Chinese medicine plant activates telomerase

A new study shows that certain nutrients and natural compounds can act as potent telomerase activators has implications for Longevity and the development of treatment for age-related conditions.

The length of telomeres decreases with age and has, therefore, been associated with age-related diseases. Several factors affect the rate of telomere shortening, which can be reversed by the telomere-replacing enzyme, telomerase [1]. The potential use of telomerase to counteract telomere shortening as an anti-aging strategy has been in the spotlight of research in recent years.

Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences found at the ends of our chromosomes. Even though they do not encode for any proteins, telomeres promote chromosomal stability by acting as protective caps of chromosomes. Because of the way DNA is replicated, every time a cell divides, a small part of the end of the chromosomes is lost (also known as “end-replication problem”). The presence of telomeres safeguards that no genes are lost during cell division.

Telomerase is expressed at very low levels in most of our cells, which, therefore, gradually age. Researchers from the Medical School of the University of Crete, Greece, and the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Craiova, Romania, have been investigating the effect of certain nutrients and natural compounds on telomerase activity in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMcs).

Among the compounds tested, extract from Centella asiatica – a plant used in ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine – was the most potent telomerase activator reported to date. Several other nutrients and natural extracts could also activate telomerase to a lower extent. The study was led by Dr Aristidis Tsatsakis, and their findings were published in Molecular Medicine Reports [1].

Interestingly, a previous study showed that treatment with Centella asiatica could enhance the cognitive ability in mice [2] and that it has wound-healing properties [3]. Oleanolic acid (OA), a compound widely found in plants, was also identified as a potent telomerase inhibitor by the study led by Dr Tsatsakis. Previous studies showed that OA can promote Longevity in Caenorhabditis elegans [4] and that it has anti-wrinkle effects in human skin by promoting collagen synthesis [5]; it is very likely that these observations are linked to its ability to promote cell renewal by activating telomerase.

The identification of nutrients and natural compounds that can activate telomerase is a big step closer to fighting aging. However, human clinical studies using these formulations are required to evaluate the health benefits of telomerase activation through natural molecules, before these compounds can enter the Longevity marketplace.