Telomeres are the “end part” of chromosomes that exist to protect your DNA. They can be likened to the protective plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces that keep them from unraveling. As we age, our telomeres begin to shorten, leading to an increased risk of cellular death and age-related diseases. Scientific research has shown that taking steps to preserve or lengthen the body’s telomeres can lead to improved longevity and overall health. Keep reading to find out why telomere length is so important.
What exactly is telomere length?
Telomere length is the measure of the protective cap on each chromosome that decreases with time, making it an effective biomarker of chronological aging. Interestingly, not all telomeres shorten at the same rate, leading to different lengths of telomeres present in our body. The greater the number of short telomeres a person has, the more prone to disease they become.
Lifestyle choices can also affect telomere length due to their effect on cellular replication rates.
When do telomeres begin to shorten?
Surprisingly, telomeres begin to shorten even before birth. At conception, every human cell has a telomere length of 15,000 base pairs. Much of this length is lost during pregnancy due to the high cellular replication rate of fetal development, leading to an average telomere length of 10,000 bps in newborns. After birth, about 35-150 bps of telomere length is lost per year until they become unstable around 4,500 bps, leading to cellular death and increased risk of disease.
Lifestyle factors can also contribute to the rate of telomere shortening in the human body.
Why do telomeres decrease in length as we age?
During cell replication, a small portion of each of our telomeres is not copied, causing them to shrink with each cell division. Cell replication is a normal part of the body’s aging mechanism. However, bad health habits such as smoking, prolonged exposure to stress, obesity, consuming a poor diet, or not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in cell replication in order to repair damaged tissues. Anything we do to damage our cells causes increased cell division and shortens our telomeres – leading to accelerated aging and an increased risk of disease.
In short, the aging process is programmed within our DNA, and shortened telomeres are simply a factor in this process.
Why is Telomere Length Important in Aging?
Telomere length is an effective marker of biological aging and indicator of overall health.
Research has shown a direct correlation between telomere length and disease. This is because telomeres protect the body’s chromosomes from genetic corruption and cell death.
Each time the body undergoes cell division, telomeres get shorter until the cell can no longer divide and dies. The shorter the body’s telomeres become, the greater the likelihood of aging-related disease. Telomere length works together with other factors such as oxidative stress and genetics to determine an individual’s rate of aging.
What role do telomeres play in aging?
Telomeres play a central role in cellular health and the aging of the human body. They prevent the ends of chromosomes from sticking to one another. When telomeres become too short to remain stable, chromosomes begin to fuse together, affecting the genetic information of the cell and leading to an increased risk of serious diseases such as cancer.
What happens if telomeres are too short?
The shorter your telomeres become, the higher your risk for mortality and aging-related disease becomes. Telomere shortening happens naturally with time but can be accelerated by poor lifestyle choices such as stress, smoking, obesity, and poor diet.
Once telomeres have become too short to protect the chromosome, the ends of different chromosomes begin to fuse together, causing an increased prevalence of diseases like cancer.
Are long or short telomeres better?
Long telomeres are associated with greater benefits including younger cells and better health.
Telomeres are longest at birth and gradually decrease in length as we age, leading to cell death.
Studies have demonstrated an association between longer telomeres and increased health and longevity. On the other hand, shorter telomeres were associated with an increased risk of disease including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
What is considered a good telomere length?
In our youth, telomere length is optimal at around 10,000 bps. Telomere length progressively shortens a little with each cell division until they begin to become unstable at around 4,500 bps.
There is some research to suggest that telomere length can be preserved and even lengthened with the right support, leading to an increase in cell function, disease protection, and longevity.
Is telomere length genetic?
Various factors affecting telomere length can be genetic. For example, anything that affects cell replication will affect the rate at which your telomeres become shortened.
Thankfully, making better lifestyle choices (such as improved diet and exercise) can greatly affect how your DNA is expressed, improving the ability of your telomeres to protect your cells and decrease your risk of aging-related diseases.
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Recent scientific studies have suggested that preserving or increasing the length of telomeres has the ability to prevent aging-related diseases and possibly even increase the human lifespan.
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