Data from 981 children and teens published in Nutrition indicated that those with regular consumption of fruits and vegetables regularly had longer with telomere length than children and teens who did not eat fruits and vegetables.
“Our results suggest that both biochemical parameter and intake of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are associated with telomere biology maintenance in young Brazilians,” wrote scientists from the Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre – UFCSPA (Brazil), the University of Navarra (Spain), the University of Santa Cruz do Sul – UNISC (Brazil), and the Telomere Length Regulation Unit at the Children's Medical Research Institute – Westmead (Australia).
“These findings hold the importance of telomeres investigation as biomarkers for diseases related to diet and lifestyle habits and the importance of an adequate intake of antioxidants in the diet.”
The aging and lifespan of normal, healthy cells are linked to the so-called telomerase shortening mechanism, which limits cells to a fixed number of divisions. During cell replication, the telomeres function by ensuring the cell's chromosomes do not fuse with each other or rearrange, which can lead to cancer. Elizabeth Blackburn, a telomere pioneer at the University of California San Francisco, likened telomeres to the ends of shoelaces, without which the lace would unravel.
With each replication the telomeres shorten, and when the telomeres are totally consumed, the cells are destroyed (apoptosis). Previous studies have also reported that telomeres are highly susceptible to oxidative stress and inflammation. Some experts have noted that telomere length may be a marker of biological aging.
“The prevalence of obesity is rapidly increasing worldwide, with high impact on children and adolescents and often associated with chronic inflammation, altered biochemical indicators, oxidative stress, and higher cardiovascular biomarkers,” explained the researchers. “Shorter telomeres are associated with multiple biochemical stressors and obesity in adults and, therefore, may represent a cumulative index of risk factors.”
Nine cellular and molecular hallmarks of aging
According to a landmark paper by Lopez-Otin in 2013, telomere shortening (attrition) is one of the nine hallmarks of aging. The other eight are:
- Genomic instability;
- Epigenetic alterations;
- Loss of proteostasis;
- Deregulated nutrient sensing;
- Mitochondrial dysfunction;
- Cellular senescence;
- Stem cell exhaustion;
- Altered intercellular communication
Reference: Cell, Vol. 153, Issue 6, Pages 1194–217. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.039
Subjects aged between seven and 17 were recruited to participate in the cross-sectional study. Dietary habits were collected via questionnaire, while anthropometric and clinical measurements were assessed by the researchers. Telomere length was assessed from blood samples.
Results showed, unsurprisingly, that children had longer telomeres than adolescents. In addition, subjects with altered glucose levels had shorter telomeres than kids and teens with normal glucose levels.
Regular fruit and vegetable consumption had longer telomers than non-fruit and vegetable eaters, which was suggested to be linked to the antioxidant content of the food given the potential role of oxidative stress in telomere shortening.
There was also a trend for longer telomeres in children and teens who consumed fish at least 4-5 times per week, although this did not reach statistical significance. A link between omega-3 and telomere length has previously been reported.
“The present study is the first one to show association of biochemical parameters and dietary habits with [telomere length] in a young Brazilian population,” wrote the researchers.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2019.110645
“Biochemical profile, eating habits and telomere length among Brazilian children and adolescents”
Authors: P. Ferreira Todendi et al.