Telomeres: Measuring, Interpreting, and Preventing Shortening

Repetitive regions at the ends of chromosomes are called telomeres. Telomeres act as caps that protect the internal regions of the chromosomes. This genetic structure does not have a coding gene; it is just a single sequence – TTAGGG – repeated hundreds or even thousands of times.

Key takeaways:

Some human cells, such as skin or blood cells, continually divide. However, telomeres shorten during cell division. Telomeres shorten at each cell division cycle due to incomplete synthesis of one DNA strand. Over multiple rounds of cell division, the chromosome gets shorter and shorter.

Telomeres and shortening

Cell division is crucial for human organisms. For example without cell division the immune system could not work at all. There is also another point of this - cell division and telomere shortening are reducing our longevity.

Interestingly, scientists have measured telomere length from 25 different human tissue types — all were different. For example, researchers found the shortest telomeres in the blood — the longest in germ cells. From this research, we could say that our blood is getting old faster than other human tissues, whereas germ cells could stay younger for a longer period of time. But researchers noticed that telomeres reduced at the same ratio in all tissue samples. That means the human organism is a complex of different systems getting older at the same time.

Luckily, there is something that can help prevent this telomere cropping. Telomerase is an enzyme that helps keep cells alive by adding DNA to telomeres (the ends of chromosomes). Most human somatic cells do not produce active telomerase and do not maintain stable telomere length with proliferation. Active telomerase is found in skin, germ, and immunity cells.

Measuring and interpreting telomeres

Human telomeres measure between 5 and 15 kilobases (Kb). One kilobase is a measurement equal to 1000 base pairs of DNA or RNA — one base pair is a structural unit of our genome. For example, telomere length for newborns could be around 17-18 Kb, for seniors - about 9-10 Kb, whereas for young adults around 11-12 Kb.

What methods can be used for telomere measurement?

Telomere lengths are measured using different genetic methods: quantitative FISH (Q-FISH), flow-FISH, real time-PCR, and STELA (single cell telomere length analysis). All these methods are precise; the only difference is the cost. In most clinics or private laboratories, Q-FISH and real-time PCR are used. If you are looking for the cheapest method, you should try real-time PCR.

Who measures telomeres?

There are various clinics and university hospitals equipped for measuring telomeres. For example, a Madrid, Spain facility is a world leader in telomere diagnosis and measurement. However, there are also telomere measuring clinics in the USA (Los Angeles, New York City).

What’s involved in measuring telomeres?

A telomere test requires a simple blood draw or cheek swab. The blood draws for the telomere test can even be done during a normal doctor’s visit. Blood samples are properly packed and shipped to a laboratory for evaluation. Results may take a few weeks, and prices vary from about 100 USD to 250 USD.

Interpreting telomere measurements

The average or median telomere length is expressed in kilobases (e.g., 11.5 Kb). Average telomere length is the mean length of all measured telomeres within a population of cells. However, the telomere length distribution of the cells is not symmetrical. Therefore, the median telomere length is more representative of this distribution than the mean.

According to studies and databases of population-based telomere length in healthy individuals, normal telomere length ranges between 10-12 Kb. Telomeres shorter than 8 Kb could indicate health issues. Notably, telomere length is age dependent.

A healthcare specialist (medical geneticist, medical biologist, family doctor, etc.) can interpret the results of a telomere measurement report. Medical professionals recommend testing telomere length at least once a year to compare results. Findings can help determine how lifestyle modifications impact their growth and evaluate the effectiveness of taking 12 months of supplements.

Telomeres and cancer

Cancer cells often avoid senescence, or cell death, by maintaining their telomeres despite repeated cell divisions. This is possible because cancer cells activate an enzyme called telomerase, which adds genetic units to the telomeres to prevent them from shortening to the point of causing senescence. A good example is a study of telomere length in blood cancer disease — multiple myeloma. Researchers detected that all patients had shorter telomeres — 8 Kb in length. However, the study also determined 3.81 Kb to be telomeres critical length. When telomeres reach this limit, they can’t perform their main role — protecting chromosomes. In other words, the cells die.

Telomere and longevity

Extending telomeres requires active telomerase supplements and a healthy lifestyle could help achieve this. TA-65MD® nutritional supplements have proven to activate telomerase and lengthen telomeres. However, users should take them as part of an overall health and wellness regimen. TA-65MD® supplements have also shown to be safe and effective after more than a decade of worldwide studies. In another independent study, Centella asiatica extract has shown to be the most potent activator of telomerase. Supplements containing Centella asiatica extract, a natural compound with a strong effect on telomerase activity, need more research for validation.

Lifestyle habits that influence telomere length:

Alcohol. Abusing alcohol shortened telomeres. Still one large study indicates that moderate alcohol consumption does not have influence for telomere shortening.

Exercise. Exercise buffers the effect of chronic stress on telomere length. It is proven that a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day for at least 5 days per week could have an important role for telomeres. High-intensity sports like marathons and long-distance running are associated with longer telomeres. Study shows there is a significant influence on telomeres when doing sports for 10 years or longer.

Insomnia. Lack of sleep is associated with shorter telomere length. 6-8 hours of sleep per night might help to keep telomeres longer.

Smoking. Telomeres are shorter in smokers. If you want to improve your longevity, do not smoke or quit.

Stress. Stress has shown to accelerate telomere shortening. Meditation is an option not only to reduce stress, but to improve the length of telomeres as well.

Diet. Eating a Mediterranean diet, higher serum vitamin D concentrations, and omega-3 fatty acid levels are associated with longer telomeres. Intermittent fasting could also extend our telomeres.

Telomerase activating supplements. 1-4 capsules of TA-65MD might help to keep telomeres longer.

In combination with these lifestyle habits and new innovations in science, it is possible to not only slow down shortening but also increase the length of telomeres. Scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine used modified RNA molecules to impact telomerase genes in human cell lines. Over a few days of this experiment telomeres length increased by up to 10%.

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