I have blogged on telomeres before. Telomeres are the darling of the life extension crowd for a good reason. A telomere is a region at the end of a chromosome that protects it each time the cell divides. Telomeres shorten with each cell replication but help prevent the destruction of the genes at the ends of chromosomes.
Longer telomeres allow the chromosomal ends to shorten with each division without damaging the DNA. As you age, telomeres shorten, so anything that can keep telomeres from shortening too quickly holds hope for improved health.
Some advocates of life extension even endorse lengthening telomeres by supplements, drugs or even gene therapy. They reason this might extend life because it would extend the number of times a normal cell could divide before it reaches its limit. So far, scientists have not proven these ideas in humans, but telomere extension has successfully reversed signs of aging in mice and worms. In humans, cardiovascular diseases, lupus, and arthritis have been associated with shorter telomeres.
In March, Dr. Merce Borras and a group in Spain demonstrated that kidney failure patients getting activated vitamin D have longer telomeres than kidney failure patients not getting activated vitamin D.
Borras M, Panizo S, Sarró F, Valdivielso JM, Fernandez E. Assessment of the Potential Role of Active Vitamin D Treatment in Telomere Length: A Case-Control Study in Hemodialysis Patients. Clin Ther. 2012 Mar 12.
The researchers measured telomere length in blood cells in both kidney failure patients (hemodialysis patients, specifically) and a group of healthy controls. They found that the kidney failure patients had shorter telomere lengths than the healthy controls to start.
Then they split up the kidney failure patients and treated some of them with activated vitamin D, while giving no treatment to the others. They found that the telomere lengths increased in the treatment group compared to the untreated group.
This adds to the body of evidence that vitamin D and its metabolites aid in keeping telomeres long. As mentioned above, I blogged about a Zhu et al study that found that 60,000 IU/month in overweight patients increased telomerase activity (the enzyme that protects telomere length) by 19%.
Zhu H, Guo D, Li K, Pedersen-White J, Stallmann-Jorgensen IS, Huang Y, Parikh S, Liu K, Dong Y. Increased telomerase activity and vitamin D supplementation in overweight African Americans. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Oct 11
While even further back, Dr. J Brent Richards of St Thomas Hospital in London compared telomere length and vitamin D levels in more than 2000 women, finding that the higher your vitamin D level, the longer your telomeres.
Richards JB, Valdes AM, Gardner JP, Paximadas D, Kimura M, Nessa A, Lu X, Surdulescu GL, Swaminathan R, Spector TD, Aviv A. Higher serum vitamin D concentrations are associated with longer leukocyte telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Nov;86(5):1420-5.
I loved his conclusion: “On the basis of these considerations, our findings suggest that the effect of vitamin D on leukocyte telomere attrition many not be at all trivial.”