Nutrients as Anti-Aging Agents
Common sense advice for a long and healthy life—eat your vegetables, exercise regularly, and take your multivitamin—is being backed up by a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The science of aging
The 586 women included in the current study answered food, lifestyle, and health questionnaires and underwent chromosomal analyses to measure their telomeres—repeating DNA sequences found in chromosomes. Telomeres play an important role in protecting chromosomes and promoting normal cell division. Shortened telomere length is believed to indicate cellular aging. The results:
- Women who regularly used any multivitamins had longer telomeres than women who did not.
- Once-a-day multivitamin-mineral combinations and antioxidant combinations were specifically associated with longer telomere lengths, but B-complex supplements were not.
- Getting plenty of vitamins C and E in the diet and supplementing with vitamin B12 were also associated with longer telomeres.
- Supplemental iron was associated with shorter telomeres.
Slowing down the process
Telomeres have been said to act as caps at the tips of the chromosomes, responsible for protecting the genetic information encoded in the main body. These caps become shortened with each cell division, so chromosomes become less protected with normal aging. Scientists have found evidence that oxidative stress and chronic inflammation further contribute to telomere shortening. Once their telomeres become sufficiently shortened, cells appear to be programmed to stop replicating, stop growing, or die.
“Multivitamin supplements are a major source of micronutrients for users, and in particular, are a source of antioxidant vitamins and minerals that may affect the oxidative stress load and degree of inflammation in the body,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Honglei Chen at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina. “This might explain the correlation we observed between regular use of multivitamin supplements and longer telomere length.”
Improving your odds for a long life
In addition to taking a daily multivitamin supplement, research suggests that heeding the following advice might add to your longevity:
- Get regular exercise. Studies have found that staying physically active as we age helps to preserve physical functioning and mental health.
- Maintain a strong social network. According to one study, having a network of good friends might be more important than having close family relationships for increasing longevity in seniors.
- Participate in some form of satisfying work, even after retirement. Whether for pay or as a volunteer, participating in meaningful work can improve the quality, and possibly the length, of your life.
- Eat less. Results from animal studies suggest that calorie restriction increases longevity, but don’t skimp on the vegetables—nutrient deficiencies will not enhance your life.
- Don’t smoke. Today, this is considered common sense, supported by plenty of research.
June 25, 2009
(Am J Clin Nutr. E-pub ahead of print March 11, 2009; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26986)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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