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Telomeres, repeating sequences of DNA located at the ends of chromosomes, play a key role in survival and aging. Preserving the length of telomeres has been shown to extend cell lifespan, and many researchers now believe that protecting telomere length holds the key to slowing down the aging process – and sustaining the beneficial qualities of a youthful life.
We can age gracefully with the power of nutrition. There is plenty of scientific evidence that a healthy diet coupled with high-quality supplements can help to maintain our telomere length. Keep reading to see how four common vitamins can reverse the unwanted shortening of telomeres – and prevent the negative effects of aging.
Telomeres are strongly linked to the length (and quality) of our life
Telomere length appears to be a reliable biomarker of cellular aging. Researchers have found that people with chronic degenerative and age-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis have shorter telomeres.
In fact, in a study of over 100,000 participants, those with the shortest telomeres were 23 percent more likely to die within three years than those with longer telomeres.
Why is protecting telomere length so important?
Telomeres act like a protective cap to prevent wear and tear on chromosomes. They also prevent DNA strands from tangling with each other – a process that can cause cell malfunction and disease.
But, telomeres automatically shorten each time a cell replicates itself – a process that has been likened to the burning of a fuse. When telomeres become too short, the DNA unravels and the cell becomes senescent, or obsolete – no longer capable of replicating, or of generating the proteins and enzymes essential to cell survival.
And it’s not just the act of replication that shortens telomeres. Inflammation, oxidative stress, diabetes and obesity are all associated with short telomeres. In addition, higher levels of homocysteine – a molecule associated with heart disease – are linked with premature shortening of telomeres.
Could the “Fountain of Youth” really be an enzyme?
Researchers have discovered that a specific enzyme called telomerase helps to renew and rejuvenate telomeres by adding new DNA to their ends, allowing them to remain functional longer.
Unfortunately, the levels of telomerase – plentiful in youth – decrease with age.
However, there are steps you can take to boost the activity of telomerase and preserve telomere length – thereby prolonging youthful, healthy cell activity, and potentially extending life itself.
The following four common and inexpensive vitamins have all been shown to be beneficial to telomeres.
B-complex vitamins – especially B-6, B-12 and folate – help the body dispose of homocysteine, which interferes with the activity of telomerase. They also support normal cell replication, and are essential for the manufacture of DNA.
Having high levels of homocysteine, along with low levels of B-complex vitamins, is associated with premature shortening of telomeres. It is clear that avoiding vitamin B deficiency is an important part of preserving telomere length.
Another great reason to maintain healthy levels of these three B-complex vitamins is that they are needed for production of SAMe – or S-adenosyl methionine, a compound that helps telomeres work properly.
Good sources of B-complex vitamins include grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised eggs, organic whole grains, legumes and berries.
Studies have shown that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with longer telomeres.
In a 2012 study published in International Journal of Obesity, overweight participants who took 2000 IU of vitamin D a day increased their telomere length by close to 20 percent – a significant lengthening.
In another study, women with the highest levels of vitamin D had telomeres five years “younger” than women with the lowest levels.
Researchers think that vitamin D preserves telomere length by promoting the activity of the telomere-repairing enzyme telomerase. You can up your dietary intake of vitamin D with fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon and grass-fed beef liver, organic egg yolks or raw milk.
In studies of human blood vessel cells, vitamin C had a dramatic effect on telomere shortening, reducing it up to 62 percent over untreated cells. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also reduces free radical damage to our cells.
In a recent study of a cellular model of Werner Syndrome, a premature aging disorder, vitamin C was the most effective of numerous compounds in lengthening telomeres, decreasing the production of inflammatory cytokines and improving the cellular nuclei.
You can increase your intake of dietary vitamin C with supplementation and a diet rich in citrus fruits like, oranges and grapefruits; kiwi fruit, red bell peppers, strawberries plus lots of dark leafy greens like kale.
Vitamin E, which exists in eight different forms of assorted tocopherols and tocotrienols, has been shown to literally “repair” telomeres by correcting malfunctions. Like vitamin C, vitamin E can reduce the chemical stressors that shorten telomeres.
In an intriguing study of aging human cells, researchers found that treating them with a tocotrienol-rich formula reversed age-related changes, making the treated cells resemble “younger “cells – right down to the longer telomeres, reduced DNA damage, and ability to replicate.
The alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E was found to dramatically slow age-related telomere shortening – with the lengthening effect persisting even as the cells reached middle age.
Good sources of vitamin E include organic almonds, spinach, wheat germ, butternut squash and sunflower seeds.
Additional ways to protect your telomeres
Carotenoids, the yellow pigment found in carrots, squash and other vegetables, are closely related to vitamin A. People with high levels of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthan were found to have significantly longer telomeres than those with lower levels.
Fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce the inflammation and damage from free radicals that are known to abbreviate telomeres. And, finally, the use of green tea – which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – is associated with longer telomeres, as well as a longer life.
If you are interested in protecting your telomeres through vitamin supplementation, discuss the matter first with a trusted healthcare provider, who can help you design a program that is right for you.
Research on telomeres is ongoing, with scientists continuing to explore the connection between telomere length and lifespan – a subject of great importance to anyone who is interested in living a longer, healthier life.
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