A new study in mice suggests that a dietary supplement may help reduce the effects of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. And it might even reverse the aging process. It does this by lengthening telomeres, which are an important factor in the aging process.
If you've been a reader for long, you've heard me talk about telomeres. They're key indicators of how well the body is aging. But just in case you haven't, let me recap: A telomere is a string of repetitive DNA sequences at the end of each one of our chromosomes. Even though telomeres are made of DNA, the DNA they contain is not essential to cell function. So why are they important?
When your cells divide and the strands of DNA split up to form two new cells, the division destroys the DNA at the very ends of the chromosomes where the telomeres are. When this happens, the telomeres become shorter. This is just a natural side effect of cell division. But since the DNA in the telomeres is not essential to cell function, their destruction doesn’t matter.
But there is one small problem. If the telomeres shorten to the point that they can no longer protect the chromosomes, the cell stops dividing. It goes into what is called a phase of "senescence," which means that its function slows down to almost zero. As all of our cells enter into this senescent phase, the entire body follows suit. This is the root cause of the aging process. So if it were possible to slow down telomere shortening, it would be possible to slow down aging.
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This study found that in mice, not only can this process be slowed down, it actually can be reversed. Researchers gave the mice a supplement of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), which is known for its antioxidant properties and its role in mitochondrial function. In the mice, ALA stimulated the cells to make PGC1-alpha, which controls how exercise affects skeletal muscles. The researchers knew that, but what they didn't know is that PGC1-alpha can also regulate telomerase (the enzyme that lengthens telomeres), thereby reducing cellular stress in the mice.
The mice's blood vessels were in bad shape. Their telomeres were short, and telomerase wasn't very active. This led to additional oxidative stress and damage to their DNA. But introducing PGC1-alpha changed that.
Telomerase is usually only active in cells when they're dividing. That means it plays a role in the unchecked growth of cancer cells as well. So the researchers were a little worried that stimulating telomerase everywhere could lead to cancer. They used ALA to help ensure the PGC1-alpha and its telomerase-stimulating effects were focused where they needed to be — on the vascular cells. And while they caution that more research is needed to fully assess the risk, they haven't seen any increase in cancer in the mice. And I don’t think they ever will.
ALA offers a number of benefits and has never been associated with an increased cancer risk. You can find it in foods such as spinach, broccoli, and potatoes or in supplement form. While this study focused on mice, I'm excited to see further research on how ALA affects human telomeres. I think it's very promising when it comes to slowing down the aging process. If you’re taking Complete Daily Oils, you’re getting 50 mg of ALA every day, plus other great oils that will help you stay young and vibrant.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD