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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Telomeres


In last week’s blog post I wrote about our chromosomes, the twisted double stranded molecules of DNA in the nucleus of every cell. A detail I did not mention is that the chromosomes have special caps on each end called telomeres.  These telomeres are thousands of repetitions of a few bases that have no function except to protect the end of the chromosomes. 

Every time a cell divides, as it does in the process of growing or producing new skin, flesh, blood and bone cells, all the chromosomes in the old cell have to be copied and stored in the nucleus of the new cell. In the copying process, from 6 to 40 telomeres at the end of chromosomes are lost and the telomeres get shorter and shorter as we age. Why this is so is very well explained if you click on video.

There is some indication that when a telomere becomes very short, the cell perceives it as a break in the DNA and the cell dies to protect the proliferation of incorrect genetic information. As well, short telomeres have been linked to such health risks as cancer, dementia, strokes, arthritis, diabetes etc.  To escape death, cancerous cells that replicate more often, are able to activate an enzyme called 'telomerase' that can lengthen the telomeres so they can continue to grow.

A company called Syn-RG sells a supplement to slow the shortening of your telomeres. They claim that the gene responsible for the production of the enzymes 'telomerase' stops working at around the age of 25 and their supplement is ‘designed to replenish lost telomerase enzyme activity’.  I am skeptical, and they must be too, because the supplement also contains antioxedents and other key health promoting  nutrients .
   
In people over 60, when telomere length as well as age and gender are taken into consideration, it turns out that they are responsible for only 37% of the factors involved in the risk of dying.  The other components that cause the remaining 63% have to do with  getting enough exercise and sleep, reducing stress in your life, eating well and staying at a good weight for your body type. A major factor is that the oxygen we breathe and use to stay alive, produces nasty free radicals that need antioxidents like Vitamins A, C, and E to mop them up.

We're told that we are all different when it comes to how fast our telomeres shorten– with the most fortunate people possible living to 120 before apoptosis.  It's predicted that the average life-span may be raised to 90, but the jury is still out on whether it can be prolonged beyond that.     Rie 

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