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Can taking a multivitamin extend life?

May 29, 2009 |  3:22 pm

Multivitamins Among the keys to longevity are telomeres, DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that shorten as we age. When cells replicate, telomeres shorten. Thus, preserving the length of telomeres is thought to be a possible key to living longer.

A study in the new issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who take multivitamins daily had telomeres that were 5.1% longer, on average, than non-vitamin users. The researchers, from the National Institutes of Health, looked at multivitamin use and nutrient intake, as well as telomere length, in 586 women ages 35 to 74. They also found a link between telomere length and intake of vitamins C and E.

How multivitamins may affect telomeres is unknown. But studies have shown that telomeres are vulnerable to oxidative stress, and some vitamins are antioxidants. But since the study is epidemiology, not a cause-and-effect study, it will take more research to know whether multivitamins really impact telomere length.

"To our knowledge, this was the first epidemiological study of multivitamin use and telomere length," Dr. Honglei Chen, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, wrote in the report. "Regular multivitamin users tend to follow a healthy lifestyle and have a higher intake of micronutrients, which sometimes makes it difficult to interpret epidemiological observations in multivitamin use." But, they added, "the results are consistent with experimental findings that vitamins C and E protect telomeres in vitro."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times