The biomedical research journal Aging Cell recently published a study entitled Telomerase activator TA-65 elongates short telomeres and increases health span of adult/old mice without increasing cancer incidence. The research adds to the growing evidence that TA-65 can lengthen very short telomeres and extend the healthy portion of lifespan as indicated by measurements collected including glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis, and skin condition. The study also examined changes in cancer rates between the control group and TA-65 supplemented group. There was a small but statistically insignificant increase in liver cancer rate, leading to the authors concluding that TA-65 appears to improve health measures in aging mice without significantly increasing cancer risk.
Cancer Researchers Intrigued by TA-65 and Telomerase Activation
The research was conducted in Spain by Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre and her collaborators Bruno Bernardes de Jesus, Kerstin Schneeberger, Elsa Vera, Agueda Tejera, and Calvin Harley. Cancer researchers are highly interested in the understanding of telomeres and telomerase because the majority of cancers appear to multiply rapidly in large part due to the involvement of the telomerase enzyme that repairs the telomere end caps on DNA strands, thus allowing unlimited replication of cancer cells. A major concern with TA-65 and similar compounds such as Geron’s TAT2 is that they may encourage the growth of cancers. This study shows that the risk of this appears to be low.
Some believe that this is partly due to how TA-65, TAT2, and other telomerase activators tend to supercharge the immune system and thereby enable the body to destroy microscopic cancer tumors rapidly before they get out of control. If so, it is yet another one of the many double-edge swords of biology in which a single compound that can destroy health can also immensely benefit health. In biology, context is everything. A failure to appreciate the overall systemic role of any one biochemical tends to result in people creating all-good or all-bad oversimplifications that mislead the public and even many other scientists. For example, consider how LDL cholesterol has gotten such an immensely bad rap that it has resulted in the development of numerous very dangerous drug and diet regimens that actually destroy people’s health by interrupting chemical pathways in the body that can create cholesterol. In the process, such treatments deplete the body of CoQ10, damage mitochondrial health, lower measured levels of necessary sex hormones, and do little to change the overall risk for cardiovascular disease. Ironically, some of the treatments can actually increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases despite lowering the popularly maligned LDL cholesterol.
It’s likely that TA-65, TAT2, and any other telomerase activators are not going to be either a panacea or a high-priced carcinogenic scam. Aging is immensely complicated. Frequently it appears that causes of one aging mechanisms are the effects of other aging mechanisms. In such complex systems, it is imprudent or even outright irresponsible to oversimplify the role of any one mechanism such as telomere lengthening. To declare it as either the “key to reversing aging” or the “key to runaway cancer growth” is misleading. For starters, telomerase activation may be both at the same time simply depending upon which cells are using it at the moment.
Do Today’s Telomerase Activators Increase Lifespan?
There are many questions about just how bioavailable any of the currently researched telomerase activators truly are. Additionally, many point out that they seem to function mostly by increasing telomere length of very short telomeres without affecting the length of telomeres in most cells. Some question whether there may be other as yet unknown mechanisms for their actions that could explain these seemingly conflicting observations. There is still no conclusive proof that any of the current crop of telomerase activators can extend lifespan of humans.
It’s my personal view that telomere lengthening will one day be regarded as one major component in workable anti-aging medicine for the masses. Unfortunately, at present TA-65 is still very expensive and furthermore the available dosages and observable effects are probably only a fraction of what is needed to make a huge difference on its own. Even if that changes markedly, I still believe that many other areas of aging must be addressed in concert for their to be huge change in health or lifespan of humans.
My particular favorite target today is mitochondrial dysfunction. Poorly functioning mitochondria are implicated in so many devastating diseases of aging such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, congestive heart failure, and much more. There are actually many inexpensive supplements available to target mitochondrial dysfunction at a reasonable cost and they have substantially more research backing for effectiveness at improving health than any telomerase activators do yet.
Consider carnitine as an example of one inexpensive but highly effective supplement for improving mitochondrial health. In recent weeks, I’ve written several articles on carnitine supplements that are an excellent first step to improving your mitochondrial health and thereby lowering risk for diabetes, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Carnitine can be used at much lower cost than more esoteric supplements such as TA-65. A daily dose of 500mg of carnitine per day can be had in capsule form starting at less than $3 per month versus $200 per month for the starting dosages of TA-65. Granted, carnitine is probably not going to directly increase the length of short telomeres as it is not a telomerase activator. But what it can do is to help your mitochondria body burn off fats, reshape LDL cholesterol to be more light and fluffy and thereby less likely to trigger cardiovascular disease, and in the process reduce inflammation, glycation, and oxidative damage that may themselves lead to more rapid shortening of telomeres. Carnitine has no significant risk when used in reasonable quantities (generally regarded as up to around 2000mg per day) because it is a natural healthy nutritional component of commonly consumed red meats such as beef that is not present in sufficient quantities in most other food sources. Most people who are trying to “eat healthy” often suffer from low carnitine levels by following the common advice to avoid conventionally prepared fatty red meats. Doing so does help avoid unhealthy omega 6 fats and glycated proteins, but it wipes out the most plentiful source of carnitine in the diet. Thus carnitine supplements are a great way to get back this important mitochondrial nutrient in combination with a diet low in fatty red meats. Take a look at L-Carnitine Helps Reduce LDL Cholesterol, Triglycerides, Blood Glucose, and Insulin in Fatty Liver Disease and Diabetes Patients and Vegetarians May Suffer Shorter Life Due to Carnitine, Carnosine, and Vitamin B12 Deficiencies for more information.
To learn more about how lengthening telomeres is just one component of a complete anti-aging protocol, see TA-65 Telomere Lengthening Just One Part of Anti-Aging Healthcare.
Accusations of Financial Conflicts of Interest
Some biomedical researchers are criticizing the researchers behind the recent TA-65 study for financial conflict of interest as they have been involved in the development of TA-65 or operations of businesses offering related anti-aging testing services such as telomere length measurement. In general, it has been clear for decades that the people interested in the field of anti-aging medicine often have both a strong personal interest in the topic and also make their livings from their work in the field. They certainly could be influenced by monetary considerations. But that is true of anybody working in biomedical research, even many who think they have no conflicts of interest.
For example, Judith Campisi of California’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging points to how Maria Blasco is involved in a start-up for-profit business offering telomere length measurement testing services. She finds the timing of the research study’s release to be suspicious given the recent launch of Blasco’s new company Life Lengths.
What is naive or even disingenuous on the part of critics such as Campisi is their failure to admit they may have financial motivations themselves. The success of competing anti-aging supplements such as TA-65 or drugs in development such as TAT2 represents a financial threat to themselves. If TA-65 or any supplement or drug were to be conclusively shown to have life-lengthening properties and thereby become widely used, it could endanger the ability of these critics to continue their research in their areas of specialization. That’s the case even if these critics are not working in what is considered strictly anti-aging medicine. For instance, if TA-65 or Geron’s TAT2 or other astragalus derivatives were someday shown to be highly effective and became inexpensive enough for widespread use for immune system boosting in people with chronic viral infections such as herpes and AIDS, it could represent a significant financial risk to thousands of employees of companies and institutes selling widely used anti-viral medications.
Ultimately, it is very easy to toss around the charge of financial bias regarding anybody working in biomedical research but virtually impossible to conclusively prove there is no such conflict of interest. Scientists often work as competitors to each other, even if they have no financial ownership in their employers or any businesses in the biomedical field. Just look at the history of the discovery of DNA and its structure to understand that publicly recognized giants in the field such as Watson, Crick, Pauling, Wilkins, Franklin, and others were both fiercely competitive with each other and quick to use discoveries the others made even for their own purposes even though there was no immediately obvious way to make a huge profit out of such discoveries at the time.
Don’t let claims of financial bias scare you too much. Consumers are going to have to practice a certain level of “buyer beware” thinking, carefully considering that virtually everybody writing about anti-aging nutrition and medicine has some level of financial interest in it just as is the case in basically every other marketplace. That’s why it is important to look for multiple studies behind any type of health care product. Any one or two studies could be really flawed or outright biased, but if you can find 10 or 20 studies from a variety of universities, clinics, and companies backing up the effectiveness of a particular drug or nutrient then it is unlikely that all of them will be flawed, especially if most show similar benefits and discussion of how the drug or nutrient works and any side effects it may have. Even after you select a product that looks promising, be sure to give it a try with some objective attempts to measure its impact on your health such as via routine blood testing to monitor for effect.
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