Three Americans won Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine today for their research on telomeres, the endcaps of chromosomes that protect genetic material from being erased. Understanding how telomoeres work is enlightening scientists on aging and disease. Nutritional supplement companies should pay special attention to this research as it may relate to their products.
The scientists were: Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor of biology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco; Carol Greider, a professor in the department of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore; and Jack Szostak, a professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. They had worked separately and together to show that when parts of telomeres were missing, DNA would eventually become shorter and cut off when replicated. Shorter telomeres lead to slower cell division and thus premature aging, the scientists discovered.
What can a person do to support the health of their telomeres? Research conducted National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences in the Research Triangle Park suggests that multivitamin supplements represent a major source of micronutrients, which may affect telomere length by moderating oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. (Disclosure: My mother was a research scientist at NIH in the Research Triangle Park.)
In a paper published in June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Qun Xu and her colleagues reported that multivitamin use was associated with longer telomeres. This is the first research to produce those results. While supplement makers cannot make aging-related health claims, they should take note of what the world is recognizing today and how it might affect their business in coming years.