What Are Telomeres and Why Are They Important Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes, which have an essential role in protecting their integrity in the process of cellular replication. One common analogy is that they are like the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces which keep the laces from unraveling. Telomeres are formed by repeats of a concrete, repetitive DNA sequence, along with associated proteins. The function of telomeres is to protect chromosome ends from chromosome fusions and degradation, therefore, ensuring the proper functionality and viability of cells. Thus, telomere length serves as the biomarker of the cell replicative capacity, which defines the biological age of the individual.
Telomere Testing Technology
Since the award of the 2009 Nobel Prize for the discovery of telomerase, the field of telomere biology has grown dramatically. Clinicians today are increasingly becoming interested in incorporating telomere testing into their practices. This is driven in large part by two converging forces: a growing understanding of the role telomeres play in personalized medicine; and increasing consumer demand for integrative treatment that can slow the aging process. The development of reliable commercial testing now allows for the measurement of individual telomere lengths and quantification of the number of critically short telomeres, both key determinants in overall cellular health. As telomere science moves from the lab to the clinic, measurement of this novel biomarker holds promise for improving early disease identification, risk stratification, treatment algorithms, and health behavior change.
There are three currently available commercial technologies that measure leukocyte blood telomeres. There are pros and cons to each of the current tests on the market. Telomere Analysis Technology® (TAT®) based on HT Q-FISH (www.lifelength. com) with confocal microscopy is the only technology that can measure individual chromosomes, assess the presence of critically short telomeres and determine biological age. Approximately 100,000 individual telomeres are measured in each blood sample. The technology was initially developed at the Spanish National Cancer Research. The accuracy and reproducibility of TAT is superior to flow-FISH with coefficients of variation below 5% and is now clinically approved by the FDA (CMS agency). The database of test results has expanded, given that this technology has become the scientific standard in Europe. A detailed six-page patient report provides both median and average telomere lengths as well as detailing the numbers and percent of critically short telomeres as represented by the lowest 20th percentile.
An Anti-Aging Scorecard backed by Research
The vast body of telomere research has provided strong evidence associating short telomeres with a variety of disease states. Critically short telomeres contribute to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, pulmonary fibrosis, major depressive disorders, CNS diseases and infertility.
Critically short telomeres contribute to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, pulmonary fibrosis, major depressive disorders, CNS diseases and infertility.
Telomere length is increasing being recognized as an independent variable in predicting disease. Telomere length provides a marker of the proliferative history of somatic cells, and as such allows
for the determination of biological, as opposed to chronological age. Maintaining telomere length involves a number of coordinated activities including the enzyme telomerase and the associated
effects of environmental and lifestyle factors.
Accelerated telomere attrition is affected by negative health habits such as smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, stress and social deprivation, sedentary habits and poor diet.
There are numerous scientific publications which have demonstrated that the following lifestyle habits, among others, may help slow telomere attrition and hence your rate of biological aging.
• A healthy diet and proper nutrition
• Regular exercise
• A healthy weight
• Cessation of smoking and moderate alcohol intake
• Effective treatment of coronary heart disease risk factors like diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension
• Taking vitamins and nutraceuticals supplements when required
• Minimizing stress
Why Do We Need to Know our Biological Age?
First, it is an excellent indicator of an individual’s overall general health status.
Second, measuring telomeres and comparing biological age with chronological age can help individuals make healthy decisions and to obtain a better understanding of how lifestyle habits impact aging.
The ability to monitor telomere length, and more importantly, to assess short telomeres in individual cells can be an important tool in clinical practice. The discovery that short telomeres in the somatic cells of mice could be increased by the activation of telomerase holds promise that telomerase enhancing therapies may be able to expand the human lifespan.
Perhaps the greatest value of telomere testing is in obtaining serial measurements by incorporating it as part of an annual health status assessment. It is like a report card, letting both the physician and the patient know how well the total intervention and program is working. This requires two pieces of data: 1) the number and percent of critically short telomeres and, 2) the rate of telomere attrition. Annual snapshots may also serve as powerful lifestyle behavior change motivators or as tools to enhance treatment adherence.
The ever-increasing body of telomere-based research provides deeper understanding of the critical role telomere attrition plays in the aging process. As we seek to limit cellular damage through environmental, lifestyle and supplementary modifications, we now have a method of assessing longterm progress. Assessing telomere length can also aid in the detection and prognosis of certain diseases. New tests for telomerase and tissues appear promising. As the data grows and the link between telomere length to disease and prevention becomes more established, so too will telomere testing become the standard of care for anti-aging.
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