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Nobel prize news

Everybody's talking about the American president who won the Nobel prize last week. The nutrition industry — especially the anti-ageing camp — should be more abuzz about the other three Yanks who also won the Nobel last week — for medicine.

Their prize was for research conducted in the 1970s and 1980s about how telomeres — the ends of DNA in chromosomes — protect themselves, and the enzymes called telomerases that maintain and protect these vital endcaps. Think of the plastic tip of shoelaces.

Each time a cell replicates, the telomere gets shorter. Once it gets too small, the cell dies. The telomerase enzymes maintain the length and hence keep the cell alive longer. Hello, fountain of youth!

Nutritionally, though, this is not a story about enzymes. It's a story about multivitamins, vitamin D in particular (of course), and nutricosmetic products already on the market hawking their ingredients that promise to stabilise telomeres.

In June 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a paper showing that, among 586 participants, multivitamin use was associated with longer telomeres — 5.1 per cent longer. Multivitamins are a major source of micronutrients that seem to affect telomere length by modulating oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Among the micronutrients, vitamins C and E were associated with longer telomeres.

A much more provocative study, published in November 2007 also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found vitamin D levels were also associated with longer telomere length. In this case, researchers quantified the difference between low vitamin D status and the highest vis a vis telomere length and downstream chronological age. Ready for it?...Five years additional life!

"Inflammation and oxidative stress are key determinants in the biology of aging, and LTL (leukocyte telomere length) dynamics appear to chronicle the accruing burden of these variables," wrote the research team from the UK. The difference in multiply adjusted LTL between the highest and lowest serum vitamin D tertiles was similar in magnitude to the difference in LTL associated with 5 y of chronological age."

The lowest tertile was about 41 nmol/L, middle was 72.7 and highest was 124. The current ranges for "normal" levels — read: minimum to stave off deficiency conditions like rickets — are 20 to 55 nmol/L, which correlates to an intake between 200IU and 600IU per day. However, these are widely expected to rise dramatically when the US Institute of Medicine revises its vitamin D recommendations in 2010, to at least 1,000IU and perhaps 2,000IU.

Also, new human research published in September 2009 seemed to confirm that homocysteine levels can affect telomere length — but only in older men. Australian researchers did not find any affect in either younger people or in women.

Since even the New England Journal of Medicine published evidence that B vitamins, including folic acid, B6, and B12, may help lower blood levels of a substance called homocysteine, this could be a cause celebre for B-vitamin marketers.

On the cosmetics front, companies are putting telomerase enzymes in creams and touting their ability to maintain chromosome length, hence a more youthful appearance. Does it work? At $225 retail for a half-dozen quarter-ounce bottles, just a few purchases probably work for the manufacturer.

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