Showing posts with label telomeres. Show all posts
Showing posts with label telomeres. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can Low Income Mean Low Health?

It has been said that money does not bring happiness, “but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery,” quipped writer-comedian Spike Mulligan. Recent research shows he may be right:
  • One recent study showed that rates of child maltreatment worsened as the recent Great Recession deepened and wallets deflated.
  • Researchers say that the less income your family had when you were growing up, the more likely you are to have health problems as an adult.
A 2013 research study, performed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), showed an apparent connection between the length of the human cell’s telomeres (the protective cap-like protein complexes at the end of our chromosomes) and the socioeconomic condition of children and teens – that being raised in a lower socioeconomic state can result in shorter telomeres as adults, which, in turn, can eventually increase susceptibility to colds and other illnesses in middle-aged adults.

You can read more about telomeres and their effect on health and longevity here. The short story is this; telomere length is a “biomarker” of aging. That is, they shorten as we get older. And as they shorten, they lose their ability to function well.

Having shorter telomeres is connected to the early onset of many illnesses, including heart disease and cancer in older adults. As this 2013 study shows, the shortening of your telomeres also increases your susceptibility to acute infectious disease in young to midlife adults.

In other words, the common cold is more common to those who grew up in a lower socioeconomic state.

In the study, researchers measured the telomere lengths of white blood cells from 152 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55.

To gauge childhood and current socioeconomic status, the participants were asked to report whether they currently owned their home and whether their parents owned the family home when they were between the ages of 1 and 18.

The participants were then exposed to a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. They were then quarantined for five days to see if they actually developed an upper respiratory infection.  Some did, and some didn’t.

The results showed that those participants who reported growing up with a lower socioeconomic status — indicated by fewer years that their parents were homeowners — had shorter-than-average telomere length, and were more likely to get sick.

  • Telomere length decreased by 5 percent for each year the participants' parents did not own a home.
  • Parental homeownership in both early childhood and adolescence were both associated with adult telomere length.
  • Participants with lower childhood socioeconomic status were more likely to become infected by the cold virus. Specifically, for each year their parents did not own a home during their childhood years up to age 18, the participants' odds of developing a cold increased by 9 percent.
The collective results of the study provide a compelling case to suggests a biological connection between our childhood experiences and our adult health.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Predicting Longevity–Not So Futuristic

Would you like to know how long you have to live? Sure – some people, maybe many, really don't want to know.  But clearly, some people do want to know. After all, fiction writers and movie-makers have long tantalized willing audiences with dramatic what-if tales – What would you do if you knew you only had a year to live? Or just weeks? What would you do if you knew the day and the hour that the Grim Reaper would come knocking on your door?

But is it pure fiction? Possibly not. While we don't yet have the ability to predict the day and hour of our demise, scientists are making rapid headway toward understanding longevity – toward knowing your personal odds of living two more years versus 20 more years. Scientists and researchers throughout the world are delving far beyond our previous knowledge regarding life and its expiration.

Chromosomes and DNA

Tick tock – The death test watch

As creepy as that sounds, scientists are in fact creating a device that is worn like a wristwatch but that does much more than tell you the time. This seemingly futuristic device, being called an Endotheliometer, is able to read vital information at the cellular level inside your blood capillaries. The device measures activity within the endothelium – the layer of cells which coat the inside of every blood vessel in the body.

Embedded in your endothelium is a wealth of key chemical information that can clue us in to vital health markers throughout the body. This "death test" watch's analysis can potentially warn us in advance of an approaching stroke or heart attack. Its analytic non-invasive tentacles can also painlessly identify the onset of dementia or diabetes mellitus.  It can recognize the presence of cancer in the body, and even provide indications of how quickly we are aging. Read more about the death test watch at PubMed or at Lancaster University’s research showcase.

Telomeres – a microscopic measure of longevity

Go inside a human cell, and then deeper into the nucleus of the cell. Deeper still, you find chromosomes. And at the end of your chromosomes are lengths of DNA called telomeres. Scientists now believe that the length and strength of your telomeres may hold the secrets to understanding many health indicators and, possibly, even indicate the remaining days of your life.

How is this possible? To explain it, scientists often used two different analogies: the telomere as the plastic tip of a shoestring and the telomere as the fuse on a bomb.
  • Just as the plastic tip of a shoestring protects the string itself from unraveling, the telomere protects and preserves the genetic information encoded within your DNA.
  • Just as the shortening of a bomb fuse as it burns indicates the shortening of time before detonation, the shortening of your telomere indicates the impending death of the cell.
Therefore, the longer and stronger your telomeres are, the longer your life and stronger your health is, scientists now think. 

Here's the rub; every time your cell divides, your telomeres shorten a bit. In the human blood cell, for instance, your telomere length is long enough at birth to contain about 8,000 base pairs. But in the elderly? It's closer to 1,500 base pairs. With each cell division (which occurs 50 to 70 times over the course of your life), your telomeres are getting shorter. Eventually, the telomeres are so short they can no longer divide, and your cell dies or becomes inactive.

Using this information about your telomeres, scientists believe they may be able to predict to some degree the remaining life of your cells – the remaining length of your life.

Grandfather and grandson at computer

From predicting longevity to extending life?

The big question about telomere shortening – which scientists are still trying to determine – is whether the shortening of the telomere is causing your aging or whether it is simply an indicator that you are aging.  Some scientists hope that we may be able to extend cellular lifespan – and therefore human lifespan – by either keeping our telomeres from shortening or by finding a way to lengthen them again.  If they become successful, it's possible that we may not only be able to determine the remaining length of our lives but extend them, perhaps indefinitely.  Learn more.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer