What Are ‘Telomeres,’ And Can Understanding Them Keep Us Young?

A new book explores the science behind aging cells.

A new book released Tuesday, “The Telomere Effect,” by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, suggests we may have more control over the aging process than we previously believed.

Blackburn, a molecular biologist and president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Epel, a psychologist and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Aging, Metabolism and Emotions Center, base their findings on thousands of studies related to telomeres, the structures on the end of DNA strands that are akin to “the protective caps on shoelaces.”

These “caps” are vital to how cells age, and the length of telomeres may determine our health and longevity. Having short telomeres, for instance, won’t cause a specific disease, but “research suggests that it hastens the time when whatever your genes have in store will occur,” says Epel.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Understanding how lifestyle and environmental factors affect telomeres may give us more control over the cellular aging process, and provide greater specificity about how we can take our longevity into our own hands. As Epel told STAT, this research provides greater specificity about how certain exercises, food and sleep relate to long telomeres.

“Telomeres listen to you, they listen to your behaviors, they listen to your state of mind,” Blackburn said, underscoring how lifestyle decisions such as exercise, diet and not smoking lengthens telomeres and, potentially, our lives.

Read more on STAT.