Telomeres and the Aging Process

Telomeres and the Aging Process

We all want to slow down the aging process and increase longevity. Research shows that it may be possible. The herb astragalus has been shown to preserve telomeres, which are essential for the safeguarding of cellular DNA during cell division.

What is a telomere?

A telomere is a repeating DNA sequence located at the end of a cell’s chromosomes. A DNA sequence is made up of base pairs. Telomeres are like the plastic ends on a shoelace—they prevent chromosomes from losing the sequences of base pairs located on their ends during DNA replication. They also prevent chromosomes from fusing together.

How does DNA replicate?

To understand the importance of telomeres, let’s look at the process of DNA replication. DNA replicates just before cell division. A short piece of RNA called a “primer” starts the whole process by attaching itself to a strand of DNA. However, each time a cell divides it loses more of the end of the DNA strand because of the room needed by the piece of RNA, and the strand gets shorter. The telomeres also shorten along with the DNA strand.

Does DNA continue to replicate?

Up to a point. An enzyme called telomerase helps add base pairs to the telomeres’ ends. Eventually, after repeated cell division, the telomerase is depleted and as the telomeres inevitably grow shorter, the cell ages. Once a chromosome reaches a critical length the DNA can’t be replicated and the cell dies. This process of cellular aging is called senescence.

Do shortened telomeres affect aging?

Researchers at the University of Utah have found that shorter telomeres result in shorter lives. People who are older than 60 who have shorter telomeres are three times more likely to die of heart disease and eight times more likely to die of infectious disease.

They also found that people with longer telomeres lived on average five years longer than those with shorter telomeres.

Can telomere shortening be prevented?

The herb astragalus contains a compound called astragaloside that researchers found produces an antiaging effect in mice. It delayed senility in middle-aged mice, as well as improved brain function and strengthened the immune system.

Astragaloside and another compound found in astragalus called cycloastragenol activate production of the enzyme telomerase. This in turn protects telomeres, allowing DNA to be preserved during cell division, offering exciting antiaging potential.

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