Healthy living means different things to different people. But quality of life every human being has to strive for is decided by the type of food eaten and the daily regimens followed in managing the day to day stresses. But all said, the cells which make up the tissues in the body are governed by the well established Hayflick limit which restricts the multiplication by division to roughly about 50 cycles where after they die. In contrast an equally stunning discovery revealed how cancerous cells are not constrained by the above limit, being able to multiply rapidly ad libitum and stay young. It was only recently the real reason for such anomalies of cell multiplication was understood and the role of the enzyme telomerase was discovered in influencing cell division. Telomeres, occurring at both ends of chromosomes contain condensed DNA material and almost like a cap (similar to the two capped ends of a shoe lace) it gives stability to the chromosomes. Repeated cell divisions via mitosis reduces the telomere length and after about 50 divisions they practically disappear.
Nature has endowed the cells undergoing regular division such as those in the immune system with the enzyme telomerase to replace the lost bits of telomeres while in most somatic cells this enzyme, even if present, is not active. Embryonic cells express telomerase because of the necessity for fast growth of all cells. Telomerase enzyme is a reverse transcriptase that carries its own RNA molecule which is used as a template for elongation of telomeres which normally get shortened after each replication cycle. Thus telomerase is like a double edged sword because of its positive role in preserving the cells on one hand and the destructive role in helping the cancerous cells to grow unlimited on the other hand.
The Preventive Medicine Research Institute in California, USA came out with the startling findings that the telomerase activity in normal and healthy human beings can be enhanced through a regime of healthy diet, regular exercise and relaxation and cell damage responsible for aging can be slowed down significantly for a longer life. Though this study cannot be considered adequate to arrive at a firm conclusion due to the limited number of volunteers involved, it does give an indication of future direction of endeavors attempting to push life expectancy further and increase longevity. The life style changes used in the study involved consuming for 3 months a diet high in fruits and vegetables, supplements of vitamins and fish oils, adopting an exercise regimen and stress avoidance and it was found that the blood levels of telomerase in these subjects increased by a whopping 29% compared to the levels before the study. As anti-aging foods, drugs and therapies are increasingly becoming popular amongst consumers, this line of investigations will eventually bring about commercially viable technologies based on the telomerase system. Already the Swiss pharma giant Roche has the license to make a unique kit for testing for hard-to-detect cancers like bladder cancer through the telomerase enzyme assay in urine.
The larger question is whether human beings, when they are in the prime of their life, will ever pay attention to the fact that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, when they can afford, will be the biggest investment which will bring returns in later years in the form of longevity and freedom from some of the debilitating diseases that confront the society. It is unfortunate that wisdom dawns only at the old age when it is too late to recover from the past sins of over eating, sedentary living and stressful daily chores.