Life is short. How many times have you heard that tired old saying? Personally, I'm getting damn sick of it just because of it's constant overuse.
I get the positive context that it's typically used in…
“Life is relatively short so let's make some hay while the sun is still shining.”
I'm okay with the worthy inference that you should make the most of life, but I'm not super fond of the not-so-subtle insinuation that life is actually… short.
Granted, for the majority of people, life is shorter than it could/should be. But I refuse to buy into the contention that it absolutely has to be that way.
How Long Are We Living Now?
If you live in the USA, your life expectancy is close to 79 years (good for 50th place worldwide).
Monaco has the highest mortality rate in the world of almost 90 years.
Way, way down in 223rd place is Chad at a meager 49 years.
Quite a broad range, and although Monaco's numbers are impressive, it's still too damn fucking short for my tastes.
Why aren't there more 120 year old super-centenarians that we rarely hear about?
Hell, Methuselah (aka the grandfather of Noah) was reported to have reached the age of 969 before calling it quits. He would have turned his ancient nose up at the saying 'life is short'.
Methuselah notwithstanding, cutting edge scientific studies into the aging process is prompting respected cellular biologists to redifine what might be possible with regards to how long we can live.
What Actually Happens When We Age?
Many people who manage to live into their 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's don't usually arrive there in optimal health.
They typically suffer from one or more age-realated diseases:
- Heart disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- CLRD (chronic lower respiratory disease)
- Type II diabetes
- Alzheimer's Disease
If they happen to die from one of the more serious maladies in the above list, it's not from the ‘aging process’ as we now know it. In other words, they don't die peacefully in their sleep.
From a scientific point of view, our bodies can only live as long as our individual cells continue to divide and multiply. Different types of cells have varying life-spans depending what type of tissue or organ that they make up.
Certain cells that line the walls of the intestine live only 2 or 3 days.
A typical skin cell can hold on for a month or so. Some types of white blood cells only live for a few hours while a liver cell can live to be 16 months old. At the other end of the age spectrum, the average lifespan of a skeletal muscle cell is around 15 years.
As you can see, a cell has a relatively short life-and-death turnaround, depending on the type of tissue it is part of.
But through the magic of mitosis, cells have the ability to clone themselves. Not only for growth (while we're growing up) but also for continued renewal and regeneration. Cell division is important in maintaining healthy and youthful cells in each tissue and organ.
Ideally, you would want your cells to retain their ability to keep dividing and mulitplying, as in… immortality. But unfortunately, that doesn't just keep happening.
Once a cell loses it's ability to divide, called cellular senescence, the tissue or organ made up of those cells rapidly deteriorates and eventually dies.
This is essentially what dying of old age is; cells reaching their limit as to how many times they can replicate themselves. As already noted, every tissue and organ in the body has a different limit except for embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to divide and multiply forever.
Because of the seemingly inherent mortality of cells, dying at a certain age has always been taken for granted. But if the biological process of senescence could somehow be slowed down, halted or maybe even reversed, then it would be entirely possible to go somewhere called ‘beyond aging’.
Enter The Telomere
In the late 1990's, big breakthroughs in understanding the whole aging process were being made.
But before we get to those, a bit of background information would be more than helpful.
Inside every cell is our genetic material; a pair of chromosomes. This is our DNA, which also splits up and produces an exact copy of itself, just like our cells do. At the end of each pair of these chromosomes are protective caps of special DNA code that biologists call telomeres.
Telomeres are in place specifically to guard against corruption of our fragile DNA strands when they replicate themselves during cell division.
When a cell and it's DNA split to form a new cell, these bands of telomeres get chopped off and become shorter. After years of dividing and multiplying, the telomeres become so short that the cell loses its ability to divide.
That's the reason our cells predictably deteriorate and die off. And eventually so do we.
The two take-aways?
- Short telomeres decrease the number of times a cell can divide.
- Long telomeres increase the number of times a cell can divide.
If there was a way to keep telomeres long, so they could continually protect our precious DNA—theoretically—we could live forever.
Cellular biologists and anti-aging scientists are in the midst of continued studies on how this might be accomplished. The result of this ground-breaking research would open up the posssibility of us living much longer than anyone previously thought possible.
In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for…
“The discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.”
Telomerase is an enzyme that protects the telomeres that are in turn, protecting our chromosomes. Increased telomerase activity has been shown to not only keep telomeres long, but in certain cases, actually lengthen them!
In a relatively recent published study (November of 2010), telomere length in older rats were restored to youthful levels. The scientists involved in the study commented that they were able to achieve…
“Unprecedented reversal in age-related decline in the central nervous system and other vital organs.”
In other words, the aging process in the rats wasn't just slowed down or stopped. It was reversed!
Another thing that molecular biologists have observed:
Telomerase activity tends to ‘quiet down’ in response to life stress.
So, in order to lengthen our life spans… it's imperative to bring stress levels down, which will result in longer telomeres.
This is REAL science that may hold the key to physical immortality, or at the very least, radically extending how long you can live.
Eliminating worry and stress (and keeping your telomeres long) is not so easy to pull off, as you are already painfully aware.
But with this exciting new research on how telomeres and telomerase significantly affect the aging process, doing anything within our power to ensure that our telomeres stay long should become a top priority.
Why not have the best of both worlds. Eliminating stress will not only make for a more peaceful existence, but also result in a longer one.