The Link Between Vitamin D & Telomeres — And Why It Matters For Longevity
Consider telomeres little helmets for your DNA: These protein structures cap off both sides of our chromosomes to protect them from damage and decay over time. The longer the telomeres, the more protected the cells.
This makes telomeres a telling marker for how a body will age: After studying telomere length across multiple species, a research team out of Spain found that the rate of telomere decay over time could accurately predict the life span of that species. And abnormally short telomeres seem to make humans more susceptible to conditions such as bone marrow failure, pulmonary fibrosis, liver disease, and gastrointestinal disease over time.
The telomere–vitamin D connection.
While there's a genetic component to telomere length and durability, there seem to be a few things we can do to help support our own telomeres1. Steven Gundry, M.D., heart surgeon and bestselling author of The Longevity Paradox: How To Die Young at a Ripe Old Age, shared an easy one when he appeared on the mindbodygreen podcast: Make sure you're getting enough vitamin D.
"Human beings with the highest vitamin D levels have the longest telomeres, and people with the lowest vitamin D levels have the [shortest] telomeres," Gundry told mbg co-CEO Jason Wachob, referring to research in the Archives of Medical Science2 and the Journal of Nutrition3 on the association between telomere length and vitamin D levels.
It seems that vitamin D, a hormone that's essential for a number of processes in the body, works by increasing the activity of telomerase4, the building blocks of telomeres that protect cellular DNA from aging. Gundry goes so far as to say that he thinks it's "the greatest hormone that exists."
While the body gets some vitamin D from food and sunlight, Gundry has noticed that the majority of his patients aren't getting enough of it (even though they live in sunny California). Getting levels up to the 600 I.U./day threshold the NIH recommends5 for adults 19 to 70 years old can require taking a vitamin D supplement, such as mindbodygreen's hemp multi+.*
This multivitamin pairs 1,000 I.U. of vitamin D with nonpsychoactive hemp extract for a relaxing effect on the body.* Since hemp extract touts a high antioxidant count, it can help support healthy immune function in the long run and combat the physical signs of aging like sagging skin, too.* The blend is topped off with rosemary, a plant that has underrated benefits on mood, and black cumin seed, hops, black pepper, and clove for an all-around balancing effect on the body.*
The bottom line.
Researchers have correlated higher vitamin D levels with longer telomeres in humans. When combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise, taking a vitamin D supplement can help keep telomeres in tiptop shape and promote longevity from the inside out.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.