Telomeres: Can Protecting Telomeres Help Reduce Hair Loss?

Telomeres: Can Protecting Telomeres Help Reduce Hair Loss?

For many years, the preservation of human life has remained a top priority for scientists. The fascination with life extension lures researchers into exploring various new and innovative ways to treat various medical conditions such as cancer, chronic diseases, and alopecia (hair loss). Recent advances in human DNA research have made the possibility of life preservation more reachable than it’s ever been before. In particular, the discovery of telomeres has significantly impacted the ability of man to further investigate ways to preserve various facets of life.

What are Telomeres?

Telomeres are DNA sequences located on the terminal end of chromosomes – think of them like the caps on the end of shoelaces, which prevent the shoelaces from fraying. These structures provide chromosomal protection from erosion and permanent damage resulting in shortening of the chromosome (think of the chromosome like the shoelace). Scientists believe chromosomal shortening can potentially link patients to certain chronic diseases, cancers, and even loss of human life. However, telomere research is still in its early stages, and concrete resolutions to chromosomal protection have yet to be reached.1

In 2009, three scientists (Elizabeth Blackburn, Jack Szostak, and Carol Greider) were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering a means to protect chromosomes against degradation using an enzyme called telomerase.2 Telomerase is responsible for building and protecting telomeres from breaking down prematurely and potentially wreaking havoc on the body. When telomeres are shortened, cells age. Elevated telomerase activity is directly correlated with telomere length retention and delay of apoptosis (cell death). Likewise, decreased telomerase presence is connected with shortened telomeres, chromosomal erosion, and destruction of cells.

Telomeres and Hair Loss

Several research studies have evolved from the findings concluded by Blackburn, Szostack and Greider. Perhaps, some of the most notable research has been conducted in the arena of hair loss and thinning. The study of the telomerase-deficient mouse model has led researchers to believe that late generation telomerase deficient mice display a decreased ability of epidermal stem cells to regenerate the skin and hair. As a result, these mice show premature aging of the hair and integument, as well as increased chances of developing skin cancer, therefore proving that shortened telomeres greatly affect the body’s ability to modulate cellular aging.3

Telomeres and Stress

Shortened telomeres, as well as decreased telomerase activity are associated with several lifestyle risk factors such as poor health and higher than normal stress levels.4 Both psychological stress and perceived stress are likely responsible for the evidence scientists have discovered in their research of the effect of shortened telomeres on health. Women with the highest levels of perceived stress were discovered to have at least one additional decade of aging when compared to low stress women.5 The negative effect of stress on the human body is more than evident visually, but on the hidden cellular level, stress can significantly reduce the quality of life as well as well reduce the lifespan altogether.

Telomerase: The Cure?

Telomerase production is the apparent key to the perseveration of telomeres. However, scientists are still conducting research to find the most suitable and safest way to administer telomerase without causing additional damage to the body. While telomerase is known to help rebuild and protect the ends of chromosomes, it may also potentially create devastating effects to those already diagnosed with cancer.6 Increasing telomerase may encourage tumors to grow faster, which is certainly unfavorable. Therefore, finding the balance between safe levels of telomerase and dosage timeline are still currently being investigated.

TA-65: What is it?

TA-65 supplement for hair loss

American scientists based in New York City have discovered a pill supplement that claims to stop telomeres from shortening. This claim may offer a solution in delaying the ageing process, therefore offering other benefits such as hair retention in the ageing population.7 The product is called TA-65 and is derived from the Chinese herb astragalus. This natural supplement has been utilized for many years for other medicinal purposes. The substance is believed to activate the enzyme telomerase in the body. Currently there is no approval from the U.S. Food and Drug administration regarding this new pill supplement because it is marketed as a supplement and not a drug. Research is also very limited with this new pill, and currently the only researched offered is by the company producing the product (T.A. Sciences). There is no formal randomized or controlled study available for reference. However, in the future, additional research may be a strong possibility.

Telomere Lengthening and Lifestyle Changes

There are several ways to naturally reduce telomere shortening such as regular exercise, reducing stress levels, and eating plenty of antioxidant/vitamin rich foods. A reduction in telomere shortening (lengthening) may potentially offer a solution to reducing hair loss and thinning.

Regular Exercise: There are many well-known documented health benefits received from performing regular exercise. Perhaps one of the most well-known effects is regarding cardiovascular fitness. The human heart greatly benefits from aerobic exercise performed several times per week. Aside from the cardiovascular benefits, aerobic exercise such as running and other high-intensity exercise has been connected to individuals with longer telomere length. A study conducted on middle-aged runners correlated intense running 45-50 miles per week with 75 percent longer telomeres than sedentary individuals. 8

Stress Reduction: Higher than normal stress levels are well-known culprits for causing significant damage to the body. Common conditions such as strokes, heart attacks and obesity can all be linked to high stress levels. A 2004 study observed two groups of mothers carrying for healthy children versus chronically disabled ill children. The mothers caring for ill children displayed telomeres ten years shorter than mothers providing care for healthy children. Stress greatly reduced the length of telomeres in these women; a sad finding. Therefore, we can suggest stress plays a significant role in decreasing the length and quality of telomeres.9

Antioxidant/Vitamin Rich Diet: There are a variety of foods believed to contribute to telomere length retention. In particular, foods high in antioxidants and certain vitamins are connected to improving cellular composition. Foods high in Vitamin C (bell peppers, kiwis, strawberries) and vitamin E (almonds, avocado, turnip greens) specifically are connected to longer telomeres. In contrast, high processed, sugary foods and drinks such as soda have an adverse effect on the body and as a result, telomeres can be significantly shortened.10

The Future of Telomeres and Hair Loss

While the future of telomerase-based products may be uncertain, scientists have made significant advances regarding the study of telomeres and their relation to aging. Shortened telomeres are associated with a decreased life span, certain chronic diseases, as well as hair loss. The option of using telomerase-based products are still currently being researched due to the potential adverse effects they may cause in patients with carcinogenesis. However, there are several natural ways to prevent or delay telomere shortening such as regular exercise, reducing stress, and consuming a diet high in antioxidants and vitamins. There is also a supplement claiming to delay telomere shortening, but scientific evidence and strong supporting research are still lacking. All in all, the future of telomere research as a whole is promising. Scientists will continue to explore new ways to preserve human life and delay the effects of ageing with the discovery of telomeres at the forefront.

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The best way to promote the health of telomeres

The research by Elizabeth Blackburn, Jack Szostak, and Carol Greider (which won them the Nobel Prize), very clearly demonstrates the link between stress and increased telomere degradation. Since stress is also known to cause hair loss in other ways, as well as contribute to chronic diseases such as heart disease; stress reduction is by far the best-known way to protect your telomeres. But reducing stress might not be easy, unless you wanted to quit your job and live in a forest or something radical like that. Therefore, the answer is to change the way you deal with the stress you already experience, by training your mind to be more relaxed in stressful situations and to worry less.

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  1. Calado, Rodrigo. T. (2009). Telomere Diseases. New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 361: 2353-2365. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra0903373.
  2. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009. Press Release 2009-10-05.
  3. Irene Siegl-Cachedenier, Ignacio Flores, Peter Klatt, and Maria A. Blasco. (2007). Telomerase reverses epidermal hair follicle stem cell defects and loss of long-term survival associated with critically short telomeres. The Journal of Cell Biology. Volume 179 (2): 277-290. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.200704141.
  4. Shammas, Masood A. Telomeres, Lifestyle, Cancer and Aging. (2012). Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, Volume 14 (1): 28-34. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1.
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  6. Callaway, Ewen. Telomerase Reverses Ageing Process. (2010). Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. DOI: 10.1038/news.2010.635.
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  8. Reynolds, Gretchen. (2010). Phys Ed: How Exercising Keeps Your Cells Young. New York Times.
  9. Elissa S. Epel, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Jue Lin, Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Nancy E. Adler, Jason D. Morrow, and Richard M. Cawthon. (2004). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101 (49) 17312-17315;
  10. Qun Xu Christine G Parks Lisa A DeRoo Richard M Cawthon Dale P Sandler Honglei Chen. (2009). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 6, 1 June 2009, Pages 1857-1863.