Q: What are telomeres?
A: Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that cap chromosomal ends, promoting chromosomal stability. They are found at the ends of our DNA strands. They allow for our cells to divide without losing genes essential for life. Longer telomeres at the end of our DNA are associated with longer life spans. As we age, they become shorter and shorter, but they can also accelerate in their shortening with other factors.
Q: What does psychological stress do to the telomeres?
A: Numerous studies have demonstrated links between chronic stress and indices of poor health, including risk factors for cardiovascular disease and poorer immune function. People who are stressed over long periods tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought that psychological stress leads to premature aging and the earlier onset of diseases of aging. Recent research also points to the crucial roles of telomeres and telomerase (enzyme) in cellular aging and potentially in disease. Psychological stress is associated with indicators of accelerated cellular and organismal aging: oxidative stress, telomere length. Stress may promote earlier onset of diseases by lowering telomere activity and shorten their lengths. Remember, each time cells divide we can lose the telomere lengths due to instability of our telomeres from stress. There is a limit to how many times our cells can replicate, which keeps us renewed for youth, and then the cells become old. Telomere activities slow down, thus shortening their lengths.
Q: What can this telomere test?
A: Telomere length can serve as a biomarker of a cell’s biological (versus chronological) ‘‘age’’ or potential for further cell division. Further cell division is important for preventing the cells to become old, known as senescence. There is a limit for how many cells in our DNA can divide before our cells become senescence. For example, although your chronological age is 35, your biological age might be 45 due to stress factor, and poor lifestyle. Women with the highest levels of perceived stress have telomeres shorter on average by the equivalent of at least one decade of additional aging compared to low stress women. These findings have implications for understanding how, at the cellular level, stress may promote earlier onset of aging and age-related diseases.
Q: Who should take this test?
A: Telomere testing is for anyone who is interested in optimizing their health, and is interested in knowing their biological age in relation to their chronological age.
A shortened telomere length may be indicative of some chronic degenerative medical issue occurring and possibly accelerated aging. Telomere shortening is a dynamic process. Since telomeres respond positively to improved dietary and lifestyle choices as well as decreased oxidative stress knowing where their telomere sits in regards to reference range will allow those with shorter telomeres for their age to have the potential to change their lives, retard the hastened rate of their telomeres shortening and potentially extend their lifespan.