I was walking with a friend recently who asked why it matters that the telomeres, the end caps of our chromosomes, get shorter as we get older. Our DNA does its work when we’re created, when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg. Based on that genetic information in our chromosomes, we grow up to be human beings (not frogs, fish or other life forms). At that point, our chromosomes have done their work. Why does it matter if they get damaged after that?
The answer has to do with cell division. As we go through our lives, our cells are replaced numerous times. Most of them are replaced every seven years, but some have longer or shorter lives. (Some are replaced literally every day; others, every four months; others, every twenty years.)
The point being, our body isn’t just built one time, different parts of it are rebuilt many times as we go through our lives, as old cells die and new ones are created. Each time this happens, the body uses the same chromosomal blueprint for the new cells that are being created.
The problem is that each time the cells are reproduced, they end up with shorter telomeres on the end caps of the chromosomes. Shorter telomeres result in an increasing number of genetic errors and cells that function more and more poorly.
So by the time we’re really old, our cells, tissues and organs are functioning more and more poorly due to this chromosomal damage. (They finally reach a point where they can’t reproduce at all, due to having very short telomeres.) One side effect is that our bodies gets clogged with what are called senescent cells, which are functioning poorly, and in fact are leaching out damaging enzymes into neighboring cells. (These senescent cells are the cells which are destroyed during a prolonged, 3 to 5 day fast. Our body seeks out damaged senescent cells and cannibalizes them for fuel when no food is coming in. Our body actually uses the damaged telomeres to identify which cells to use for fuel.)
The connection between telomeres and aging is a relatively new discovery. The researchers who discovered it won the Nobel Prize for medicine a few years ago for the discovery. They also discovered that telomere shortening could be stopped and reversed by an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase repairs telomere damage and makes telomeres longer, resulting in more cell divisions with more accurate replication of our DNA in each division.
After that, they went looking for things that could increase the production of telomerase in the body. They found that, among other things, eating certain foods did so, and that the herb astragalus is a powerful activators of telomerase. If you take it, your telomeres should get longer. It’s also an immune system stimulator and has other benefits and has been taken for centuries in China. No one knows if taking telomerase will actually increase the human lifespan, but it’s inexpensive and readily available, so unless you have a reason not to, why not try it? This is the brand I take. (No, I don’t get any money if you buy it) (Gaia’s a good brand, one I recommend for folks buying herbs as supplements.)
- Looking for more info about telomeres? See the videos below.
- Some of the videos were made by folks trying to sell a product called TA-65. So obviously, you need to take them with a grain of salt. TA-65 has been proven to lengthen telomeres, but is very, very expensive.
- A key ingredient in TA-65 is a concentrated extract from a root called astragalus, which has been used as an anti-aging modality an for immune support in China for centuries. So some people (including me) just take astragalus hoping to receive at least some of the benefits of TA-65.