Deficiency of telomerase, the enzyme which help protect chromosomal deterioration, has been associated with aging, death, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and diabetes. Vitamin D may protect against age-related DNA shortening in women.

A new study has linked high blood levels of vitamin D in women to reductions in DNA shortening, a known risk factor for heart attacks. Results of the large British study will be presented Monday, June 4, at The Endocrine Society’s 89th Annual Meeting in Toronto.

Shortening of telomeres, the DNA string at the ends of chromosomes, is related to age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease in both women and men, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Brent Richards. Richards, a fellow in endocrinology and genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, explained that when a telomere gets too short, it may result in cell death.

Richards and his co-workers showed that higher vitamin D levels are associated with longer telomere length in women. The researchers studied 1,968 female twins, whose age range spanned from 18 to 79 years. They controlled for the effects of other factors known to influence telomere length, such as age, increased weight, physical activity level and smoking. Women whose vitamin D levels were in the highest third of levels of all study participants had telomere lengths that were equivalent to those of women more than 4 years younger who had vitamin D levels in the lowest third.

The group hypothesized that sufficient vitamin D levels, which are believed to influence the immune system, may alter aging of chromosomes, which, in turn, may affect age-related diseases. However, vitamin D deficiency is prevalent today, especially in elderly persons.

“This research suggests that a vitamin that can be easily and safely modified may decrease the risk of age-related telomere shortening,” Richards said. “However, our results do not yet indicate whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent telomere shortening or age-related diseases.”

Because telomere length appears to be hereditary, the authors plan future studies in twins to attempt to understand the genetic determinants of telomere length.

The present study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.


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