In a very interesting study of 586 participants done in 2009, multivitamin use was related to longer telomere length in women aged 35–74 years (1). 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). As you probably already know, telomere length is related to biological aging and excessive telomere shortening may play an important role in development of some chronic diseases eg. Type 2 Diabetes.
It is understandable that regular multivitamin users tend to follow a healthy lifestyle and have a higher intake of micronutrients. The same study found that higher intakes of vitamins C and E from foods were each associated with longer telomeres too, even after adjustment for multivitamin use.
Researchers believe that the findings are related to the antioxidant power of many of the vitamins and minerals in the multivitamins which help prevent damage to all parts of DNA, including telomeres.
1: 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):1857-63. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26986. Epub 2009 Mar 11. PubMed PMID: 19279081; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2714373.
A study in Ohio State University found that Omega-3 supplement (aka Fish Oil) can slow the process of ageing by lengthening Telomeres which are small DNA segments that acts like end caps of chromosomes and protects the chromosome (1). Telomeres play a vital role in human ageing process, they keep the double helix strands of our DNA from unraveling and help our cells divide. As shown in the image above, the more they divide, the shorter they get, and when telomeres get too short it can lead to cell inactivity or death.
In this particular study, 106 overweight or obese adults (average age 51) who live fairly sedentary lifestyles participated in the study. Some were given a placebo, while others took either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams of active omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Of those who took one of the two dosages of omega-3 supplements, a definite lengthening in the telomeres was apparent when compared to the telomeres in the placebo group.
According to Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, the study's lead author and professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University, they find the connection between omega-3 supplements and telomere length exciting because "it suggests the possibility that a nutritional supplement might actually make a difference in aging,"
Interestingly, a past study on mice "engineered to age faster" found that lengthening the rodent's telomeres reversed the aging process. After gene therapy, researchers noticed that the mice's fur went from grey back to its original dark brown and its brain size -- which had decreased by 75 percent much like the brain's of Alzheimer's patients -- returned to normal.
So is Omega-3 supplementation the key to not just slow ageing but to reverse ageing?
1: Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Epel ES, Belury MA, Andridge R, Lin J, Glaser R, Malarkey, WB, Hwang BS, Blackburn E. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2013
Feb;28:16-24. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.09.004. Epub 2012 Sep 23. PubMed PMID:
23010452; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3545053.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research