The Fountain of Youth – Telomeres 101

by | Nov 19, 2020 | Longevity

The science community has made huge strides toward increasing longevity, especially regarding chronic illnesses and many types of cancer. Telomeres are an important factor in the growing field of regenerative medicine. The Greek meaning for telomeres is “end cap,” and telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces, because they keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which will destroy or scramble an organism’s genetic information. Like the rest of a chromosome, telomeres are sequences of DNA – chains of chemical code that are made of four nucleic acid bases: G for guanine, A for adenine, T for thymine, and C for cytosine. When the telomere becomes too short, essential parts of the DNA can be damaged in the replication process. Scientists have discovered that cells stop replicating when telomeres are shorter. In humans, a cell replicates about 50 times before the telomeres become too short. This is called the Hayflick limit.

Researchers can use the length of a cell’s telomeres to determine the cell’s age and how many more times is will replicate. This is important in anti-aging research. When a cell stops replicating, it enters into a period of decline known as “cell senescence,” which is the cellular equivalent of aging, and can signal the onset of dementia, cancer and other illnesses. An enzyme named telomerase adds bases to the ends of telomeres and if we could utilize it to “immortalize” human cells, we may be able to mass produce cells for transplantation, including insulin-producing cells to cure diabetes, muscle cells for treating muscular dystrophy, cartilage cells for certain kinds of arthritis, and skin cells for healing severe burns and wounds. An unlimited supply of normal human cells grown in the laboratory would also help efforts to test new drugs and gene therapies.

Obviously, telomeres are important in cancer research since many cancers have shortened telomeres, including pancreatic, bone, prostate, bladder, lung, and kidney. By measuring telomerase, it may possible to detect cancer by making cancer cells age and die. There also is some evidence linking shortened telomeres to Alzheimer disease, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. In one experiment, researchers blocked telomerase activity in human breast and prostate cancer cells growing in the laboratory, prompting the tumor cells to die. But there are risks involved since locking telomerase could impair fertility, wound healing, and production of blood cells and immune system cells, so research remains ongoing, although there are some facilities now offering consumer services relating to telomeres. Always ask for references and check with your doctor prior to pursuing this innovative procedure, as not all tests are considered reliable, and some can’t provide the critical data relating to actual telomere lengths.

Dolly the sheep had chromosomes with shorter telomeres probably because she was cloned from an adult mammary gland cell, which may have contributed to Dolly’s illnesses. Embryonic stem cells, however, express telomerase and are able to maintain their telomere lengths despite numerous cell divisions. A reprogramming of mature adult skin cells has been achieved with introduction of just a few defined nuclear factors. During the process of reverting cells to a more immature state, the reprogrammed cells’ telomeres are highly elongated. In the first steps of reprogramming and likely in the early stages of embryogenesis, cells can elongate, and thus “rejuvenate,” their telomeres.

There is still much to be learned about how telomerase gene mutations cause disease, why they only affect certain organs, and how telomeres can be targeted for therapies. Drugs or hormones that might modulate telomerase expression and maintain or elongate telomeres would be groundbreaking in the treatment of conditions in which telomere display obvious medical consequences. Whether telomere shortening mediates human aging—and whether telomere elongation may reverse aging or prevent age-related diseases—are still controversial issues.


We’ve all had days when we feel run down, both mentally and physically. Your energy levels may spike at certain times and can be affected by your hydration levels, what you ate recently, and the amount of beneficial sleep you’ve had over the past few days. Hormones spikes and deficiencies can also contribute to a chronic, run-down feeling. Less than ideal levels of thyroid, testosterone and estrogen are associated with a sluggish feeling and should be discussed with your doctor. Thyroid disease can affect your mood and cause anxiety or depression. Generally, the more severe the thyroid disease, the more severe the mood changes. Hyperthyroidism is caused by an overactive thyroid and can cause restlessness, anxiety, irritability and nervousness. On the other hand, an underactive thyroid can exacerbate fatigue and depression.

Emotional symptoms alone don’t usually indicate thyroid disease. Other indicators associated with the disease include:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Bowel movement changes
  • Menstrual irregularities

You doctor can order a simple blood workup to determine if you need medication to block your body’s ability to produce new thyroid hormone or to replace missing thyroid hormone. In either case, the correct thyroid diagnosis usually improves both emotional and physical symptoms.

Although several high-profile studies have proven there are some risks associated with hormone therapy, the Mayo Clinic has shared the recent results of a Danish 10 year study of treatment, in which women receiving hormone replacement therapy early after menopause had a significantly reduced risk of mortality, heart failure or heart attack, without any apparent increase in risk of cancer or stroke. Your age, type of menopause and time since menopause play a significant role in the risks associated with hormone therapy. Speak with your doctor to assess your personal risks.

Shake off bouts of depression or low energy by recharging your batteries with some deep breathing exercises and physical activity. Tap into your inner bliss by practicing meditation techniques that are beneficial for anyone experiencing anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and physical symptoms related to stress or disease. Meditation can sooth mood fluctuations that arise through stress or external elements by creating an inner space of clarity that enables you to control your mind and nurture your compassionate nature.

Explore the benefits of reflexology and acupressure, based on ancient healing techniques that work by applying direct pressure to acupressure points. Reflexology focuses specifically on areas at the bottom of your feet, inside the palms of your hands and your ears to deliver therapeutic massage to corresponding organs, bones and systems throughout the body. Stimulating these points will increase blood flow and relax the nervous system, while reducing stress to enhance your rejuvenation. Yoga is mentioned several times in this chapter and remains on the short list as a sensible way to recharge and rejuvenate by helping to increase your energy levels and as a fun way to tap into your mind-body connection. I recently heard an amazing story of a woman in her 50’s who was trying to beat a long-term addiction to anti-depression medications. Her overall health and vitality was not up to par and it soon became obvious, after speaking with her doctor, that the medication was a contributing factor to her overall health decline. She opted to wean herself off the meds over the course of several weeks, and decided to try a yoga class at the suggestion of a friend. After just six months, she has managed to eliminate her need for anti-depressants altogether and has made yoga and meditation a regular part of her life. Obviously, this is a life-changing scenario that took will power and determination on her part, but the benefits will last a lifetime.

You might want to explore other healing art techniques, such as Nia, a national network of certified instructors that combines goal setting, martial arts, dance arts and healing arts in sensory-based exercises that encourage you to move at your own pace.

If a change in scenery is what your inner, feel-good doctor prescribes, locate a rejuvenating spa or resort to give yourself a makeover that begins on the inside. Uplift your spirits with meditative sessions and group or individual therapy designed to lighten your mental load. Spas that offer massage therapy and practice the healing arts of Eastern cultures focus on the mind-body-spirit connection as part of their curriculum. Before subscribing to a specific regime or facility, do your homework by asking for a list of referrals or check out their client satisfaction standing. As always, get your doctors approval prior to making a major change in your diet or exercise routine.

It’s never too late to re-charge diminished energy levels. If you’ve used your age as an excuse not to exercise, it’s important that you overcome the self-imposed, mental stigma and begin with some basic movements to get the blood flowing. March in place, do some deep knee bends and rotate your arms in a full circle for a few minutes at a time if you’ve not had much physical activity lately. The important thing is to get up and move and include deep cleansing breaths to enhance blood flow. Many people decide to walk their way to health and create community participation along the way by inviting others to join in the invigorating activity.

If your need more inspiration, consider the late-in-life accomplishments of the 100-year-old Indian man named Fauja Singh, who set the world record as the oldest marathon runner when he completed the 26 mile Toronto race in 8 hours and 25 minutes. Fauja didn’t even begin running until his mid-sixties – out of boredom, and maintained a robust habit of running ten miles on a regular basis until the age of 100. He credits his endurance to remaining happy and stress free, as well as his simple, Indian-based diet that includes native teas and spices.