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What Causes Aging?

The spiral, ladder-shaped molecule of DNA is a familiar sight. In recent years, scientists have been researching the correlation between DNA and the aging process, specifically whether the shortening of telomeres at the base of a DNA molecule could result in accelerated cell death and various types of cancer.

Shortening of Telomeres

Each time a cell divides, the DNA in the nucleus of the cell is replicated as well. A telomere is a sequence of base pairs at the end of a strand of DNA. Over time, and after trillions of cell divisions, telomeres naturally begin to change. When telomeres shorten or begin to “unravel,” gene sequences could become scrambled, interrupting the cell’s normal functioning and causing it to grow cancerous or die. 

Preventing this type of genetic “wear and tear” on our bodies could preserve the quantity and quality of our years. Researchers are studying the effects of the enzyme telomerase in the human body to determine if it could prevent damage and even lengthen telomeres that have shown signs of distress. Telomerase is produced within the nucleus of stem cells in a person’s bone marrow and found in much smaller amounts in somatic, or body cells, where the shortening of telomeres occurs most often. Scientists have cautioned, however, that simply increasing levels of telomerase isn’t the answer because cells that become cancerous also would have DNA with lengthened telomeres, making them invulnerable to treatment.

Keeping Our DNA Healthy

The good news is, if we eat a balanced diet and exercise moderately, we’re already ensuring that our DNA will stay healthy. Reducing stress and incorporating foods with a variety of antioxidants are other habits that are easily integrated into a healthy lifestyle. And telomere testing kits, along with individualized recommendations from health care professionals, are becoming convenient and affordable.

Read Instride: DNA