The cells in our body are constantly renewed but they can only divide a limited number of times. It all depends on the length of their telomeres, which one can compare to the protective plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres are reduced in length, bringing the cell closer to its terminal phase. Now, a Chinese study has revealed that higher selenium intake is linked to increased telomere length. Put differently, a higher selenium intake contributes to protecting the cells and allowing them to replicate more times. This may likely postpone the ageing process and extend our lifespan, and there are other studies that suggest the same. It is worth making a note of the fact that selenium deficiency is widespread in Europe and throughout the world.
The human body contains around 1013 or 50 trillion cells. Each cell contains genetic material (DNA) that is organized in long structures called chromosomes. When a cell replicates, the chromosomes are duplicated. At the end of each DNA strand you will find a protective telomere, which can be compared to the protective plastic cap at the end of a shoelace that helps prevent the lace from fraying. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres are reduced in length. Eventually, the telomeres are worn out, so to speak, and are too short to protect the chromosome. Once this happens, the cell stops replicating and carries out something called apoptosis – or programmed self-destruction. Therefore, the longer your telomeres, the better.
Diet and lifestyle determine telomere length
It was a microbiologist named Elizabeth Blackburn who in 1975 discovered the telomeres and their function. She was later awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for this discovery. Ever since, increasing evidence has pointed to diet and lifestyle as being important for telomere length. It is also known that stress, unhealthy eating habits, lack of sleep, inflammation, and chronic diseases like diabetes can have a shortening effect on the telomeres, and the same goes for oxidative stress that is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants.
In fact, oxidative stress is a common thread in most chronic diseases and the ageing process, but selenium is a unique antioxidant and it fuels glutathione peroxidase (GPx) that protects cells and their telomeres against oxidative stress.
The link between telomere length and selenium intake
Several studies have shown that healthy eating habits, fibers, and a healthy gut flora contribute to increased telomere length, but there is not a lot of research that focuses on dietary selenium and the length of telomeres. A group of Chinese scientists from Guangdong Medical University and Huazhong University and Technology therefore decided to take a closer look at this. They collected data from a large American population study called NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), which looks at diet habits and health.
The Chinese scientists looked specifically at the diet habits of 3,194 Americans aged 45 years and older and calculated their selenium intake. The length of the telomeres in the white blood cells was also measured.
After adjusting for various confounding factors that could have skewed the results, they found that a daily 20 microgram increase in selenium intake increased telomere length in all participants, particularly in women that were not overweight. In fact, it appeared that there was a direct correlation between total selenium intake and telomere length.
Leading scientists believe it takes around 100 micrograms of selenium per day or more to effectively saturate selenoprotein P, one of many selenoproteins that is used specifically to asses the body’s selenium status. Most Europeans do not get that much selenium from their diets. Selenium can also be toxic if ingested in too large quantities, so the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has set the upper safe limit for daily selenium intake at 300 micrograms.
Supplementation with selenium and Q10 cuts senior mortality in half
Earlier studies suggest that selenium protects cells and increases longevity. For instance, the placebo-controlled Swedish intervention study, KiSel-10, where selenium and coenzyme Q10 were given to a large group of seniors for five years showed impressive results. They gave this combination because selenium is a powerful antioxidant and also a precondition for Q10 and its ability to function optimally in the cellular energy turnover.
The agricultural soil in Europe is low in selenium. Also, the body’s endogenous Q10 synthesis decreases with age, so older people lack this vital compound. Therefore, the participants in the study were given a daily dose of 200 micrograms of a patented, standardized selenium yeast and 200 mg of pharmaceutical-grade coenzyme Q10.
The KiSel-10 study lasted five years and showed that the participants that took selenium and coenzyme Q10 had significantly better cardiac function and their risk of dying of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 54%.
Follow-up studies after 10 and 12 years respectively showed that supplementation with selenium and Q10 had a long-term effect on heart function and lifespan. It is probably safe to assume that the effect would be even greater if the participants had continued using the supplements.
|The KiSel-10 study is rather unique, in that it looks as how supplementation with selenium and Q10 can help healthy people remain in good health.|
Always choose supplements with documented quality
The market for nutritional supplements is a jungle and it is easy to get lost. Therefore, you should always choose high-quality supplements that the body can absorb and utilize. It is also a good idea to look for supplements with scientific documentation for their quality and safety.
The quality of the raw materials, the way they are handled, and the manufacturing method are all of vital importance to the bioavailability of the products and their effect in the body. It is also important that the supplements provide the right dose.
Yanlin Shu et al. Association of dietary selenium intake with telomere length in middle-aged and older adults. Clinical Nutrition. 2020
Klelia D. et al. Association of telomere length with type 2 diabetes, oxidative stress and UCP2 gene variation. Atherosclerosis 2010
Martha Jackowska et al. Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Shorter Telomere Length in Healthy Men. Findings from the Whitehall II Cohort Study. PLoS One 2012
Alehagen U, et al. Cardiovascular mortality and N-Terminal-proBNP reduced after combined selenium and coenzyme Q10 supplementation. Int J Cardiol. 2012
Alehagen U et al. Reduced Cardiovascular Mortality 10 Years after Supplementation with Selenium and Coenzyme Q10 for four years. Follow-Up Results of a Prospective Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled trial in Elderly Citizens. PLoS One 2015
Urban Alehagen et al. Still reduced cardiovascular mortality 12 years after supplementation with selenium and coenzyme Q10 for four years. A validation of previous 10-years follow-up results of a prospective randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial in elderly. PloS One 2018
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