Most people may not realize that there are two fundamental ways to protect telomeres: (1) reduce the rate at which they shorten, also known as decreasing the telomere attrition rate and (2) to actually lengthen telomeres. Although it is commonly, albeit somewhat incorrectly, believed that once telomeres shorten they cannot get longer, recent evidence suggests otherwise. Common sense lifestyle choices can actually lengthen telomeres. This is comparable to reversing aging, versus simply slowing it down. For example, in a study started a decade ago, a group of men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer agreed to undergo comprehensive lifestyle changes for five years and be monitored during the course of the study. The lifestyle changes involved increased exercise, better nutrition, and better management of psychological stress - all choices within the reach of every person. After five years, telomere length improved.
For those who want to take protection of their telomeres to the next level, targeted nutrition is key. The effect micronutrients have on telomeres is profound. For example:
Calcium - Required cofactor to prevent DNA replication errors.
Folate - Influences telomere length via DNA methylation.
Vitamin B3 - Extends lifespan of human cells in vitro; Slows telomere attrition rate by reducing reactive oxygen species in mitochondria.
B2, B6 and B12 - Crucial for proper DNA methylation.
Cysteine - Stem cell treatment with N-acetyl cysteine corrects DNA damage in telomeres.
Zinc - Important cofactor for DNA repair enzymes; key role in regulating inflammation.
Copper - Key cofactor in the potent antioxidant superoxide dismutase that is known to protect telomeres.
Magnesium - Induced deficiency shortened telomeres in rat livers; Regulates chromosome separation in cell replication.
Selenium - In vitro supplementation extended telomere length in liver cells; selenoproteins protect DNA.
Glutathione - Interference of glutathione dependent antioxidant defenses accelerates telomere erosion.
Vitamin C - Protects DNA from oxidation. In vitro studies show it slows down age-related telomere shortening in human skin cells.
Vitamin E - Enhances DNA repair as well as removal of damaged DNA; Shown in vitro to restore telomere length on human cells.
Vitamin D - Positively associated with telomere length due to its anti-inflammatory role.
Manganese - Required cofactor in Mn superoxide dismutase, a deficiency in which decreases telomerase activity.
Discover how you can improve your telomere length with Micronutrient testing.
Ornish et al. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9:1048-57.
Ornish et al. Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2013;14:1112-1120.