What’s all the buzz about telomeres? Products are beginning to appear on natural product shelves claiming to support healthy aging by supporting the health of our telomeres. In fact, there are hundreds of testimonials online for telomere-supporting products full of bells and whistles, and vim and vigor but, what do we really know about telomeres? What’s all the buzz about telomeres and can dietary supplements really help support their healthy function?

    As with other relatively new supplement product categories, some of the research is supporting its usage and with other studies, well, the jury is still out. What we do know is that cell division and replication are essential to life. Cell division allows the body to replace worn-out or defunct cells every day. Actually, hundreds of thousands of cells die and are replaced in the span of a few seconds.

    Telomeres are pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect our cells during this process and they become shorter with each cell division. Once the cell can no longer divide it becomes inactive and slows down and begins to die.  We also know that a cell may divide an estimated 50 times before the telomeres become too short, and that older people may have shorter telomeres.

    Some of the emerging cell culture and animal studies suggest shortened telomeres may be associated with some of the negative aspects of aging, such as cessation of cell growth and diminished cellular function. There are things we can do to help support telomere health.

    For example, research is indicating antioxidants, as well as a healthy metabolic inflammatory response, may support healthy telomeres.  Unlike inflammation associated with disease states, metabolic inflammation is a healthy body’s response to everyday stressors such as poor diet. One preliminary study noted that the succulent flowering plant purslane may help support telomere length. Researchers believe purslane may help protect against oxidative damage in part because the plant contains flavonoids and tannins, both phytochemicals with known antioxidant effects.

    Research is also indicating N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may provide antioxidant support, support for liver detoxification, as well as support for healthy telomerase activity. Telomerase is the enzyme that helps maintain appropriate telomere length.

    One human study indicated a benefit of vitamin D3 being support of healthy telomerase activity. And, another study indicated that a palm-derived mixture of alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocotrienols and alpha-tocopherol—all members of the vitamin E family of antioxidants, may also be supportive. Preliminary research in cultured cells provided evidence that a tocotrienol-rich palm oil extract may support healthy telomeres, and support healthy levels of telomerase activity.

    Another antioxidant, resveratrol, supports a healthy metabolic inflammation response and may also help support healthy telomere length and telomerase activity, as well as healthy cellular aging. Other antioxidants and supporting nutrients include grape seed extract, green tea extract and curcumin which may help provide antioxidant support and healthy inflammation support.

    Compounds isolated from astragalus root have been shown in preliminary research to activate telomerase, to slow the shortening of telomeres in cultured cells, and to support healthy cellular aging.

    So is it time to bulk up on products that support telomeres and telomerase? What we know is that customers are doing their research and beginning to take note of this newcomer so retailers would be wise to do their own research and consider adding telomere supporting products to help meet their customers’ needs.

    Julie Dennis has been a lecturer, writer and consultant in the natural products industry for over 20 years. Currently she lectures nationwide discussing health-related topics and intelligent usage of nutraceutical and botanical supplements. She graduated from Dr. Michael Tierra’s East West School of Herbology in 1996, contributed to major natural products industry trade publications, and assisted with editing on books including the American Botanical Council’s Clinical Guide to Herbs, and The Handbook of Clinically Tested Herbal Products, Haworth Press.

    Posted on 8/19/2015