Watercolor on paper, 18 Sept. 2005
Every time a cell divides, a portion of the hundreds of telomeres available in each strand are lost, which means that after approx. 50 divisions the DNA strands suffer alterations, the cell cannot divide exactly as it should, deteriorates and finally dies. This is how the aging process begins.
Now, there is a enzyme that replicates telomeres: Telomerase. While we are young we produce enough of it to keep our telomeres in good shape. However, our body also stops producing telomerase when adulthood is reached.
Telomerase allows, then, cells to live for a indefinite period of time. An interesting fact is that cancer cells are associated to a high level of telomerase in the blood, which explains why cancer cells are so difficult to fight, they regenerate fast and multiply even faster. A high level of telomerase is a good, high-probability indicator of cancer cells presence, even if these have not been detected yet.
It has been assessed that telomeres can decay and be destroyed more rapidly on highly stressed people. (See study)
Can we infer that low levels of stress can help to keep telomeres intact for longer periods of time, and thus extend our life span? Studies confirm this point... Succesful experiments have been conducted with mice, increasing their life span about 30%.
It is possible that non-stressed individuals may have existed that could live much longer than us. Did centennial, or even millenial individuals exist? We will look into that in the next blog entries. Keep tuned!
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