One of the areas of research I track carefully is that related to the Telomere shortening theory of aging. You will recall that telomeres are like shoestring caps, inert sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres provide stability that protects DNA in the chromosomes against getting mixed up in the process of cell reproduction. Telomeres get shorter as cells divide, and when they get too short a cell can get into big trouble and create trouble for its neighbors – like cancer. Telomerase is an enzyme that pastes telomere ends back on again, and one theory for life extension is to cause cells to express telomerase so that the telomeres don’t get too short. You can read about that in my treatise here. A report appeared yesterday on a Swedish study of changes in telomere lengths in 959 individuals who had contributed blood samples at 9- to 11-year intervals. The study revealed several interesting findings.
· Telomere shortening with age varies significantly between individuals
· Telomere length at a certain age may not be as good a predictor of future lifespan as previously thought.
· In general, the rate of telomere shortening appears to depend on the telomeres’ original length. People starting out with the longest telomeres experienced the fastest rate of telomere shortening and vice versa.
· In some individuals, the telomeres measured actually got longer with time. In roughly a third of the subjects, the telomeres actually lengthened over the study period.
These results suggests to me that telomere shortening is a complex process involving a balance of shortening due to cell division, lengthening due to telomerase expression and perhaps cell replacement due to differentiation of stem cells. And these in turn are affected by many lifestyle and dietary factors. The new findings also lead to optimism in that they suggests that strategies to keep telomeres from shortening or for making them longer may in fact work. Readers of the Anti-Aging Firewalls treatise know that I take the supplement astragaloside IV for this purpose as well as pursue other strategies like stress minimization, taking antioxidants, etc.