There aren’t very many things in life that we know will add years to your life. Eating fewer calories is one thing proven to extend your life. Exercise, done properly, can add a few years as well. But that’s about all medicine has been willing to admit will extend your life.
But what if I told you there are two supplements that can add years to your life, would you believe me? Well, as you’re about to read, you really can add up to five years just by taking a few seconds a day to take these pills. Here’s what you need to know.
Let’s face it, people are always looking for the latest miracle drug. While supplements can’t promise a cure for everything that ails you, there are supplements that can help you slow the aging process in your cells. That’s pretty miraculous in itself!
But by slowing the aging process at the cellular level, these supplements can add years to your life. And science has proven it.
It Starts With Vitamin D
You probably already know about the many attributes of taking vitamin D3. Everyone should take enough to bring their blood levels over 50 ng/ml. But can taking a vitamin D supplement actually add years to your life? Well, British researchers at the London School of Medicine have research that proves it can.
The study authors looked at the vitamin D concentrations in the blood of 1,080 pairs of female twins between the ages of 18–79. At the same time, they examined the length of their telomeres. I have discussed telomeres before. If you’re not already familiar with telomeres, you can read all about them on my website. In a nutshell, telomeres protect your DNA from damage over time. The longer they are, the longer your potential lifespan.
Two things determine how long your telomeres are. One is your genetics. Some people are born with longer telomeres and others are not so lucky. There’s nothing you can do about that.
However, the other factor has to do with how quickly they shorten. You can do something about that. This is where lifestyle and nutrition come in. The better your lifestyle and nutrition, the less quickly your telomeres shorten.
The researchers examined twins because they are born with the same telomere length. So if their telomere lengths become different over time, it must be for lifestyle or nutritional reasons. What they discovered is just plain amazing!
As expected, in all cases, the older the twins, the shorter their telomeres. But here’s where it gets interesting. The higher their vitamin D levels were, the longer the telomeres were. And the lower the vitamin D levels were, the shorter the telomeres were. This was true for every age, even for the younger women. It was a direct correlation.
It was also independent of sunlight exposure, levels of physical activity, and whether or not the women used hormone replacement. So the cause of the different telomere lengths in these sets of twins was directly related to how much vitamin D each woman had in her diet. And the differences were very significant.
The researchers divided the women into three groups. The women who were in the top third had telomeres that were 107 base pairs longer than those in the lower third. This is the equivalence of five more years of life!
The authors of the study say it best, “Our findings suggest that higher vitamin D concentrations, which are easily modifiable through nutritional supplementation, are associated with longer telomere length. This underscores the potentially beneficial effects of this hormone [vitamin D is a hormone] on aging and age-related diseases.”
What to Take With Vitamin D
Another study showed that taking fish oil supplements also resulted in longer telomeres. The finding that both fish oil and vitamin D lead to longer telomeres suggests that inflammation control may be the central mechanism. Both of these nutrients have pronounced anti-inflammatory activities.
The researchers for this study were from the Department of Cardiology at San Francisco General Hospital – about as conventional as you can get. These cardiologists knew that higher intakes of the omega-3 fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in fish oil, cause patients with heart disease to live longer. They also knew that previous studies had shown that some of the ways fish oil prevents heart disease is because it is anti-inflammatory, prevents platelets from sticking together to form dangerous clots, lowers blood pressure, prevents heart arrhythmias, and lowers blood fats.
But they knew something else about heart disease. They knew that patients with heart disease have much shorter telomeres than people with healthy hearts.
They were curious to know if some of the marvelous properties of fish oils might have something to do with their effects on telomeres. So here’s what they did.
They looked at a group of 608 patients who had coronary artery disease. All of them were stable and doing well. The researchers measured the length of their telomeres and the amounts of DHA and EPA that they had in their blood. Not surprisingly, they found that there was no association between how long the telomeres were and how high the DHA and EPA levels were. Some people with higher levels had shorter telomeres, and some with lower levels had higher telomeres. I’ll explain why this isn’t surprising in a little bit. But first, back to the study.
Then, an average of six years later, they re-measured everything a second time. When they sorted out all of the data, they noticed that all of the patients had developed shorter telomeres. This was expected. Remember that every time your cells divide, your telomeres become shorter. So everyone’s telomeres will shorten over a six-year period of time.
But the astonishing thing was that the telomeres of the patients with the lower levels (lowest 25% of the participants) of DHA and EPA shortened 300% more than those with the highest levels (highest 25%). The researchers were able to determine that no other factor – including obesity, smoking, medications, or blood pressure – influenced this. It was solely their EPA and DHA levels.
How do fish oils do this? I think it’s because they improve the way enzymes work. Enzymes are the special proteins in cells that regulate what happens and what doesn’t. One of our most important enzymes for longevity and healthy aging is telomerase. Telomerase acts to repair and lengthen the ends of the telomeres every time a cell division shortens them. As long as your telomerase enzymes work well, your body can maintain the function of your telomeres.
The problem is that as we get older, all of our enzymes, including telomerase, don’t work very well. And this leads to more rapid telomere shortening.
In 2008, Dean Ornish was able to show that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and supplementing with three grams of concentrated fish oil caused a significant increase in the activity of telomerase. That study dovetails perfectly with the San Francisco study and shows us how fish oil may work its magic on our telomeres.
To bring all of this together, I need to flesh out three other points about this study. For one, why did the initial length of the telomeres in these patients not correlate at all with the levels of DHA and EPA? As I mentioned earlier, this lack of initial correlation wasn’t surprising for two reasons.
One, because of genetic differences, all of us are born with different telomere lengths to start with. Some people come into this world with telomeres that are much longer than others. This variation no doubt has something to do with all those exceptions to the rule out there. Some people with unhealthy lifestyles still manage to live longer than others with healthier lifestyles.
Second, studies have shown that there are other factors that can affect telomere length besides fish oil. These can include multivitamins, antioxidant intake, exercise, and smoking. But it was impossible for the researchers to account for the potential influence of these other factors before the study began. So it was natural that fish oil levels all by themselves could not account for the initial differences.
The second point I want to bring out concerns the results at the end of the study. The researchers found that the levels of EPA and DHA of both the patients with the minimally shortened telomeres and those with the maximally shortened telomeres were all in the “normal range.” This means that for many people, just having a diet that contains normal and customary levels of fish in the diet will not be enough to lengthen your life. As in the Ornish study, they will need to take supplements of fish oil in order to be in the upper bracket.
This means that fish oil is one of the best anti-aging strategies we have. The authors summed up the amazing anti-aging effect of fish oils this way: “The present findings identify deceleration of telomere attrition [prevention of telomere shortening] as a potentially novel pathway for the anti-aging effects of marine omega-3 fatty acids.”
Longer telomeres not only mean a longer life; more importantly, they also translate out into a stronger and better functioning body as you get older. So learn from these studies. If you aren’t already, start today and please eat only whole fresh foods, maintain a regular aerobic exercise program, and take three grams of concentrated fish oil every day. But don’t take just any fish oil!
Make sure the brand you take contains a concentrate of 1,000 mg of DHA/EPA per capsule. And also make sure the manufacturer guarantees its purity. They must ensure that it is free of mercury and other contaminants. You can't find that kind of quality at the discount stores. You see, most fish oils have just 18% concentration of EPA and a 12% concentration of DHA. That’s just not enough to get the results you want.
You can get both fish oil and vitamin D from your diet. But I don’t think you’ll get enough to protect your telomeres. To do that, you’ll need supplements. It’s easy to just swallow a few pills with a glass of water. It will take you a few seconds. But if you’re willing to spend just a couple more minutes on this habit, you could extend your life even further.
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Farzaneh-Far, Ramin, MD, Jue Lin, PhD, Elissa S. Epel, PhD, William S. Harris, PhD, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, and Mary A. Whooley, MD. “Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels With Telomeric Aging in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease,” JAMA, 2010 January 20; 303(3): 250; doi:10.1001/jama.2009.2008.
Ornish, D., J. Lin, J. Daubenmier, et al. “Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study.” Lancet Oncol, 2008;9(11):1048-1057, [PubMed: 18799354].