby extending them, which in turn extends the life of the cells. Telomerase binds to the ends of each telomere through an RNA template that is meant to be used to attach a new strand of DNA.
In young cells the telomerase can keep the telomeres from wearing down too much. However, as the cells continue to divide over and over the telomerase starts to run out, with the result being the telomeres continue to shorten until the cells can no longer replicate to replace the old aging cells.
Can Our Telomeres Be Lengthened?
Since we now know that our health and life expectancy is tied to our telomeres the question becomes what we can do to prevent their shortening or lengthen them again.
A clinical study done in 2010 by Harvard Medical School researchers and published in the journal Nature showed that the researchers were able to rejuvenate the worn out organs of old mice, turning them back into healthy animals by reactivating telomerase production.
The researchers found that not only had the organs of the mice been rejuvenated, they also found that they grew new neurons in the brain.
Professor Ronald DiPinho stated that "what we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilization of the aging process. We saw a dramatic reversal."
The length of a person's telomeres is a useful biomarker that may be used to measure cellular aging.
Cycloastragenol Shows Promise For Lengthening Telomeres
A component found in the astragalus herb has been shown in clinical studies to activate telomerase, which is the enzyme that lengthens the telomeres. The astragalus herb has been used as far back as ancient China for longevity and various health issues and it's still used today.
That component is called cycloastragenol. Also called CAG for short, it is an aglycone of astragaloside IV.
Prof. Nancy Y. Ip, et al, in a study conducted at the Division of Life Science at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology concluded that their study demonstrated that cycloastragenol stimulates telomerase activity and cell proliferation in human neonatal keratinocytes.2
Nutrients Shown to Help Restore the Telomeres
Besides the cycloastragenol that is sourced from the astragalus herb there are other nutrients that have been found to help restore the telomeres.
Vitamin D, which is so much more than just a vitamin, is an important nutrient related to telomere health because it has been found to promote the activity of telomerase. A study done by Jason J. Liu, Jennifer Prescott, et al, in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that vitamin D appears to be associated with longer telomere length although it may be modified by calcium intake. They reasoned that because shorter telomere length has been associated with many chronic illnesses of which vitamin D has been shown to help protect against, it is possible that vitamin D's protection takes place due to its ability to maintain telomere integrity.6
B Vitamins are needed for the proper metabolism of the molecules that make up DNA. They also preserve telomere length by lowering homocysteine, which is associated with the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and the acceleration of telomere shortening and cellular aging.8
We have known for awhile that the supplementation of B vitamins can reduce homocysteine levels, and now it has been found that people with low vitamin B levels tend to have shorter telomeres.
Vitamin C reduces the chemical stresses that contribute to telomere shortening. Studies done on human blood vessel cells found that supplementation of vitamin C was able to reduce telomere shortening up to 62% thereby extending the lifespan of the cells and reducing the physical changes related to cellular aging. The vitamin C also caused a reduction in cellular free radicals.
Another study was done using human heart muscle cells with near-identical results, which showed that vitamin C can slow heart aging by preserving the length of the telomeres.
A 2016 study that used vitamin C for the treatment of the cellular model of Werner Syndrome, which is a disorder that causes premature aging, found that the cells treated with vitamin C had longer telomeres and received other benefits.3
Vitamin E, which consists of four tocopherols and four tocotrienols, has been found to slow telomere shortening. The most well known and most studied form of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, has been shown to dramatically slow the age-related shortening of telomeres by increasing telomerase. Similar results have been obtained in cells treated with gamma-tocotrienol.
Fish Oil has been found in clinical studies to increase telomere length. The results showed that the increase in telomere length was a result of reducing the plasma levels of omega 6 fats while increasing healthy omega 3. The researchers opined that this increase in telomere length was due to the reduction of inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress related to higher omega 3 levels.7
Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin seem to play a role in telomere health because studies have found that older people who have higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin have longer telomeres than those with lower levels. The carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin have also been associated with longer telomeres.4
Our Telomere/DNA Supplement
We are happy to offer a one-of-a-kind supplement that contains cycloastragenol and all the nutrients listed above and more. To learn more please click on the banner below.
1. Blasco, M., Telomeres and Human Disease: Ageing, Cancer and Beyond, Nat Rev Genet 6, 611–622 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrg1656
2. Ip F, C, F, Ng Y, P, An H, J, Dai Y, Pang H, H, Hu Y, Q, Chin A, C, Harley C, B, Wong Y, H, Ip N, Y: Cycloastragenol Is a Potent Telomerase Activator in Neuronal Cells: Implications for Depression Management. Neurosignals 2014;22:52-63. doi: 10.1159/000365290
3. Li Y, Zhang W, Chang L, et al. Vitamin C alleviates aging defects in a stem cell model for Werner syndrome. Protein Cell. 2016;7(7):478-488. doi:10.1007/s13238-016-0278-1
4. Min KB, Min JY. Association between leukocyte telomere length and serum carotenoid in US adults. Eur J Nutr. 2017 Apr;56(3):1045-1052. doi: 10.1007/s00394-016-1152-x. Epub 2016 Jan 27. PMID: 26818530.
5. Sen, Abhijit, Marsche, Gunther, et al, Association Between Higher Plasma Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Vitamin C Concentrations and Longer Telomere Length: Results of the Austrian Stroke Prevention Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62: 222– 229, 2014.
6. Jason J. Liu, Jennifer Prescott, Edward Giovannucci, Susan E. Hankinson, Bernard Rosner, Jiali Han, Immaculata De Vivo, Plasma Vitamin D Biomarkers and Leukocyte Telomere Length, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 177, Issue 12, 15 June 2013, Pages 1411–1417.
7. Ohio State University. "Omega-3 supplements may slow a biological effect of aging." ScienceDaily, 1 October 2012.
8. Pusceddu, I., Herrmann, M., Kirsch, S.H. et al. One-carbon metabolites and telomere length in a prospective and randomized study of B- and/or D-vitamin supplementation. Eur J Nutr 56, 1887–1898 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-016-1231-z
9. Mueller, Miles, "Prevent Telomere Shortening." Life Extension Magazine, December 2016.