Just like Ponce de Leon and the search for the mythical Fountain of Youth, big things are happening in regenerative medicine and anti-aging technologies. Clinical evidence is mounting that one of the most important mechanisms of human aging, telomere shortening, can be arrested or even reversed with drugs that induce telomerase production.
As we age, cumulative divisions increase and the length of the telomere caps decrease. Eventually, the strands get too short to permit cells to divide and regenerate accurately. Cells become old. Eventually, when enough of our cells become old, we die.
Unlike humans, some animals constantly generate telomerase. Lobsters, for example, are considered essentially immortal. Their telomeres never shorten. Some animals kept as pets have approached and even surpassed the century mark.
Even in wild animals such as whales, evidence has mounted that their life spans are longer than previously thought. For example, a whale was discovered with a 130-year-old harpoon point in its neck. Since whalers generally did not take calves, it must have already been at least a few years old at the time is was harpooned.
In humans, the only healthy cells that do not age are reproductive cells. Since the telomerase gene is switched “on,” telomeres do not shorten when the cells multiply.
Occasionally, the telomerase gene in regular adult cells turns on, resulting in a rejuvenated cell. Scientists have used gamma radiation to switch on the telomerase gene in cell cultures, and some speculate that natural gamma may trigger such events in living organisms.
If we could somehow lengthen the telomeres in all of our cells, we could theoretically greatly increase human life span. Perhaps more importantly, we would be healthier at advanced ages, because excessively shortened telomeres result in cell malfunctions.
There are several companies researching ways to increase telomerase production. They have developed tools including genetic engineering and DNA vaccines. And when they are able to be successful at extending health spans, their products will be in demand as time is the one product for which there is unlimited demand.
Until those products are developed, tested, approved, and marketed, most of us take steps to improve our health and to slow aging to the extent we can.
Exercise and stress reduction have the effect of reducing telomere loss.
Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D3 are associated with slowing the rate of telomere loss.
These strategies, however, only slow the aging process; they do not extend our life span.
As mentioned in a previous posts on this blog, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN, has reported that “Practical Immortality may now be within our grasp.”
So now the question becomes, “how do we slow the rate of aging and avoid the frailty that would make longevity less desirable?”
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