I’ve been researching an article on the future of skin care for GCI magazine, which means learning more than I ever thought possible about aging. With the 2009 Nobel Prize of Physiology being awarded for telomere research, there was much talk throughout the past year of the potential for stabilizing telomere shortening and increasing cell life. What I (and most of the world) didn’t know was that telomeres limit the life of a cell. Similar to a battery’s half life. During cell division, the chromosomes are duplicated through the process of DNA replication. However, the ends cannot be copied–kinda like trying to mow all the way up against a fence. Only imagine that the fence moves further back with each pass, shortening the row of grass until eventually there’s nowhere for the mower to move. Similar scenario occurs during the replication of chromosomes.
All cells appear to have the gene that encodes an enzyme—called telomerase—capable of restoring shortened telomeres. Cells in which telomerase–think “erasing telomeres”–is active, seem to divide indefinitely (unfortunately, this is the case with cancer cells). In most normal cells, however, the activity of telomerase is somehow suppressed, so they cannot divide beyond that limited number, called the Hayflick limit or cellular senescence. When that happens, cells either die or enlarge, lose their function and slow down, hindering younger cells.
Basically, if the telomeres are shortened, cells age. Conversely, if telomerase activity is high, telomere length is maintained, and cellular aging is delayed. A profound discovery when traditional thinking was to promote cell turnover to kept cells young. Even though knowledge of telomerase on human experiments has just begin, telomerase therapy holds possibilities for the field of anti-aging in the future.
While messing with the cellular clock may be possible using genetic engineering, there are risks involved especially so early in our understanding of how it works. It could possibly increase the risk of cancer or harm active, healthy cells. The simplest defense remains to be to avoid unnecessary cell divisions by minimizing exposure to factors that promote it such as free radicals, inflammation, toxins and UV radiation (wear your sunscreen!).
Antioxidants have the desired effect, but that’s nothing new. What is new is the use of the next generation of antioxidants, called “superfruits” or anthocyanins—water-soluble pigments found in colorful fruits. They act as powerful antioxidants helping to protect plants from UV damage and can be used in beauty products to protect your skin. New sustainable practices make it easier and more viable to use. So, look for acai, billberry, blackcurrant and cranberry, camu camu, Gamay Tenturiur Fréaux grape, goji and mangosteen, among many others, to appear in your next purchase with antioxidant, as well as futuristic anti-aging benefits.