A study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health has provided the first epidemiologic evidence that the use of multivitamins is associated with longer telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with the aging of a cell. The study was reported online on March 11, 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Telomere length has been proposed as a marker of biological aging. Shorter telomeres have been linked with higher mortality within a given period of time and an increased risk of some chronic diseases.
For the current research, researchers evaluated 586 participants aged 35 to 74 in the Sister Study, an ongoing prospective cohort of healthy sisters of breast cancer patients. Dietary questionnaires completed upon enrollment collected information concerning food and nutritional supplement intake. Stored blood samples were analyzed for leukocyte (white blood cell) DNA telomere length.
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 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.
"Our study provides preliminary evidence linking multivitamin use to longer leukocyte telomeres," the authors conclude. "This finding should be further evaluated in future epidemiologic studies and its implications concerning aging and the etiology of chronic diseases should be carefully evaluated."
BACKGROUND: Telomere length may be a marker of biological aging. Multivitamin supplements represent a major source of micronutrients, which may affect telomere length by modulating oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. OBJECTIVE: The objective was to examine whether multivitamin use is associated with longer telomeres in women. DESIGN: We performed a cross-sectional analysis of data from 586 early participants (age 35-74 y) in the Sister Study. Multivitamin use and nutrient intakes were assessed with a 146-item food-frequency questionnaire, and relative telomere length of leukocyte DNA was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. RESULTS: After age and other potential confounders were adjusted for, multivitamin use was associated with longer telomeres. Compared with nonusers, the relative telomere length of leukocyte DNA was on average 5.1% longer among daily multivitamin users (P for trend = 0.002). 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. Furthermore, intakes of both nutrients were associated with telomere length among women who did not take multivitamins. CONCLUSION: This study provides the first epidemiologic evidence that multivitamin use is associated with longer telomere length among women.
Xu Q, Parks CG, DeRoo LA, Cawthon RM, Sandler DP, Chen H. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1721-2. PMID: 19279081 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Epidemiology Branch, National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.
Excerpted from Life Extension with permission.