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Secret of living 100 years: Human DNA has some answers!

The secret of living 100 years: According to these scientists, the length of these Telomeres shortens as we age and if we somehow prevent their shortening, we can slow down if not stop, the ageing process. But, is it as simple as it sounds?

Living a long and disease-free life is what the majority of humans aspire for. According to a survey by Edward Jones and Age Wave, nearly 70% of the respondents wanted to live till the age of 100. The scientific community have been insisting the key to a long and healthy life lies within the body itself as the human DNA and genes are considered to be the modern-day birth charts which significantly carry the information for human mortality and diseases. Telomeres, the endings of chromosomes found inside the human DNA are considered to have a decisive role in ascertaining one’s age.

However, living longer does not guarantee a disease-free and healthy life, or does it?

Several types of research that have been ongoing for more than a couple of decades have identified Telomeres found inside the human DNA to be decisive in ascertaining one’s age and the development of diseases inside the body. According to these scientists, the length of these Telomeres shortens as we age and if we somehow prevent their shortening, we can slow down if not stop, the ageing process. But, is it as simple as it sounds?

What are Telomeres?

The endings of linear chromosomes are known as Telomeres. They are directly linked with human ageing and diseases. They are also the DNA-protein structures that are found at both ends of the chromosomes. They protect the genome from several factors such as nucleolytic degradation, interchromosomal fusion, recombination and repair. The information held by the genome is preserved by the telomeres. In simpler terms, the length of the telomere determines the lifespan of the organism and is considered the biological clock.

Alterations in Telomeres have shown results in treating cancer

Scientists have found that cells in our body have a natural defence against cancer. When cells divide many times, they may start to accumulate changes that could lead to cancer. However, before these changes can cause harm, cells enter a state called “cellular senescence” which stops them from dividing further. This process is like a “brake” that helps prevent the development of cancer.

According to Role of Telomeres and Telomerase in Aging and Cancer, published in Cancer Discovery journal in 2016, cancer cells are different because they have found a way to bypass this natural defence and keep dividing endlessly. This is why cancer cells are dangerous and can spread to other parts of the body.
The ageing process and cancer are related because as we get older, our cells start to lose their ability to divide and repair themselves. This means that cells are more likely to enter the senescent state and become less effective at fighting off cancer.

Scientists are exploring ways to target cancer cells by inhibiting a gene called “telomerase.” This could be an effective way to treat cancer. On the other hand, telomerase could be used to extend the lifespan of normal cells in people with certain diseases. The study of telomerase and how it affects cells could have important implications for the future of medicine and cell engineering.

Reverse-ageing possible through telomerase?

Although it is still unsure how much people can improve their telomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of our DNA strands. The research, How “Reversible” Is Telomeric Aging? published in Cancer Prevention Research journal claims it is unclear if improvements in mental and physical health can result in longer telomeres, which could lead to a reduced risk of disease. There is a lack of long-term data and clear standards to determine what is considered a short telomere length.

While telomeres typically shorten as we age, it is possible that sustained improvements in mental and physical health could slow down this process. Studies on animals have shown that increasing telomerase activity, which replenishes telomeres, can reverse the ageing process. In humans, small increases in telomerase have been observed after lifestyle interventions, which are associated with improvements in metabolic health.

According to the authors, while there is still much to learn about telomeres and their relationship with health, there is hope that behavioural changes could potentially impact our telomere length and overall health in a positive way.

How is length of Telomeres influenced?

Recent research suggests that factors like prenatal exposure to environmental conditions, parental age and hormonal profile, pollution, inflammation, and oxidative stress in adulthood may impact telomere length and the rate of chromosome end attrition. According to Telomere Length: how the length makes a Difference published in Molecular Biology Reports in September 2020, Telomere length is also influenced by an individual’s life history from birth onward, with early childhood associated with faster telomere shortening. While slowing down telomere attrition could potentially delay ageing, the role of telomerase activity in healthy patients is still being studied. Telomerase and telomeres are recognized as targets for cancer therapy, but there are concerns about the immortality of cancer cells if telomerase is restored.

Physical activity is generally seen as a healthy lifestyle factor that may slow down telomere attrition, but other factors like exercise intensity and BMI should also be considered. There is still much to learn about telomeres and telomerase, and new diagnostic methods are needed to assess telomere length over an individual’s lifetime and potentially serve as predictive or diagnostic markers for health conditions.

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