Telomeres are the protective cap at the end of our DNA. Each time the cell divides, a portion of the telomere is lost. Lifestyle choices account for 90% of more of the lost of each telomere. Scientists have been working for the past two decades to find a way to lengthen our telomeres, to stop the shortening of them, or to reduce the degree of shortening. Does this stop the aging process?
Some researchers believe that environmental factors can slow down the aging process. For example, runners have longer telomere lengths compared to sedentary people. Lifestyle changes could easily extend our lives because the rate and amount of telomere length lost after cellular division would be less. Therefore, we get more cellular replications over our lifetime.
Not all cells in our bodies follow the protocol of having its telomeres shorten with each cell replication. Our heart cells do not replicate – they don’t divide like other cells in the body. The reason they don’t shorten is due to the enzyme telomerase.
Each telomere has the enzyme, telomerase. It is normally ‘turned off’. When the telomere enzyme is ‘turned on’, the telomere length does not shorten. Cancer cells have the ability to ‘turn on’ the telomerase enzyme. Telomerase does not cause cancer. Cancer cells do not die. They use the telomerase enzyme to stop the aging process within the cancer cells.
Could the human lifespan be extended if there were a way to ‘turn on’ the telomerase enzyme for all the cells in our bodies? Researchers have been working on this for the past couple of decades. They are looking for ways to turn telomerase ‘on’ for all the cells in your body; and, to turn it ‘off’ for the cancer cells. It has been shown to be effective with a small number of cells in a test tube but has not been effective with the task of treating 100 trillion cells in the human body.