Whether it’s a glint of grey hair in the mirror or the crow’s feet nesting around your eyes, the realization that you’re aging can be jarring. Many people start spending big money on hair salon visits and wrinkle creams, but if you’re looking for something that can really make a difference: Anti-aging nutrients we get from food and supplements, says Judith Hellman, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
“Certain nutrients are proven to increase telomere length—the little caps on the end of DNA strands that correlate to aging,” says Hellman. Here’s how it works: As we get older, the protective telomeres shorten and DNA stops regenerating as well as it once did. That process leads to cell breakdown, which is essentially aging. Another process that shortens telomeres is oxidative stress, in which unstable molecules cause damage to cell structures such as telomeres. As we age, the body loses its ability to neutralize these unstable molecules. (Make YOUR well-being a priority this year! Join Prevention and other leading minds in health & wellness for our annual R3 Summit.)
Your telomere length serves as a marker for your lifespan: The shorter telomeres get, the less time you have left. Ugh—ready for the good news? Hellman says these nutrients and antioxidants help counteract these aging processes, and may even lengthen your telomeres:
1. Vitamins A, C, And D
You know that oxidative stress thing Hellman mentioned above? Well, this posse of vitamins function as antioxidants, and they can help relieve that stress. They promote the healthy function of skin and other organs. “Vitamin A scavenges for unstable oxygen molecules and neutralizes them,” says Hellman. It also boosts immunity, which is especially important as we age. Food sources include beef, poultry, eggs, and brightly colored produce such as apricots, oranges, carrots, and tomatoes; try to get at least 2 servings a day of these foods to keep up your A levels.
Vitamin C (plentiful in citrus fruits) is necessary for the development and maintenance of collagen (what gives skin its youthful padding); and vitamin D has been shown to prevent skin aging and may help keep those telomeres long. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that telomeres were significantly longer in patients with the highest vitamin D levels compared to those with the lowest levels. You can get D in fortified cereals and dairy products, though you may want to talk to your doctor about taking D supplements, as well. (Do you have a vitamin D deficiency? Learn the signs.)
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This wonder fat is proven to promote health as we age in a number of ways, from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation to promoting skin health and pain-free joints. Researchers at Ohio State University also found omega-3s help preserve telomere length in overweight but otherwise healthy, middle-aged and older people. “Eating fish twice a week or getting the equivalent in fish oil supplements has been well-documented in delivering cardiovascular benefits,” says Marci Clow, MS, RDN, a dietitian in Santa Cruz, CA. (Just avoid these 12 fish.) Don’t love fish? You can also find omega-3s in flax seeds, nuts (particularly walnuts), vegetable oils, and enriched eggs.