In 1938 a very bright boy named Hermann J. Muller discovered a protective cap at the end of chromosomes that protects your DNA from damage. He called this a ‘terminal gene’ but because scientists and attorneys like to use Latin (a lot!) he formally named his finding a telomere, from two Greek terms: telos (end) and meros (part).
He could have done us all a favor and just called his discovery: The End Part of a Chromosome That Works Like The Plastic Tip of a Shoelace*, but he didn’t. That’s probably just as well as his research would later provide the foundation for the Human Genome Project.
For our purpose, however, here’s how we can simply visualize this: Think of telomeres like the ends of shoelaces that protect them from fraying.
Sad to say, telomeres get shorter with each cell division until there is nothing left and cells die or undergo a permanent arrest, called senescence. But, some of our cells have a special enzyme called telomerase that allows our telomeres to be rebuilt. About now, I imagine you are wondering why I think you should care about my tongue-twisters and how this all relates to retirement living, senior housing, or even retirement communities in general.
Here’s the thing: Telomere length has been used as a biological marker of age—the younger you are, the longer your telomere length. But the real news is this: There are certain factors that can either accelerate or delay the attrition of your telomeres.
Vitamin D turns out to have a big role in telomere length and by implication, aging. Studies have shown when people are divided into two groups based on telomere length, the half with longer telomeres lives an average of five years longer than those with shorter telomeres.
There is chronological aging and biological aging. We can make decisions and take actions that can make our biological age significantly younger than our chronological age. In other words, there are actually some concrete strategies we can undertake to facilitate the divergence (separation) of what boils down to be a divorced but somewhat correlated trend line that makes up the “concept” of aging. My point? Biological age doesn’t need to proceed in lockstep with chronology. Let’s protect those telomeres!
So, here are some factors that extend telomere lengths (as in “yes”, size matters):
- Vitamin D Sufficiency
- Omega-3 Sufficiency
- Folic Acid Sufficiency
(I’m going to add “friendships” even though I made that part completely up.)
For a deeper understanding of a rather difficult topic, click here.
*FYI – The plastic tip at the end of shoelace is called an aglet.