Remember how, a few years back, headlines claimed that carotenoids fuel cancer?
That notorious 2009 study had the gall to suggest that supplements raise smokers’ lung cancer risk. (Never mind those pesky cigarettes!) It turned out the trial was deeply flawed.
And since then, plenty of studies have utterly disproved this smear campaign. Of course, you aren’t likely to hear about them on your daily news programs anytime soon. So let me fill you in on the latest…
Not only do higher carotenoid levels not raise cancer risk. But according to a recent study from Seoul National University in Korea, they may actually slam the brakes on cellular aging.
These Korean scientists analyzed data from 3.660 participants in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Results showed that blood levels of carotenoids — and specifically alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin — were strongly linked to longer telomeres.
These carotenoids were associated with telomeres roughly two percent longer, overall. But the difference in telomere length between participants with the highest and the lowest levels of blood carotenoids was as high as eight percent.
I’ve written about telomeres — and the critical role they play in keeping you healthy and young — here before. But here’s a refresher: Telomeres are the strands of DNA that cap and protect your chromosomes. Think of them like the little plastic pieces on the ends of your shoelaces. They keep the laces from fraying. And telomeres help keep your DNA intact. But they shorten with age and ongoing cell division, which leaves chromosomes vulnerable and contributes to disease.
Telomeres are also highly susceptible to damage from free radicals. This is one of the reasons that oxidative stress accelerates aging.
So needless to say, we’re always looking for ways to keep telomeres intact longer. Because longer telomeres ultimately translate to a longer lifespan.
And the fact that powerhouse antioxidants like carotenoids can significantly lengthen telomeres — and by extension, potentially increase lifespan doesn’t surprise me one bit.
In fact, I could have called these results from a mile away.
After all, this isn’t the first study to suggest that carotenoids can be life-extending. Far from it.
Previous research has shown that higher circulating carotenoid levels slash risk of breast cancer. And that higher intake of carotenoid rich fruits and veggies lower the risk of lethal hip fractures. They even help to prevent amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or just ALS.
Of course, good nutrition is just one way that you can harness your genes to improve your health. In fact, I just finished writing a new book that covers this very topic in-depth. It’s scheduled to be released in March 2017, so mark that month on your calendar now.
In the meantime, go ahead and enjoy your carotenoids with confidence — whether it’s from a supplement or a brightly colored salad. (Don’t skip the dressing!) Your telomeres will thank you for it.