Greater Intake of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables Linked to Longer Life

May 31, 2016 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

The healthier your diet in carotenoids (a group of pigments responsible for the rich color in many fruits and vegetables) the greater the likelihood of longer telomeres (DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes). The length of telomeres is thought to be an indicator of biological aging—the longer the telomere length, the slower the aging of cells. Many studies have connected a healthy diet and lifestyle behaviors to longer telomeres.

Data from 3660 U.S. adults were analyzed for serum carotenoids and leukocyte telomere length. When they compared the groups with the lowest and highest levels of each carotenoid, they saw 5-8 percent longer telomeres for the groups with the highest alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin levels.1

Telomeres shorten with each cell division, eventually leading the cell to senescence, a state in which the cell is unable to divide. Environmental and lifestyle factors affect the activity of the enzyme telomerase, which rebuilds telomeres (slowing aging).

Researchers think that higher carotenoid levels may work by protecting telomeric DNA from oxidative damage, leading to protection against aging and chronic diseases.

High levels of carotenoids in the blood, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene, have previously been linked to longer life.2 Circulating carotenoids are a good indicator of a healthful diet, as you can see by these examples of carotenoid-rich foods:

  • Alpha-carotene: orange and green vegetables (pumpkin, carrots, collards)
  • Beta-carotene: orange and green vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, spinach, collards)
  • Lycopene: red/pink fruits and vegetables (tomato, guava, grapefruit, papaya)
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: leafy greens (kale, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, collards)
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin: orange/red fruits and vegetables (butternut squash, persimmon, papaya, tangerine, red peppers)

So keep eating those colorful, telomere-lengthening foods!

  1. Shardell MD, Alley DE, Hicks GE, et al. Low-serum carotenoid concentrations and carotenoid interactions predict mortality in US adults: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Nutr Res 2011, 31:178-189.
  2. Min KB, Min JY. Association between leukocyte telomere length and serum carotenoid in US adults. Eur J Nutr 2016.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.