It is generally accepted that the shortening of telomeres, the DNA repeat sequences at the end of linear eukaryotic chromosomes, is a major factor that accelrates aging and causes various bodily systems to degenerate.
Telomeres are the caps at the end of the DNA that conserve chromosome integrity and stability. During the process of DNA replication, telomeres are shortened by 50 – 100 bp with each cell division. The end replication problem leads to critically short telomeres and ultimately senescence. As a result, telomeres are implicated as one of the factors that determine aging and lifespan.
Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein enzyme that reverses transcriptase activity and carries out telomere replication by adding a species-dependent telomere repeat sequence to the 3′ end of telomeres. Telomerase synthesizes telomeric DNA sequences through the addition of TTAGGG repeats at the chromosome ends.
When telomerase is turned off in knockout mice, the result leads to degeneration of multiple systems, including immune, digestive and the nervous system. When telomerase is turned back on, these degenerations are reversed. Thus, telomerase activity is essential to health.
Enhancing telomerase activity is one way to delay aging.
One particular natural substance that has been shown to enhance the activity of telomerase is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), an Ayurvedic medicinal herb.
Figure 1: Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root
A study published in 2016 from the Center for Preclinical and Translational Medicine Research, Central Research Facility, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai, India, evaluated Ashwagandha root extract powder (KSM-66) suspended in water to enhance telomerase activity. 1
The researchers treated human cervical carcinoma cell lines called HeLa with various concentrations of Ashwagandha root extract, which showed an increase in telomerase activity measured with the established Telomerase Rapid Amplification Protocol (TRAP) assay. Ashwagandha root extract powder, at a concentration of 10 µg – 50 µg/ml, increased telomerase activity by ~45%, in the Human HeLa cell line upon 72 hrs exposure.
The researchers concluded that Ashwagandha root extract has anti-aging inducing potential.