Telomeres are protective, repeating sequences of DNA found at the end of chromosomes, and their length decreases with each cell division, making them a proposed marker of biological aging. Over time their shortening results in cellular aging and eventual cell loss increasing the risk of age-related breakdown of the body.
There are several diet and lifestyle habits known to help reduce the rate of telomere loss — such as quitting smoking, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough antioxidants, vitamin D and fish oil in the diet — but it was not known until just last year whether or not supplementation with a daily multivitamin has any effect on preserving telomere length.
National Institute of Health researchers were the first to report, in a study published in the March 2009 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, epidemiological evidence that regular multivitamin use was associated with longer telomeres among women.
The study found that when compared to non-users of multivitamins, the women who used multivitamins had an average of 5.1 percent longer telomeres, which can translate to a difference of a potential 9.8 years of age-related telomere loss.
To eliminate any variables that might have confounded their results, the authors were careful to exclude women who smoked, were obese, suffered from diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or who had reported a “fair or poor” health status.
In their report, the researchers write, “sixty-five percent of the women had used multivitamins at least once per month, and most (74 percent) took multivitamins on a daily basis” and that the multivitamins accounted for a significant amount of their total vitamin and mineral intake.
The micronutrients most likely to have an important role in preserving telomeres, wrote the scientists, were vitamins C, D, E and most of the B vitamins.
Based on prior cell culture and animal studies, the authors suggest that the higher dietary intake of vitamins C and E is thought to have made an impact on slowing telomere loss due to protection against free radicals, which cause oxidative stress.
Vitamin D is thought to play a role in reducing telomere loss through protective actions involving gene expression of several cellular pathways.
The B vitamins (such as folate and B12) are thought to act on slowing telomere loss by reducing amounts of the amino acid homocysteine in plasma.
Previously, epidemiological studies have suggested multivitamins are helpful for obtaining the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intakes of several vitamins and minerals for long-term optimal health and wellness.
Currently, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, more than 35 percent of adults in the U.S. take multivitamin-mineral supplements.
However, not all multivitamins are the same — as the quality of multivitamins can vary.
A multivitamin should be designed with features for rapid disintegration and improved absorption. In addition, it should provide vitamins and minerals in dosages and forms considered optimal according to the latest science on healthy aging.
Telomere biology is an active area of research among scientists who are seeking to understand more about the aging process and how to improve the quality of life for older adults.
Source: Xu Q, Parks CG, DeRoo LA, Cawthon RM, Sandler DP, Chen H. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1857-63.