Myths and facts about telomeres and telomerase activation

First off, if you need a quick update on what we are talking about in plain language

I am famous for debunking myths and in the process upsetting lots of people. So, why stop now?

Here are a few things you hear a lot, that are either way over-simplifications or simply not true.

1)  Telomeres protect the DNA from unraveling and as they shorten, the DNA unravels and this causes the cell to die or mutate.

While this is theoretically possible, it is probably not a real phenomenon in humans.  The length of the telomere is, however, intimately tied to a series of structural proteins that turn cell regulation on and off. In addition, the length of the telomere is directly related to certain cell signaling features that cause the cell’s mitochondria to behave like a nuclear reactor on overload (melt down) and autolyse, or explode, from the inside out.  The mitochondria release free radicals that are normally kept inside its own double walled membrane.  These free radicals go out into the rest of the cell and the cell dies.

This mechanism is the same, or very similar, to what happens when the cell experiences a double strand DNA break.

Thus, we see ties from “regular “ cell cycle regulation and the mitochondria to the telomere.  For the scientist and non scientist alike, this means the telomere tends to fit nicely in the center of several other “theories of aging.”

Remember free radicals, stress, and sleep deprivation are all related to shortening of the telomeres.

For more information on how you can help keep your telomeres longer remember this:

“The Immortality Edge” the definitive (and only) book on how to preserve and lengthen your telomeres will be out via John Wiley and Sons in January of 2011. Since I had a major hand in writing it, I can promise you there is almost no scientific jargon or confusing language.  There is just straightforward, no nonsense things you can do right this minute, to help keep your biologic time clocks ticking for a long, long time.

Please note my co-authors Greta Blackburn and Mike Fossel MD PhD are recognized experts in the field of anti-aging and longevity medicine.  Please note, there are a lot of people claiming to have expertise who are not authors of the book for the simple reason that they are not experts!

2)  Supplements can lengthen your telomeres.

There is only one supplement that turns on telomerase and has been shown to lengthen critically short telomeres (the exact way your natural telomerase works, if and when it is turned on!). That supplement is TA-65.

OK, what else works?

Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil: this is proven in a study of heart patients.  The higher the dose of Fish Oil, the longer the telomeres, with the highest dose group having the longest telomeres. Please note, no other form of Omega 3 was tested: specifically not krill, flax, chia, lyprinol or salba.

Vitamin D3 appears to have some action, but is not quantifiable yet.

There are other supplements that, by virtue of their anti-oxidant power, are reported to either slow down loss of telomeres, or actually lengthen them, but this has not been repeatable yet. We have a more complete list of natural telomerase activators compiled here.

What does not work?

I personally sent samples of a product called ASTRAGALOSIDE IV for testing at Sierra Sciences lab in Reno, NV.  It did nothing. (Please note this was one brand. There are a couple on the market).

Protein powder.  A large, well read internet organization is touting protein powder as a way to lengthen your telomeres, via glutathione. There is no proof that this powder  a) increases glutathione in the body b) does anything to telomerase or to telomeres. None whatsoever, but by virtue of “who” is saying “what”, people are not applying critical thinking.  Or, they’re not thinking at all!

Once again these and more claims and issues and myths and facts are all going to be revealed in our upcoming book “The Immortality Edge” – so make sure you put Jan 2011 on your calendar right now and listen to anyone, or anything else, with a jaundiced eye and a critical ear!

If someone claims to have a supplement that turns on telomerase, or lengthens telomeres, then they should be able to produce data from a reputable independent lab experienced in running these tests to prove it.

Sierra Sciences head scientist, Bill Andrews, has tested thousands of compounds for activity.  If you are interested in supporting his work contact him at Sierra Sciences.  When Bill wins humanity wins!

17 thoughts on “Myths and facts about telomeres and telomerase activation”

  1. In what way did “ASTRAGALOSIDE IV ” do nothing? Was it tested on volunteers for a year or two with a control group and it was found that it had no effect on their telomerase activity or telomere length?

      1. It seems Dr. Andrews is still on board with Isagenix. I just saw and spoke with him at an Isagenix convention August 2012. From what I’ve heard directly from Dr. Andrews, he used TA-65 some years ago and is currently using Product B from Isagenix.
        Do you have specific confirmation he is or is not currently using TA-65?

  2. What about the following supplements/therapies and their role on telomeres; anti-inflammatories (Boswella, bitters,adaptogens, ayurveda, resveratrol, DHEA, melatonin, oxygen therapy, omega 7–seabuckthorn, vitamin C (at least 1000 mg.), vitamin B-complex (part. B12, B15 and B17) glutathione, and co-enzymes A and Q. Also, do the hippocampus, pineal, and thymus glands have an important role in longevity? Finally, is moderate intensity excercises and the type of water one drinks affect telomore length?

    1. It would be nice to have actual human data on all the supplements you mention. At best we have cell culture data for but a few of them and when I tested many of the supplements you mentioned in Bill Andrews’ lab they came up negative, suggesting that what is commercially available is not very potent/useful and not the same or in the same concentrations used in the lab studies that tout the telomerase benefits of said supplements. So far the only human data using short telomere testing and actual subjects pharmacokinetic (how much gets absorbed- big difference between spraying cells in a lab and taking something orally or under the tongue) exists for TA-65 and no others. Lots of people want lots of supplements to activate telomerase but all that matters is what happens in you and I. Exercise has a positive effect at preserving, not lengthening, telomeres and toxins in water can have a negative effect. I suggest you read the book I wrote on the topic for more details – The Immortality Edge – Wiley and Sons, Dec 2010

  3. In a Discover Magazine article (May, 2011) it was reported: “Some studies in mice have shown that elevated telomerase activity leaves the animals more susceptible to skin tumors and breast cancer, so maybe there is no free lunch.” Could you comment on this concern? Thanks!

    1. The only studies that show an increase in cancer are those using carcinogenic virus vectors. In any study that used an alternative (like TA-65) or a known non-carcinogenic viral vector, there have never been any statistical increases in cancer. Cancer makes telomerase, not vice versa. The article you refer to in Discovery is based on older science and, with regards to the field, is considered “ancient history”. Be aware that there is some friction between some of the high level scientists in the field, however. In the past, some have mentioned the cancer question just to stir up the pot when their competitors had an article published. This sad trend will probably not go away immediately and relies on the fact that the general public does not read studies, only headlines.

      1. Thanks very much for the reply. I agree about the irresponsibility of new reporting. Your information is reassuring especially as one of the main appeals of the telomerase is the potential reduction in cancer occurrence or re-occurrence

      1. Dear Dr. Dave: Your telomere edge packs look interesting. I take several of these supplements already so could replace some of them. I wonder if you could answer a few questions.


        I currently use products primarily from Designs for Health, a company I know and have confidence in. I don’t see anything in your website regarding quality of manufacturing. Could you address this point. If you know Designs for Health products, could you tell me how yours compare to those standards. *

        There don’t appear to be but could you confirm that there are no ingredients in the telomere edge packs that would be of concern to women who have had hormone-sensitive cancers *

        I looked a the supplement facts, but am unable to find info on other ingredients (e.g. fillers and preservatives). Is this on the website? *

        I understand that B12 is best absorbed sub-lingual? How relevant is this to the B12 in the TE packs? *

        How is this taken? A powder in a drink? *

        Lastly, have you been reviewed by Consumer Lab or other independent labs?

        Thank you, Robin


        1. Hi, Robin.

          Thanks for your interest. I am not able to look at all the products on the market and I am not familiar with the company you are using. If you are happy with what you are taking my suggestion is stay with it. We do not have any ingredients that should be of known concern to anyone with any kind of cancer and all of our products are tested by the batch. Currently we only publish our fish oil data since that is by far our biggest seller.

          Consumer reports only reviews large companies.

          Dr Dave

          1. Thanks much for the quick reply and all the interesting, informative info that you provied. I do like Designs for Health, but I’m impressed with the thoughtful combination in your Telomere Edge so will continue to look into it.

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