What Are Telomeres and Why They Are Important in Anti Aging

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

You've likely heard of these things called telomeres. But what are they all about? What do they do, and why are they important? In this article, I'll share the basics on this topic, including the link between shorter telomeres and aging. You'll start to understand why telomere length might be important and what the enzyme telomerase has to do with it all.

And finally, we will talk about some of the best things you can actually do to help yourself stay healthier longer.

I will cover:

Let's start by covering the basics of DNA, chromosome, and telomere biology.

What is a telomere?

Medical illustration of chromosome with telomere ends and DNA strand, protecting end caps.

Consider a classic shoelace. When you look at the end of a shoe string, you'll find that plastic piece that protects the string from fraying and getting damaged.

A telomere is like that protective end piece of a shoelace. A telomere is the DNA structure at the end of a chromosome. It is essentially the end cap on the chromosome. "Telos" means end, and "meros" means part.

The chunk of DNA that makes up a telomere is considered "junk" DNA, meaning it isn't used to create proteins like the DNA that is a part of our genes. There are many different types of "junk" DNA that are not part of our genetic code, but that serve other useful functions. With telomeres, these chunks of DNA still serve a purpose, and that is to protect the end of your chromosomes.

Key terms to understand:

  • DNA: A section of genes which your body reads to create proteins and structures. Each section of your DNA contains a piece of your genetic code.
  • Chromosome: The entire DNA strand with everything that is connected to it. It is the whole structure that carries your genetic information.
  • Telomere: The DNA structure at the end of a chromosome.

The role of telomeres in copying your DNA

During your life span, your DNA gets repeatedly copied. DNA carries the instructions your body needs to create proteins and build the structures your body uses to function in a healthy way. Your DNA is continually being read and copied.

To do this copying process, there is a copy mechanism that attaches to your telomeres.

But the piece of the telomere that is attached doesn't get copied. And so every time a copy of your DNA is made, the copy is a bit shorter than the last. That is because the copy mechanism can't copy the part of the telomere that it is attached to.

Cell division process illustrated and labeled, showing chromosomes and telomere length shortening.

This means that over time, telomere length shortens. And it keeps shortening every single time the DNA is copied.

The telomere is there to protect the ends of your DNA from getting lost – the parts that are needed for your genetic code. But eventually, as the telomeres shorten and shorten, problems can start to occur.


Why are telomeres important for aging?

Let's return to the image of the shoelace. If that protective end cap gets shortened and damaged over time, your shoe string will start to fray at the end. Eventually, the shoe string will no longer be able to function at its best and do its job.

Telomere aging health concept, chromosome in shape of tree with changing and falling leaves.

The same thing happens with our chromosomes and DNA strands. When the telomeres get damaged and are continuously shortening over time, our DNA strands can't quite do their job as well anymore.

When you are young, your chromosomes and DNA have a huge capacity to keep up with damage without any real consequences. But as you get older and you end up with short telomeres and DNA damage, you have a lessened ability to keep up.

The more telomere length shortens, the less gene expression and repair you have. And the less your cells are able to function the way that they should. Ultimately, this leads to age-related issues and symptoms.

That is why telomeres are related to the aging process and your life span.

When you have short telomeres, they can't protect your DNA as well anymore and your cells start to age and eventually die.

Aging concept, with three images of woman’s face, one young, one middle age, one old with wrinkles.

The role of telomerase

Aging is a normal part of life. The more telomere length keeps shortening with time, the less chromosomes are able to do their jobs. And so normal cells will inevitably start to degrade and get damaged over time.

Normal cells can't live forever. So how do cancer cells? Cancer cells create such problems in the body because they live forever and can seem to be indestructible. They don't seem to go through normal aging like other cells do.

That is because cancer cells produce an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase is an enzyme that allows for the replacement of the short pieces of DNA on telomeres. So rather than shortening over time, the telomere length remains stable. And thus the chromosome stays whole and functioning. As a result, the cell doesn't degrade over time and the cancer cell is able to survive forever.

Telomerase is of great interest when it comes to aging due to its ability to protect telomere length. The idea is that if we can keep telomerase active, we can protect the end of our DNA strands from shortening. This hopefully slows down aging.

There is already quite a bit of research done on the telomerase enzyme and the role it plays in aging. Most of the existing telomere research is done on animals. But you will likely see more and more coming out on the role of telomerase in humans.


Astragalus root: a potential telomerase booster?

Now you understand a bit more about telomeres, how aging creates short telomeres, and the potential role of telomerase in protecting our telomere length. So the question becomes: what can we do with this information to potentially slow aging?

The goal of many researchers is to find out what we can do to boost telomerase and make it more active in the body. The goal of this is to stop the shortening of telomere length.

That is where astragalus root comes in.

Astragalus root Chinese medicine herb in mortar and pestle, anti-aging plant.

Astragalus root is a natural supplement. It is a plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

We know that it has some ability to boost telomerase. Some of its beneficial properties include:

  • Having anti-aging effects.
  • Boosting the immune system.
  • Helping you get better sleep.
  • Increasing memory.

All of these benefits might make it good for slowing aging and helping you live longer. And the potential of this plant to make telomerase more active could be very useful.

But here is the bottom line. Telomeres and telomere length are a hot topic when it comes to aging. But as of yet, we don't really know what will work and won't work. So far there is no research so show any conclusions on what taking something like astragalus will do for aging.

So if you go out and get this supplement, I have no idea if it will extend your life span at all.

The research in this area – on effective ways to work with telomeres and telomerase to slow aging – is so new that it is hard to know what will actually make any real difference.

With that in mind, what can you actually do to help yourself live longer?

Painted wood sign with longevity text and arrow with road and landscape background, long life.

What can we actually do to live a longer and healthier life?

There is some promise to the idea of telomeres, telomerase, and an extended life span. But the research isn't quite there yet to say for sure.

So what is your best bet? I believe it is to eliminate the top causes of death by taking preventative action with lifestyle changes.

What I am interested in is to understand the top reasons why people die. These include:

Knowing these causes, my approach is to teach you what you can do to strengthen your weak links. And in the end, to do your best to avoid those causes of death.

If you can eliminate the top reasons that people die, you will be able to live a longer and healthier life. Regardless of telomere length or telomerase activity.

Top tips for preventing disease

Wood blocks spelling keto diet on slate surface surrounded by ketogenic diet healthy foods.

Below are my best tips for living a long and healthy life.

  1. Try Healthy KetoTM. The keto diet is a healthy way of eating that is so good for your body. It can be useful in avoiding common diseases. And it has benefits like helping to improve your mood, memory, weight, and much more. Learn all about my Health KetoTM eating plan here.
  2. Do intermittent fasting. Try this along with keto and your body will thank you. The combo is so great for your heart, immune system, kidneys, etc. And it will support you in living a long and healthy life.
  3. Learn about other anti-aging tips. I've got a lot of other resources out there on staying healthy and slowing aging. Find those tips and more info here:
    1. Aging and food webinar.
    2. 3 life hacks to slow aging.
    3. Anti-aging seminar.
    4. Best anti-aging foods for the brain.
    5. Olive oil benefits for aging.

If you follow these tips, you'll be well on your way to living a long and great life.


Key takeaways

Telomere length and telomerase are hot topics when it comes to aging. But will trying to avoid short telomeres with things like astragalus root really help you live longer?

We can't quite know that yet. The research on shortening telomere length and telomerase boosters is still so new. So no conclusions can yet be made.

That's why my approach to slowing aging doesn't have to do with telomere length. You can do other things to stay healthy that have nothing to do with whether you have long or short telomeres.

Protecting yourself against the major causes of death is key. So work with your diet and lifestyle to boost your overall health in such a way that you can help avoid things like heart disease and stroke. If you can work to avoid those problems, you can live longer and happier.

Keto and fasting are two of the best things you can do for your health. They will support you in avoiding common health problems. Which in the end can help you to slow the aging process.

What are your thoughts on telomere length and aging? What are your top tips for staying healthy as you age?



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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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