walnuts lengthen telomeres and may help you live longer

It may not be possible to live forever, but it looks like it’s possible to live longer!

There are several theories about aging. The leading theory is the telomere shortening theory. Telomeres (Greek for the part at the end) are protective DNA and protein complexes that cap the end of chromosomes and help them to remain stable by protecting the DNA information inside the nucleus of a cell. But each time a cell replicates, the telomere gets shorter until the cell finally dies. So, telomeres are like shortening timelines that measure cellular age. Free radical damage also shortens telomeres. Telomere shortening weakens proper replication of DNA, which results in cellular aging. Telomere shortness is a marker of aging, disease and premature death. So, preserving the length of your telomeres is the key to longevity.

And you can preserve—and even lengthen—your telomeres by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. That means that eating well can actually lengthen your lifespan.

And now a new study adds a surprising specific detail. Eating walnuts may protect your telomeres and lengthen your life.

This controlled study gave either walnuts or no walnuts to 149 healthy people between the ages of 63 and 79 for two years. Walnuts made up 15% of calories (30-60 grams a day) in the walnut group. The control group ate their regular diet and abstained from eating walnuts.

In the control group, telomere length shrunk from 7.360 kb to 7.061 kb. But in the walnut group, the telomeres did not shrink: they grew. At the start of the study, they measured 7.064kb; two years later, they had stretched to 7.074 kb. The difference was “nearly significant (p=.079)” but did not quite reach statistical significance.

The researchers say that more studies should be designed “with adequate statistical power” to demonstrate significance.

Though the difference was not quite statistically significant, eating walnuts did lengthen telomeres and, so, could lengthen your life.

Several other diet or lifestyle improvements have also been shown to lengthen telomeres, including exercise, vitamin D and—get this--dark chocolate. Previous studies have also suggested that smoking, processed meat and being overweight are associated with shorter telomere length, while vitamins C, D and E, multivitamin/minerals and omega-3 essential fatty acids have all been shown to possibly lengthen telomeres, as has reducing stress, cortisol, dietary fat and sugar.

One study showed that curcumin, the active ingredient in the herb turmeric, increased telomerase in brain cells in an in vitro study (PLoS One 2014;9:e101251). Telomerase is an enzyme which may counteract telomere shortening.


Nutrients 2018; 10(12). pii: E1907


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