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What is a telomere?

DNA is a genetic material that codes for every protein your cells synthesize. It is located within the nuclei of the cells. Under the microscope, we can see DNA in bundled structures called chromosomes. As the cells divide, every chromosome needs to get replicated.

The ends of chromosomes contain stretches of DNA known as telomeres, which serve to protect chromosomes from damage or fusion with other DNA.

This, in a nutshell, is the definition of a telomere.

In this article, we will cover the relationship between telomeres and aging, as well as the biological mechanisms that explain the shortening of the former.

Why do telomeres get shorter?

Each time a cell divides into two cells, the chromosomes within it need to replicate. When this happens, the DNA strands become slightly shorter. The telomeres prevent genes from getting lost during this process; however, this also means that telomeres lose some DNA with every cell division.

To cope with this issue, an enzyme called telomerase prevents too much wear and tear. This enzyme works by adding new telomere sequences to the ends of the chromosomes.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of your cells do not have this enzyme. As a result, your telomeres will continue to shorten with time.

Does telomere length matter?

While there are many experts who believe that telomere shortening is the number one driver of the aging process, we still don’t have a full understanding of how this works.

In one review, researchers found that the markers which indicate the shortening of telomeres and DNA damage increase with age. Another study demonstrated a connection between shorter telomeres and a higher rate of death from infectious diseases and cardiovascular events. However, this study only included 143 participants, which renders its findings questionable.

Factors that influence biological age

We can use telomere length to indicate someone’s biological age. Note that this is different from chronological age.

Scientists found that other factors are associated with reduced telomere length, including physical exercise, sleep, depression, and a few gene mutations. All of this could give us an idea about the biological age of a person.

One study published in the journal Pediatrics found that orphan children have significantly shorter telomeres relative to their counterparts.

In summary, telomere length seems to be a marker of biological age. However, whether its shortening is a direct cause of aging remains to be seen. What we do know is that controlling the factors associated with the shortening of telomeres can contribute to extending your lifespan.

Telomeres serve to protect the ends of your chromosomes from external damage. The shortening of these structures is connected to several diseases and the aging process. Telomeres have a vast impact on our bilogical age.

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