Getting Younger From The Inside Out
Thousands of years ago Herodotus the 5th century BC Greek historian wrote stories of a mythical fountain that bestowed eternal youth. In the 16 century Juan Ponce de Leon searched for such a fountain in what is now Florida. Today some scientists believe they may have found a type of fountain of youth if you will, within our own bodies. This source of eternal youthfulness may be attributed to a repetitive DNA sequence that caps our chromosomes known as telomeres.
Telomeres work like the plastic caps on our shoe strings in this case protecting the strands of coded DNA. Every time the cell replicates the telomere ends get a little shorter thus limiting the amount of times the cell can reproduce before dying (Hayflick Limit). The reason for this is to prevent mutated or dysfunctional cells from passing on errant traits. By studying cancer cells it has been found that telomeres can be lengthened keeping the cells alive (immortalizing) and replicating. The process occurs one of two ways by the cell releasing an enzyme (telomerase) or through a function of recombination (ALT).
Scientists now largely believe that if a healthy cell has longer telomeres it will live longer and healthier and therefore pass on more healthy versions of itself. In effect, if the cell looks and functions younger then so, too shall the entire organism.
A recent study at King’s College in London examined the telomeres of thousands of subjects including identical twins over a 10 year period to see what effect exercise may have at the cellular level. Adjusting for things like smoking, BMI, and social status they found that those who exercised vigorously for 3 hours a week had longer telomeres equivalent to cells 9 years younger. Even those who exercise about 90 minutes a week saw a 4 year improvement.
A follow on German study found runners had about 30% longer telomeres than their comparable sedentary counterparts. Couple this to two other recent studies showing that both omega 3 fatty acids and supplements of vitamin D also lengthen telomeres and we may very well be dipping our toes into the fountain after all.