A recent study by the National Institutes of Health explored the connection between telomere lengths in the human immune cells known as leukocytes (white blood cells) and the use of multivitamins. The data used came from 586 participants in the Sister Study of healthy sisters of breast cancer patients. The women’s ages ranged from 35 to 74 years. Women who used multivitamins on a daily basis had leukocyte telomeres on average 5.1% longer than those who did not use multivitamins.
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Telomeres Related to Cellular Aging
Telomeres are the ends of DNA strands that are involved in the cellular replication process. They provide the starting and ending points for the DNA copying process to operate properly. The telomere theory of aging holds that as the telomeres shorten, DNA replication breaks down and either cells replicate with errors triggering diseases such as cancer or become senescent and cease to be able to replicate.
Cancer cells replicate uncontrollably, damaging the body in the process. Senescent cells are effectively so “old and worn out” that they cannot copy themselves to help repair even normal daily damage to the body. Thus in a very real sense, cancer and aging are related as both are affected by telomere length.
Short Telomeres Tied to Chronic Diseases
In recent years, researchers have found that shorter telomeres are associated with a range of chronic diseases. These include weak immune systems, chronic heart failure, various types of cancers, obesity, and insulin resistance. The last two in particular are connected with the type 2 diabetes epidemic in the United States.
Telomere Length Can Be Increased by Telomerase Enzyme
Telomere lengths can be increased by high activity of the telomerase enzyme in the human body. Telomerase acts by adding copies of the telomere genetic base pairs at the end of DNA strands, thus allowing more replication cycles before the telomeres become too short for DNA copying to function properly. The particular telomere DNA coding sequence varies by species, but this general process has been observed in many species including humans.
Most normal human cells generate little to no telomerase and therefore can only replicate a limited number of times (known as the Hayflick Limit after the scientist who discovered it) before reaching senescence. By contrast, most cancer cells generate so much telomerase that they can replicate essentially without end. This is well demonstrated by cancer cells lines that have been in production starting from the original tissue samples for more than five decades.
Helpers for Increasing Telomere Length – TA 65, Lifestyle Changes & Vitamins
One method to increase telomere length is the TA-65 supplement from T.A. Sciences which we discussed in our previous article entitled Is TA-65 the Means to Immortality? This supplement appears to work well, but unfortunately is quite expensive at present.
Other research suggests that telomere lengthening is associated with a reduction in LDL cholesterol and a reduction in psychological stress and the related hormone cortisol. While cause/effect relationships are not clear, such findings suggest that common problems in American society such as high calorie diets and high conflict divorces can literally shorten your life.
In summary, the study reports that 3 months of “comprehensive lifestyle modifications” resulted in increased telomerase activity in circulating PBMCs of 24 subjects with low-risk prostate cancer. The modifications included diet (low fat, low in refined carbs, lots of fruit and vegetables), exercise (30 minutes walking per day, 6 days per week), stress management (yoga, breathing, meditation, imagery, 60 minutes per day, 6 days per week) and supplements (tofu plus soy-powdered protein, fish oil, selenium, vitamin E and vitamin C).
Outcome measures included the standards for cardiovascular risk (blood pressure, lipid profile, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and C-reactive protein). As one would expect with such drastic changes to diet and exercise in particular, the subjects experienced significant improvements in cardiovascular risk factors: both systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased, as did BMI and waist circumference. Positive changes in lipid profile were also observed.
But perhaps the most critical part of the study focuses on the effect of “psychological functioning”; subjects were assessed using the “Impact of Event Scale, a well-validated measure of distress associated with a traumatic event.” In this study, the subjects had all previously been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, and so a baseline of stress was assumed to be present. At the end of the 3-month lifestyle modification, “intrusive thoughts” were reduced significantly, presumably due to a combination of the improved diet, exercise and stress reduction techniques.
Upon detailed analysis of the data the authors report that the increased telomerase activity correlates with decreased LDL-cholesterol and decreased intrusive thoughts. Previous studies have demonstrated that both oxidized-LDL and cortisol impact on telomerase activity in vitro, providing potential mechanistic links for these observations.
Finally, as for this multivitamin study, the researchers believe that vitamins B12, C, and E are especially helpful in increasing telomere length by protecting against oxidative stress:
Sixty-five percent of the participants reported using multivitamin supplements at least once per month, and 74 percent consumed them daily. Eighty-nine percent of all multivitamin users consumed one a day multivitamin formulas, 21 percent consumed antioxidant combinations, and 17 percent were users of “stress-tabs” or B complex vitamins.
The researchers found 5.1 percent longer telomeres on average in daily users of multivitamins compared with nonusers. Increased telomere length was associated with one a day and antioxidant formula use, but not with stress-tabs or B complex. Individual vitamin B12 supplements were associated with increased telomere length and iron supplements with shorter telomeres. When nutrients from food were analyzed, vitamins C and E emerged as protective against telomere loss.
In their discussion of the findings, the authors explain that telomeres are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress. Additionally, inflammation induces oxidative stress and lowers the activity of telomerase, the enzyme that that is responsible for maintaining telomeres. Because dietary antioxidants, B vitamins, and specific minerals can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, they may be useful for the maintenance of telomere length. In fact, vitamins C and E have been shown in cell cultures to retard telomere shortening and increase cellular life span.
For more information on nutrients that can help keep telomeres long and why they may work, see Telomeres May Shorten More Quickly and Lead to Early Death Due to Oxidative and Inflammatory Damage. The article mentions a particularly interesting study on the connection between poor dental and gum health involving periodontitis leading to accelerated telomere shortening.
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