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In recent years, one of the best bio-markers that has begun to be studied to measure the aging process is the length of the chromosomal caps, called telomeres. (1) Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for her research linking accelerated aging to shortened telomeres.
Since Dr. Blackburn’s original research, many efforts have been made to develop strategies to lengthen the telomeres and extend life. Helping to mitigate stress with tools like meditation have been well-documented (2), but recently, five vitamins have emerged as potentially powerful tools to preserve telomere length as you age. (11)
Vitamin B12 & Folate, which supports B12 absorption, have been shown to help regulate homocysteine levels, which are linked to telomere shortening. In studies, subjects with persistently high homocysteine levels were more likely to have shorter Leukocyte Telomere Length (LTL), and subjects with persistently low B12 and Folate levels were more likely to have high levels of homocysteine. (3,4) The highest natural food sources for B12 are clams, beef liver, and fish such as trout and salmon; most dairy products are also a good natural source. The highest natural food sources of Folate are beef liver, black-eyed peas and boiled green vegetables, like spinach, asparagus and Brussel sprouts; broccoli, mustard greens and kidney beans are also good natural sources. (13) >>> Read more about vitamin B12 here
New research has linked vitamin D as a critical part of several vital cellular processes that can potentially affect genomic stability and telomere length as we age. (5) While some experts differ, the Vitamin D Council’s research shows that vitamin D levels are optimized when they are stable at the higher end of the normal range between 40-80ng/mL. For most normal adults, this means that they need a total intake (including food sources) of 4-5000 IU’s per day to maintain optimal levels year-round. This means that winter supplementation will be required for most folks living north of Atlanta. Regular testing is also highly recommended. (10) >>> Learn more about vitamin D3 here
As always, the best natural source of vitamin D is sunlight. The highest natural food sources of vitamin D are cod liver oil and fatty fish, such as swordfish, salmon and tuna; sardines, beef liver and egg yolks are also good natural sources. (13)
The body cannot manufacture its own vitamin C, so unless you are eating sufficient amounts of fruits, particularly citrus, and vegetables, it is easy to become deficient in this vitamin. Fruits are abundant in the fall to help store vitamin C for the winter months. In one study, vitamin C has been linked to a slowdown in telomere shortening by as much as 62% via the suppression of oxidative stress. (6) Other studies have shown an association between higher vitamin C blood concentrations and longer LTL in normal elderly persons (11). The highest natural food sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, raw sweet peppers of every color, dark green veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes and tomatoes. (13)
Vitamin E is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidant, protective and fat-soluble vitamins. Telomerase is the enzyme that is responsible for natural telomere maintenance. In in-vitro studies, vitamin E has been linked to the inhibition of anti-telomerase activity during healthy cell replication. (7) While the specific mechanism is still unclear, the case for vitamin E’s role in healthy aging is already strong. The highest natural food sources of vitamin E are sunflower seeds, nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts, and certain vegetable oils; peanuts and spinach are also good natural sources. (13)
Carotenes, which give carrots their orange color and bell peppers their red and yellow, are the precursors to vitamin A. In one study, higher blood carotene levels were positively associated with approximately 2% longer telomeres. (8) Lutein, another carotenoid commonly found in foods high in carotenes, has also been associated with longer telomere length in recent studies. (9) The highest natural food sources of vitamin A are sweet potatoes, beef liver, spinach and carrots; mangoes, black-eyed peas, and broccoli are also high natural sources.
Eat up, be well, and stay youthful!