In 2009 three American geneticists were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their research on telomeres. Their breakthrough found a significant link in the aging process. This link is called a telomere.
A telomere is a repeating pattern of DNA that exists at the end of a chromosome within the nucleus of a cell. Its purpose is to serve as a protector of the cell's genetic material. Every time a cell divides part of the chromosomal strand is shortened. The telomeres at the end of the chromosome are the cellular component that gets shorter and shorter with each division. If telomeres didn't exist or if they were to get too short, cellular division would cause a fraying and destruction of actual genetic material which would render the cell unable to reproduce causing cellular death.
Scientists have discovered that there is a definite correlation between the length of one's telomeres and the amount of years they have left in life. Every person begins with telomeres that consist of 10,000 base pairs of repeating nucleopeptides. Throughout life, cellular division occurs and gradually begins shortening their telomeres. At the time of a person's death they will have only 5000 base pairs remaining. The shorter a person's telomeres, the more likely he or she is to experience cardiac disease, cancer and premature death. Telomeres are a huge predictor to how long a person will live and how well and disease free his or her life will be.
Depending on an individual's telomere length his or her biological age may or may not correspond with their chronological age. For example, an individual who is 60 years old may have a biological age of 80 years, if his or her telomeres are significantly shortened.
Many factors contribute to shortened telomeres. Recently a study was conducted that found a correlation between childhood stress due to abuse or bullying that resulted in shortened telomeres in children. Have you ever heard the phrase that a child seemed older than his or her years? Well according to this study, children that are forced to “grow up” young due to various environmental stressors actually may have an older biological age due to the bodies stress response. Emotional stress such as a high stress job, abuse, death and loss as well as physical factors such as obesity, poor exercise and eating habits all may be controllable risk factors that contribute to shortening telomeres. Some studies indicate that by controlling these risk factors it may reduce the shortening of telomeres thereby prolonging life.
Another huge finding is the discovery of telomerase, which actually lengthens telomeres! Telomerase is essentially cellular immortality as it allows cells to divide and reproduce without wearing out and dying. In studies done on laboratory mice, scientists were actually able to reverse the effects of aging on the mice by activating telomerase in their bodies. We aren't talking an anti-aging serum here, we are talking actual age reversal. Scientists predict that if widespread use of telomerase enhancing products were to occur that the human life span could be increased by as much as 10-30 years. Imagine the possibilities of living well and healthy well past a hundred years old!