In 2009 I met the man who would become my husband and change my life forever. That year might not have seemed as life changing for you, but it actually was.
In 2009 Elizabeth H Blackburn, Carol W Greider and Jack W Szostak won the Nobel Prize for their discovery “How chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”
In 2009 three people told us why we age and what we can do about it.
This is the type of research that I wish came easily to me, it fascinates me and keeps me up reading at night but it’s the work that I have to read over many times, highlight and make notes of. It’s the astounding work of three people who I hope I don’t insult with my own incredibly simplified translation.
As human bodies we are made up of organs. Organs are made of tissue, tissue is comprised of cells and each cell has a nucleus.
Inside the nucleus of a cell we have chromosomes. Chromosomes contain packets of information, this information is our genetic code, our DNA.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is that spiral ladder diagram you’ve see before. Each rung of the ladder is a pair of nucleotides. Nucleotides are the units that store our unique information. Chromosomes are tight coiled strands of DNA, we have 23 chromosomes from each parent.
Chromosomes are strands of DNA. Chromosomes are found in the nucleus of cells, cells make up tissue and we have lots of tissue.
A useful visual is to think of a chromosome as a shoelacewith those plastic tips on the end. The Nobel Prize was awarded to research on those plastic tips – our Telomeres.
GROWTH AND AGE
We all started from just one cell and in order to grow that cell had to duplicate and each cell after duplicated (Mitosis) One parent cell divides into two daughter cells and each daughter made copies of those packets of information (chromosomes). A cell can only divide so many times (Hayflick limit) and when it can divide no more it dies. Changes to our skin and hair are annoying but there becomes a real problem when the cells of the immune system can no longer divide.
Chromosomes hold all our personal data and to ensure that information is copied successfully each chromosome has that plastic tip, that telomere. With each cell division the telomeres shorten and when a telomere becomes too short, the information (chromosomes) cannot be copied and the cell becomes old and dies (apoptosis)
It’s the reduced length of the telomere that has been linked to the aging process. Telomeres protect our chromosomes and much like that shoe lace, problems arise when that plastic tip cant hold it all together.
Chronic stress reduces the length of telomeres. People who care for sick children showed a reduced telomere length that correspondes with the length of care, the results were not a function of the caregivers age. On a promising and quite miraculous note, researchers were able to stop the telomere shortening by implementing stress management techniques. In some cases just 12 minutes meditation a day for two months was shown to protect telomere length. This has far reaching implications for parents of hospitalized children or the long term care needed for autistic kids.
Ladies with cervical cancer were studied and the results were similar. The ladies were given both mental and physical counseling and their symptoms improved. Dr Nelson (University of California, Irvine) went one step further and upon reexamination he found that the counselling had not only stopped the shrinkage, but it had also promoted telomere growth. The study participants still had cancer, that hadn’t changed, but they had longer telomeres at the end of the study than they did at the start.
These incredible results tell us how positive thinking, social support, belief, attitude – faith can dramatically help with health, healing and the aging process.
Telomere length is a function of length erosion and length addition. Stress, sickness, age will cause a telomere to shorten and it is the enzyme Telomerase that is responsible for any growth. Telomerase is found in fetal tissue, adult germ cells and in tumor cells. Body (somatic) tissue tends to age and die because of its very limited telomerase activity. If this enzyme (enzymes speed reactions) is activated a cell will continue to divide. It’s called the “Immortal cell theory” but its not as good as it sounds. The body as a whole is a system of regulators, brakes and accelerators that are used together to find a place of balance. If we just slam on the accelerator it might seem great at first but there will be a long term price to pay. We see this with obvious behaviors such as very restricted dieting, excessive exercise or massive sleep deprivation. You might lose weight initially, hit a personal best or get that study paper in on time – but there will be consequences.
If telomerase can keep a cell dividing it might seem great for anti-aging but quite frightening if that cell is a cancer cell.
Cancer cells are malignant cells which divide and multiply to form a tumor, telomerase is found to be 10-20 times more active in a cancer cell than in a normal cell.
An immortal body with mere mortal disease.
What if we could activate telomerase activity in our aging body cells whilst turning it off in cancer cells. The goal for many is not to live forever, but to live forever in great health, a concept that has became a lot more feasible because of the Nobel Prize winners in 2009.
Today 40 is the new 30 and maybe someday 100 will become the new 65 we live in exciting times that are pushing us to look beyond the physical.