Are There Supplements That Can Protect Our Genes
What are the causes of cancer? What makes us older? If lifestyle choices like smoking cigarettes or drinking sugary sodas increase our risk of cancer, what can we do to try to reverse or change these decisions? Is it even possible to reverse the damage? How proven are these theories?
These are questions that we should be asking ourselves as we get older. The sooner we get started on a proactive approach to combat the aging processes, the healthier and more enjoyable our lives can be. Let’s start with some basics:
Inside the nucleus of a cell, our genes are arranged along twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.
Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces because they keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other. We all know, once those plastic tips come off our shoelaces, the damage quickly gets worse. It’s not long before our shoelace is worn out.
Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide; it becomes inactive and usually dies. This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death. It makes great sense to focus on nutrition that can help keep our telomeres long and intact.
Some of the best nutrients to include in our daily diet that can help keep our telomeres healthy and slow the aging process are:
Carotenoids - A broad family of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables (like beta carotene in carrots), carotenoids impact specific stages in the body’s DNA defense mechanisms, protecting DNA from damage and enhancing its repair. Tomatoes, leafy greens, egg yolks and dark orange fruits and vegetables are high in carotenoids. If we follow a vegan diet, or our diet’s lacking in veggies, cover our bases with a mixed carotenoid supplement.
Selenium - This mineral plays a powerful role in protecting and repairing DNA. Low levels have been linked with a higher risk of breast, prostate, colorectal and other cancers. Selenium prevents oxidative damage to DNA and boosts the activity of enzymes and pathways involved in DNA repair. Meat, seafood, eggs, and some nuts—especially Brazil nuts—are the richest sources. If one chooses a vegan diet, or doesn’t eat nuts, add a selenium supplement to our daily regimen.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) - This antioxidant, naturally produced by the body, protects against DNA damage, enhancing resistance and reducing strand breaks (shortening of telomeres). In studies, supplementing with CoQ10 enhances recovery from DNA damage to lymphocytes—white blood cells critical for healthy immune function. CoQ10 can also mitigate DNA damage involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, and research suggests people with heart disease have significantly lower levels of CoQ10. Organ meats, beef, chicken and fatty fish are the richest sources. If we don’t eat these, CoQ10 supplements can add an extra layer of protection.
Vitamin D - has been shown to play a role in stabilizing DNA structure, and has been proven to help in bone health, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and possibly cancer. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, and a good supplement can be taken when exposure to adequate sunlight is not possible.
Vitamin E - is a great free radical scavenger which makes it very effective at reducing chromosome damage. Research has shown great promise in vitamin E supplementation aiding in the protection of telomere length. Caution must be considered in the amount of vitamin E supplemented as it is a fat-soluble vitamin and can be taken to excess.
Vitamin B12 and B9 (folic acid) – have been shown to be vital in proper DNA metabolism. Both of these B vitamins aid in the authentic reproduction of DNA sequences.
In summary, vitamins and minerals play an important role in maintaining DNA integrity and stability. They are vitally important in protecting our genes and DNA. Seek out high quality sources for these nutrients in the form of food choices and supplements.