Vitamin C, Q10, and selenium add years to your biological age
Telomeres are protective caps at the end of our DNA strands. You can compare them to the small plastic aglets that prevent shoelaces from unraveling. For each time a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter. The length of telomeres conveniently indicates our biological age. Diet plays a role and according to a large population study, vitamin C intake is linked to telomere length. The same is the case with Q10 and selenium, according to Swedish research. Vitamin C, Q10, and selenium serve as unique antioxidants that protect the telomeres and the cells against damage caused by oxidative stress.
Telomeres work by protecting our chromosomes that consists of long strands of DNA. Telomeres can be compared to the plastic aglets that prevent shoelaces from unraveling. Each time a cell divides or is attacked by free radicals, the telomeres become shorter. At some point, the telomeres have been shortened to the point where they can no longer protect the chromosomes. The cell will stop dividing or it will carry out a self-destructive process called apoptosis (programmed cell death).
Telomere length is a way of determining our biological age. The longer our telomeres are, the younger we are, biologically speaking. Multiple studies have shown that a cell’s ability to divide and its expected lifespan are directly linked to the length of the telomeres. There are only limited studies of vitamin C’s influence on telomere length, which is why a team of scientists from China wanted to look closer at this topic.
More vitamin C, longer telomeres
The scientists analyzed data from the large American population study called National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They recruited 7,094 participants of both sexes and different race. Their dietary habits (including beverage intake) and vitamin C intake was assessed by means of interviews and a food database. The relation between vitamin C intake and telomere length was evaluated by using a special calculation model, after adjusting for confounding factors such as age, gender, BMI, etc.
The researchers found a direct link between vitamin C intake and telomere length, where higher vitamin C intake was associated with longer telomeres. The new study is published in Frontiers in Nutrition and shows that it is healthy to get plenty of vitamin C from vegetables, fruits, and berries. Supplements can also to the job and it is advised to take non-acidic forms of vitamin C that are gentle on the stomach.
How does vitamin C protect telomeres?
The body needs vitamin C to make collagen, and it also needs the vitamin for the immune defense and many other biological functions. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells and telomeres against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Free radicals are generated naturally in connection with our cellular energy turnover and other metabolic processes, but we are also exposed to free radicals from other sources such as stress, chronic inflammation, and ageing. Sunlight (UV radiation), pollution, tobacco smoke, poisoning, and various types of medicine also add to the free radical load. If the free radical burden becomes too massive, we risk a condition known as oxidative stress, which is caused by free radicals outnumbering protective antioxidants like vitamin C. That is why vitamin C is often an ingredient in anti-ageing skincare products. According to the new study, however, vitamin C may also have an anti-ageing effect inside the body by protecting telomeres against oxidative stress. It even appears that vitamin C, at least to some extent, is able to help repair damaged telomeres by supporting certain enzyme processes.
Q10 and selenium also prevent telomere attrition
According to a Swedish placebo-controlled intervention study (KiSel-10) from 2013, seniors who took a daily supplement of 200 mg of Q10 and 200 micrograms of selenium yeast for five years had 54 percent lower cardiovascular mortality and stronger heart muscles. As part of this published study, the scientists stored over 50,000 blood samples in special freezers. By analyzing these samples afterwards, the researchers have been able to study how selenium and Q10 affect various biomarkers – for example the telomere length of leukocytes. At study start, there was no difference between the supplemented group and the placebo group. However, when comparing the groups after several years of intervention, the scientists could see a clear difference. Not only were there substantially fewer cardiovascular deaths in the supplemented group, they also had longer telomeres, suggesting that there was less telomere attrition due to the protective effect of selenium and Q10.
Levels of Q10 decrease with age, which is quite natural. Besides, the selenium content in Scandinavian diets is low. Therefore, it made perfect sense to give both nutrients to the study participants.
According to the researchers, Q10 and selenium are essential antioxidants that protect cells against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Q10 is also important for the cellular energy turnover, and there is even a synergistic effect between Q10 and selenium. The scientists conclude that the combination of Q10 and selenium can protect our telomeres at the same time as lowering cardiovascular mortality and preventing age-related diseases.
Yuan Cai et al. Association between dietary vitamin C and telomere length: A cross-sectional study. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2023
Trine Baur Opstad, Jan Alexander, Jan Aaseth, Anders Larsson, Ingebjørg Seljeflot, Urban Alehagen. Selenium and Coenzyme Q10 Intervention Prevents Telomere Attrition, with Association to Reduced Cardiovascular Mortality – Substudy of a Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients 2022
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