Are There Anti-Aging Vitamins?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Anti-Aging Vitamins, Vitamins and Health

Could You Live To Be 120 And Beyond?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

anti-aging viataminsRecent headlines suggest that we can slow biological aging just by increasing our consumption of certain vitamins. That sounds wonderful.  After all, everyone is still hoping for that mythical “Fountain of Youth” and anti-aging vitamins could be just the ticket.

But, what did the paper behind the headlines actually show? The paper (J-Y Lee et al, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12403, 2016) reported that people who consumed the most vitamin C and folic acid had the longest telomeres.

You might be wondering how journalists extrapolated from that study to headlines proclaiming that those vitamins could slow biological aging. To understand the answer to that question you need to know two things:

  • What is biological aging?
  • What are telomeres and why are they important?

What Is Biological Aging?

biological agingIn simplest terms, biological aging refers to the aging process on a cellular level. This concept is based on the “Hayflick Limit” first proposed by Leonard Hayflick in 1962. He showed that normal human cells have a maximum lifespan of 40-60 cell divisions. As they approach that upper limit, DNA damage accumulates and cell division slows and eventually stops.

The “Hayflick Limit” is important because our tissues depend on constant cell division to remain young and vital. Our organs are made up of various tissues and depend on those tissues performing at an optimal level. Thus, as more and more cells lose the ability to divide, our tissues and our organs begin to age. This is thought to be associated with disease and eventually death.

Thus, even though biological aging refers to aging at a cellular level, its significance is thought to extend far beyond the cellular level. It is thought to influence aging, disease, and death at a whole-body level. It reminds me of the famous quote “For want of a nail…the kingdom was lost.” If you’ve forgotten that quote, look it up. It is a perfect analogy for how something that seems so inconsequential can have such a profound effect on our health and mortality.

What Are Telomeres And Why Are They Important?

anti-aging vitamins telomeresTelomeres are sequences of repetitive DNA at the ends of our chromosomes that protect their integrity. Telomeres become progressively shorter as we age. As a very simple analogy we can think of telomeres as being similar to the tips of our shoelaces. If you have ever lost the tip of your shoelace, you know that the shoelace is worthless once the tip is gone.

That analogy holds perfectly with respect to our telomeres. As the telomers become progressively shorter, DNA division slows and eventually stops. DNA division is essential for cell division. Telomere shortening is postulated to be responsible for the Hayflick Limit. Thus, it is no surprise that telomere shortening is associated with aging, age-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and dementia, and death.

Telomere shortening is a bad news, good news phenomenon. On the “bad” side, telomere shortening is inevitable. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we will all die at some point.

On the “good” side, there is tremendous heterogeneity in telomere length between individuals at any given age. Some of these differences in telomere length may be genetic, but many appear to be lifestyle related (MA Shammas, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 14: 28-34, 2011). For example, short telomers appear to be associated with things like smoking, environmental pollution, stress, meat consumption, and fat consumption. Long telomeres are associated with the lack of those things and with positive lifestyle characteristics such as exercise and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Are Some Vitamins Anti-Aging Vitamins?

slow agingMore recent studies have begun to look at the influence of individual nutrients on telomere length. The study featured this week (J-Y Lee et al, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12403, 2016) is just the latest example.

This study used food frequency questionnaires to assess nutrient intake of 1958 middle-aged and older Koreans between June 2001 and January 2003. They measured intake of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 (folate), C and E plus calcium, phosphorous, potassium iron and zinc.

Ten years later they measured telomere length in the same population and reported that:

  • Telomere length was positively associated with intake of vitamin C, folate, and potassium.
  • No association with telomere length was seen for the other nutrients.

So, are these anti-aging vitamins?  Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of this study.

This study has some notable strengths:

  • It is a fairly large study, so the results are statistically significant.
  • There is a good biochemical rationale for vitamin C and folate being protective for telomeres.
  • Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, and polyphenols protect the DNA from oxidative damage.
  • Folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are involved in pathways that stabilize and repair DNA.
  • It is consistent with previous studies (See below)

However, this study also has some glaring weaknesses:

  • It only measures associations, not cause and effect.
  • The diet analysis was not repeated at the end of the study. The authors assumed that dietary habits did not change, but we don’t know that.
  • The use of dietary supplements was not assessed, so we don’t know how that might have influenced the outcome.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

If we look at the totality of published studies(MA Shammas, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 14: 28-34, 2011) :

  • There is good evidence that optimal intake of the antioxidants C and E is positively associated with telomere length.
  • There is good evidence that optimal intake of folic acid and vitamin B12 is positively associated with telomere length.
  • There is preliminary evidence that optimal intake of carotenoids, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids is positively associated with telomere length.

However, there is a lot we don’t know about telomeres. We know that short telomeres are associated with aging, age-related diseases and death. What we do not know is whether telomere shortening is the cause of the aging process or merely a marker of aging. Let me rephrase those two possibilities in a more understandable manner.

  • If telomere shortening is the cause of the aging process, anything we can do to decrease the rate of telomere shortening would slow the aging process and delay the onset of age-related diseases.  If the vitamins mentioned above then caused this decrease, they could indeed be considered anti-aging vitamins.
  • If telomere length is simply a marker of aging, we can consider it like the “canary in the coal mine”. That analogy might be particularly apt. The value of the canary is that it can detect toxic gases when they are still undetectable to humans. It turns out that it is virtually impossible to detect the effect of nutrient intake on longevity (We simply live too long), and it has proven very difficult to determine the effect of nutrient intake on age-related diseases. Having a simple marker of the aging process may well give us valuable insight into how we can best delay the aging process.

Either way longer telomeres are probably a good thing. Based on a limit of 40-60 cell divisions for normal human cells, Leonard Hayflick estimated a maximum human lifespan of 120 years. If we could truly decrease the rate of telomere shortening, would that potentially increase maximum human lifespan or would it mean that more of us reach 120 in good health? Most of us would probably be happy with either outcome.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • Telomeres are the tips at the end of our chromosomes that protect the chromosomes from unraveling.
  • Our telomeres get progressively shorter as we get older. Short telomeres are associated with aging, age-related diseases, and death.
  • Recent studies have shown that our lifestyle can influence the rate of telomere shortening. For example:
  • Short telomers are associated with things like smoking, environmental pollution, stress, meat consumption, and fat consumption.
  • Long telomeres are associated with the lack of those things and with positive lifestyle characteristics such as exercise and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Recent studies have also shown that optimal intake of certain nutrients can influence the rate of telomere shortening. For example:
  • There is good evidence that optimal intake of the vitamins C, E, folic acid, and B12 is positively associated with telomere length.
  • There is preliminary evidence that optimal intake of carotenoids, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids is positively associated with telomere length.
  • There is a lot that we do not know about telomere length. In particular,
  • We do not know whether telomere shortening is the cause of the aging process or merely a marker of aging, like the canary in the coal mine.
  • In either case, anything we can do to reduce the rate of telomere shortening is probably a good thing.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.

 

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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