Nutritionists have long been interested in the dynamics of telomere length in the body, and how telomeres figure in to human health and life expectancy. Telomeres were first discovered in 1973 by Alexey Olovnikov.
He found that the tiny units of DNA at the very end of each chromosome—the telomere—shorten with time because they cannot replicate completely each time the cell divides and they may be the most powerful biological clock that has yet to be identified.
Hence, as you get older, your telomeres get shorter and shorter. Eventually, DNA replication and cell division ceases completely, at which point you die. However, a growing body of research is showing that certain nutrients play a huge role in protecting telomere length; greatly affecting how long you live.
One Way Nutrition Affects Longevity
For example, in one recent studyi, scientists found that the B vitamin folate plays an important part in maintenance of DNA integrity and DNA methylation, which in turn influences telomere length.
Researchers also found that women who use vitamin B12 supplements have longer telomeres than those who don't. Vitamin D3, zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins C and E also influence telomere length. This supports the findings of an earlier study from 2009, which provided the first epidemiologic evidence that the use of multivitamins by women is associated with longer telomeres.iiAccording to the authors:
"Compared with nonusers, the relative telomere length of leukocyte DNA was on average 5.1% longer among daily multivitamin users. In the analysis of micronutrients, higher intakes of vitamins C and E from foods were each associated with longer telomeres, even after adjustment for multivitamin use."
The mechanism by which nutrients appear to affect telomere length is by influencing the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that adds the telomeric repeats to the ends of your DNA. Thousands of studies have been published on telomerase, and they are well-known to maintain genomic stability, prevent the inappropriate activation of DNA damage pathways, and regulate cellular aging.
In 1984, Elizabeth Blackburn PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, discovered that the enzyme telomerase actually has the ability to lengthen the telomere by synthesizing DNA from an RNA primer. She, along with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase."
The Science of Growing Younger
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