Are we just programmed to all die?
Well, yes we are. In the majority of our somatic cells (all cells that aren’t sperm or egg cells), we have an organelle called the nucleus. Within the nucleus is our DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid. Sections of our DNA are called genes that code for certain biological characteristics in our bodies. So, DNA is pretty important for ensuring our bodies have the code to carry out the processes needed to sustain life. However, there are sections at the end of DNA strands called telomeres. Telomere length varies from person to person based on genetic factors and age. As we age our telomere lengths get shorter and shorter and this is believed to be one of the causes of ageing.
Telomeres are just a selection of bases (Adenine, A; Guanine, G; Cytosine, C and Thymine, T) at the ends of our DNA. Why do we have them? Well, everytime our cells divide so does our DNA and with each division the DNA shortens. What part of the DNA shortens? Well the ends do, the telomeres. So, the telomeres protect the sections of DNA essential for all the chemical processes needed in our bodies to keep us alive. You could compare them to the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. If they weren’t there then the laces would fray apart; well the same thing happens to DNA, which is not ideal. When the telomeres are gone, the DNA can no longer divide nor can the cell. Most of our cells can divide about 50 times before the cells become senescent and die.
“perhaps we could slow the process of ageing by reawakening the telomerase in some cells”
Luckily, in our cells we have an enzyme called telomerase that adds more repeat sequences to the end of the DNA, thereby lengthening the telomeres. These cells are seen as immortal as effectively they never age. Sex cells have this capacity whereas somatic cells do not. Scientists have shown that as we age our capacity to produce lots of telomerase decreases, so does the length of our telomeres.
Below you find a brief video explaining what a telomere is. This was published by Kerry McCarthy on March 13th, 2013.
“Does this therefore suggest that early ageing could potentially be reversed with telomerase?”
A study done on rats shows the power of the enzyme telomerase. Mariela Jaskelioff a researcher working at the Institute for Applied Cancer Science and Departments of Medical Oncology, Medicine and Genetics, found that when the enzyme telomerase was genetically removed from the rats they became decrepit. However, their health returned when telomerase was reintroduced into their bodies. Does this therefore suggest that early ageing could potentially be reversed with telomerase?
“Maybe we should just accept that ageing is a natural process of life and it will inevitably happen to all of us”
Ronald DePinho, a cancer geneticist at the institute for Applied Cancer Science and Departments of Medical Oncology suggests, that perhaps we could slow the process of ageing by reawakening the telomerase in some cells.
However, there has been studies to suggest that too much telomerase activity can actually result in cancer growth. It would be good if scientist could measure the amount of telomerase to detect the growth of cancer cells. Then if they can inhibit the telomerase in the cancer cells this would lead to senescence and death. In vitro, researchers inhibited the telomerase production in breast and prostate cancer cells and it did lead to apoptosis (Cell death). However, in their study they mention that, “Blocking telomerase could impair fertility, wound healing, and production of blood cells and immune system cells” which would be fatal.
Maybe we should just accept that ageing is a natural process of life and it will inevitably happen to all of us. However, there is sufficient research out there to suggest what you could do to slow down the rate at which your telomeres shorten and hence your longevity.
“Maintaining active, maintaining a healthy weight for your height and eating lots of healthy fats and vegetables”
Alison Moodie, a journalist for Bulletproof highlights some basic things you could do to increase your longevity. You can lengthen your telomeres by adopting certain behaviours. People who meditate are shown to have longer telomeres. No surprise really, as meditation helps to relax the mind and control your breathing. Maintaining active, maintaining a healthy weight for your height and eating lots of healthy fats and vegetables.
An air pollution study found that poor air is correlated with telomere length. They measured the telomere length in 77 traffic officers white blood cells who were “exposed to high levels of traffic pollutants”. They also measured the telomere length of 57 office workers. Traffic officers were found to have shorter telomeres in comparison to those who work inside an office.
So, currently science is saying that yes we are programmed to die, as are all animals. However, by adopting a healthy lifestyle you can increase the lengths of your telomeres and the quality, as well as the duration, of your life.
Learn.Genetics. 2019. Are Telomeres the Key to Aging and Cancer. [ONLINE] Available at: https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/telomeres/. [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Alison Moodie. 2019. Protect Your Telomeres to Live Longer (and Better). [ONLINE] Available at: https://blog.bulletproof.com/telomeres-aging/#ref-16. [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Hoxha M, et al. Environ Health.. 2009. Association between leukocyte telomere shortening and exposure to traffic pollution: a cross-sectional study on traffic officers and indoor office workers.. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/19772576/. [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Mariela Jaskelioff, Florian L. Muller, Ji-Hye Paik, Emily Thomas, Shan Jiang, Andrew C. Adams, Ergun Sahin, Maria Kost-Alimova, Alexei Protopopov, Juan Cadiñanos, James W. Horner, Eleftheria Maratos-Flier & Ronald A. DePinho. 2011. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature09603. [Accessed 6 March 2019].
Ewen Callaway. 2010. Telomerase reverses ageing process. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nature.com/news/2010/101128/full/news.2010.635.htm03. [Accessed 6 March 2019].