By Dr. Mercola
In November 2009, I had the privilege of attending a gathering of some of the leading anti-aging biologists and experts in the world.
In the video above, Bill Andrews, PhD and CEO of Sierra Sciences explains what telomeres are, and how extending telomeres may be able to alter the human aging process as we know it. I actually had the chance to have lunch with Dr. Andrews right after his lecture to ask him for more details about it.
Many anti aging experts agree that this approach is, without question, one of the most exciting methods that holds great promise to actually REVERSE aging.
What is a Telomere?
The human body is made up of 100 trillion cells. According to one theory, you age because your cells age. Hence if you can control the aging process in your cells, you should be able to control your aging.
Every cell contains a nucleus. Inside the nucleus are the chromosomes that contain your genes. The chromosome is made up of two "arms," and each arm contains a single molecule DNA, which is essentially a string of beads made up of units called bases.
A typical DNA molecule is about 100 million bases long. It's curled up like slinky, extending from one end of the chromosome to the other. At the very tip of each arm of the chromosome is where you'll find the telomere.
Stem Cell Information, The National Institutes of Health resource for stem cell research, Appendix C: Human Embryonic Stem Cells and Human Embryonic Germ Cells.
If you were to unravel the tip of the chromosome, a telomere is about 15,000 bases long at the moment of conception in the womb. (Remember the length of the entire chromosome is about 100 million bases.) Immediately after conception your cells begin to divide, and your telomeres begin to shorten each time the cell divides.
Once your telomeres have been reduced to about 5,000 bases, you essentially die of old age. This telomere shortening process cannot be affected or stopped by healthy eating habits or exercise.
Why Do Telomeres Shorten?
First of all, there are individual differences at work. Some are born with longer or shorter telomeres than others, and cells can divide at different rates.
However, it's important to realize that telomere shortening can be accelerated by an unhealthy lifestyle. Obesity, lack of exercise, psychological stress and smoking, all cause production of free radicals. Free radicals can cleave telomeres, which speeds up the telomere shortening process.
Although you cannot control the rate of your natural telomere shortening process, you CAN control this accelerated telomere shortening, by eating healthy, exercising, practicing meditation, and taking antioxidants, for example – all the strategies that make for a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Interestingly, researchers have discovered that reproductive cells do not age. They do not undergo the same telomere shortening process as all other cells in your body do.
This is due to the presence and production of an enzyme called telomerase. Somatic cells (all cells other than your reproductive cells) do not produce telomerase, however, they do contain the gene for telomerase production. The gene is simply turned off, which causes the telomere shortening process to proceed.
The strategy at Sierra Sciences is to find out how to turn the telomerase gene back on in somatic cells. They're doing this by searching for chemical compounds that will bind to the repressor protein, which will allow the gene to turn back on.
As of November 10, 2009, Sierra Sciences had screened 161,008 different chemicals for their ability to turn on the telomerase gene, and they had 33 hits. According to their estimates, the first true anti-aging drug may be available as little as 10 to 15 years from now.
You May Be Able to Naturally Decrease Telomere Shortening Already!
Although much of the research in this field is on proprietary chemicals to stop telomere shortening, I have discovered there are studies in progress showing that increasing glutathione levels will actually provide similar results. This, folks, is great news!
Now, glutathione (GHS) is not a compound you can ingest directly. It is manufactured inside your cells from its precursor amino acids, glycine, glutamate and cystine. But this is the exciting part – you don't have to take expensive glutathione supplements. I confirmed with some of the leading scientists at the 2009 Longevity Summit that you can actually increase your glutathione levels through dietary manipulation alone.
Interestingly, one of the most potent dietary strategies to increase your glutathione levels is whey protein. Whey also has so many other health benefits, it's one of my favorite "superfoods."
The best way to increase and maintain your GSH levels is to make sure your diet includes foods rich in the sulfur amino acids your cells need to synthesize glutathione. Whey protein is the easiest and most convenient way to do this. Other food sources include animal foods and eggs.
Just remember that there are vast differences between whey products. You'll want to make sure your whey protein is of high quality, from grass-fed cows, and very carefully processed to preserve the fragile amino acid precursors.
I am so convinced of this research that I take our Miracle Whey protein every morning (typically after my morning exercise program). The coming anti-aging pill may or may not work, but maintaining healthy GSH levels by adding whey protein to your daily diet is something you can do today, which may help you lead a longer life.