What Foods Are Best For Healthy Telomeres? The Answer May Surprise You


by Nils Osmar. Updated August 26, 2023. Medical Disclaimer

Telomeres – the end caps on our DNA – play a key role in preserving and maintaining the information in our genome as the years go by.  They don’t necessarily drive aging, but they are an important marker of it, with longer telomeres being generally associated with better health and longer lives.

As we age, our telomeres shorten and our health declines. A University of Utah study found that people older than 60 with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

The enzyme telomerase supports longer and healthier telomeres and more possible cell divisions (see study), so some anti-aging interventions are aimed at increasing telomerase levels in our bodies.

Exercise makes a difference

The less we exercise, the shorter our telomeres tend to be. According to a 2022 study,

Taken together, our systematic review and meta-analysis of RCT find that, at a recommended intensity, exercise for more than six months can positively change telomere length. In addition, aerobic exercise more positively affects telomere length than other types and intensities of exercise.

Three key supplements for longer telomeres

The most effective supplements to support more telomerase (and longer telomeres) appear to be ones derived from astragalus and ashwagandha, two herbs which have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. See study

Re: ashwagandha, according to this summary of a recent study:

Ashwagandha root has been used for millennia as a Rasayana or “life extender” in Ayurveda. Two studies were conducted on KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract to investigate its anti-aging activity.

One study investigated the effects of KSM-66 Ashwagandha on Telomerase activity. Telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein, has the ability to arrest telomere loss, presenting a potential avenue to ameliorate the effects of aging. Researchers found that the HeLa cells treated with ashwagandha at 10-50 μg concentrations showed an increase of approximately 45% in telomerase activity. These findings suggest that KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract has the potential to boost telomerase activity, alleviate aging effects, and potentially extend the human lifespan [6].

Researchers evaluated the effect of KSM-66 Ashwagandha in enhancing the lifespan of C.elegans. They treated the worms with varying concentrations of KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract and observed their survival rates and lifespan. The purified extract increased lifespan by 21.4% compared to the control. The findings suggest that KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract possesses potential anti-aging

This 2019 study suggests that a supplement derived from another Chinese herbal medicine, Centella asiatica (also known as gotu kola) may be even more effective than astragalus or ashwagandha. As highlighted in this 2021 study:

DLBS1649 50 µg/mL showed an effect in the prevention of telomere shortening by 50% and decrease in telomerase activity by 28% compared to the controls (70% and 40%, respectively) in the HEK293 cell cultures. TERT-, CMYC-, SIRT1-, SIRT2-, and KL-expression degression was also reduced (29%, 9%, 18%, 25%, 9%, and 30%, respectively) compared to the controls (46%, 40%, 56%, 44%, and 46%, respectively) after ten serial passages.

The results revealed DLBS1649’s potential as an antiaging agent based on telomere-length preservation, decreased expression of aging-related genes, increased calorie restriction in vitro, and mortality reduction in D. melanogaster in vivo.

Foods for healthy telomeres

  • The best foods for supporting your telomeres appear to be fish and seafood. In a recent study, researchers from the University of California found that patients with the highest levels of omega 3 fats had the slowest rate of telomere shortening.
  • The worst foods for telomere health include processed meat (such as cold luncheon meats and foods high in oxalates such as spinach.

Oxalates damage and shorten telomeres

Accoding to a 2021 study,

In conclusion, oxidative stress evoked by oxalate, CaOx crystals, and urine from patients with CaOx stones upregulated p16 expression, increased telomere shortening, and induced premature senescence in HK-2 renal tubular cells.

This suggests that if we want long, healthy telomeres, we may need to limit or omit foods high in oxalates, such as spinach, leafy green, and soy products. Foods high in oxalates

Red meat and carnosine

We often hear about the possible advantages of a plant-based diet, and supposed dangers of consuming meat. But when it comes to telomere length, the most recent studies have found that more frequent consumption of red meat actually appears to be beneficial. According to a 2016 study,

Carnosine, a dipeptide found in red meat may have a protective effect on telomeres [31]. There is also a published study indicating the negative influence of diet devoid of meat on health status, especially increased incidence of cancer and mental health disorders [32]. 

From a summary article:

Regarding diet, the researchers found that only the frequency of red meat consumption was related to telomere length. Therefore, red meat consumption appears to be related to a longer telomere length. However, the study looked at consumption frequency and not the amount of red meat consumed. Although there appears to be a strong positive correlation between red meat consumption and telomere length, the results better represent a basis for further studies in larger populations.

Dietary approaches

In a broad sense, two diets associated with longer telomeres include:

  1. Mediterranean Diets (mostly plant based, but including some fish, cheese, eggs, poultry and rabbit meat)
  2. DASH diet (high in fruit and vegetables; also contains whole grains, and some lean meats, chicken, and beans)

* According to the Mayo Clinic, the key elements of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
  • Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
  • Moderate portions of dairy products
  • “Fish are important in the Mediterranean diet. Fatty fish — such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and lake trout — are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that may reduce inflammation in the body.”

Summing up: Foods associated with shorter telomeres include:

  1. Processed meat
  2. Alcohol (all kinds)
  3. Sugary beverages
  4. Soda
  5. Soft drinks
  6. Sport drinks
  7. Energy drinks
  8. Diet soda
  9. Fruit juice 

Food groups associated with longer telomeres:

  1. Fish and other seafood
  2. Red meat high in carnosine (but not processed meat)
  3. Seaweed and algae
  4. Olive oil (and other sources of oleic acid)
  5. Milk and dairy.
  6. Cheese and cottage cheese
  7. Yogurt
  8. Coffee
  9. Nuts and legumes
  10. Oats
  11. Flax
  12. Mushrooms (also high in spermidine)
  13. Fruit (whole/unsweetened)
  14. Berries

More information:

Not medical advice

This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. I’m not advising that people eat any particular diet or take any particular supplement(s), just reporting on what I’m doing. Supplements, like medications and other interventions, can have side effects; I would encourage people to research both possible benefits and side effects before starting on any supplementation regimen, and consult with a medical professional about any issues which might have a medical component.  See full Medical Disclaimer

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