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In Telomeres, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel tell us:

“We’re going to show you a completely different way of thinking about your health. We are going to take your health down to the cellular level, to show you what premature cellular aging looks like and what kind of havoc it wreaks on your body—and we’ll also show you not only how to avoid it but also how to reverse it. We’ll dive deep into the genetic heart of the cell, into the chromosomes. This is where you’ll find telomeres (tee-lo-meres), repeating segments of noncoding DNA that live at the ends of your chromosomes. Telomeres, which shorten with each cell division, help determine how fast your cells age and when they die, depending on how quickly they wear down. The extraordinary discovery from our research labs and other research labs around the world is that the ends of our chromosomes can actually lengthen—and as a result, aging is a dynamic process that can be accelerated or slowed, and in some aspects even reversed. Aging need not be, as thought for so long, a one-way slippery slope toward infirmity and decay. We all will get older, but how we age is very much dependent on our cellular health. Do you know the protective plastic tips at the end of shoelaces? These are called aglets. The aglets are there to keep shoelaces from fraying. Now imagine that your shoelaces are your chromosomes, the structures inside your cells that carry your genetic information. Telomeres, which can be measured in units of DNA known as base pairs, are like the aglets; they form little caps at the end of the chromosomes and keep the genetic material from unraveling. They are the aglets of aging. The DNA of telomeres is different. First of all, it doesn’t live inside any gene. It sits outside all the genes, at the very edges of the chromosome that contains genes. And unlike genetic DNA, it doesn’t act like a blueprint or code. It’s more like a physical buffer; it protects the chromosome during the process of cell division. Like beefy football players who surround a quarterback, absorbing the hardest blows from the onrush of opposing players, telomeres take one for the team. This protection is crucial.

Okay. So our telomeres act like beefy football players that protect our chromosomes and genetic material. They are crucial to aging and their level of fitness can help slow down and in some aspects reverse aging.

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Episode 21