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:
So keep eating those colorful, telomere-lengthening foods!