The science of cellular aging has advanced in the last several years at a steady pace since the telomere, the repeating DNA sequence at the end of our chromosomes, was found to be the mechanism that keeps track of our cellular age and determines the number of replications we are allowed before a cell turns old and dies.
Each of our cells decides to do this at their own pace – they don’t just get old all at once and sign off. The rate at which our cells age, we now know, is determined by the remaining length of our telomeres (each cell is individually managing its own telomere shortening – some faster than others). The thinking up til now is that telomeres shorten with each replication, and at some point of shortening, the cell becomes “old” and shuts down (senescence) or dies. We know on the other hand the some cells, those of our reproductive germ line, are immortal, at least on the time scale of life on this earth, and we know that this immortality is conferred by a really slick enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase can rebuild the length of telomeres to some original specification, and does so to maintain our germ cells as immortal from generation to generation, but is deliberately turned off in cells that have become somatic, no longer embryonic. Embryonic cells can specialize to become every type of cell in the body, but once so differentiated, Their rate of telomere repair is drastically reduced, and they are then doomed to “aging”.
We have also found that virtually every type of tissue has a residual bank of “stem cells” that are differentiated, but maintain telomere length, and can be coaxed under the right circumstances, to divide and make new somatic cells, while the mother stem cell remains immortal, because it keeps telomerase turned on. One line of thinking on how to get around this aging thing is to figure out how to stimulate these stem cells to continually replace our old cells with new ones. In fact, products for skin renewal based on this approach are already on the market.
However, some researchers are thinking about cellular age in a new way. The idea is that as telomeres shorten, the behavior of a cell is modified very much like we age – our physical capabilities change slowly in very obvious ways with each passing year. So rather than a switch that hits some critical length and then shuts down the cell, telomeres control the gene expression appropriate for that telomere length, progressively shutting down youthful genes and gradually turning on genes appropriate for an aging cell.
This idea was first presented to me by Dr. Al Sears, and he has a paper available (for a modest price) that proposes that we are discovering, first, that there are supplements and herbal extracts available today that turn on telomerase in at least most of our cells and slow this aging process, and second, that we are just around the corner from being able to reverse-age our cells, restoring our cells to more youthful behavior. In his paper, he lists 12 supplements and herbal extracts that have been shown to slow telomere loss, by turning on some level of telomerase expression, and I found that I am taking all 12 of them at the levels he discusses. I take a lot of supplements, but I didn’t imagine I had covered the bases so well. I can only say that while I definitely feel my 73 years, I seem to be doing a lot better than many of my peers.
If you want Dr. Sears’ E-book buy it from here. I plan to write an article to cover updates on the topic soon, but the very exciting prospect is that we may not be that far away from clearly reversing our age and health status with a simple pill. From a Faith standpoint, I live such that God can take me at any time, and I am grateful for the life I have been given. But if I can have another 50-100 years of healthy, energy-filled productive living, count me in!
Good Living – Frank