You know that oxidative stress thing Hellman mentioned above? Well, this posse of vitamins function as antioxidants, and they can help relieve that stress. They promote the healthy function of skin and other organs. “Vitamin A scavenges for unstable oxygen molecules and neutralizes them,” says Hellman. It also boosts immunity, which is especially important as we age. Food sources include beef, poultry, eggs, and brightly colored produce such as apricots, oranges, carrots, and tomatoes; try to get at least 2 servings a day of these foods to keep up your A levels.
Vitamin C (plentiful in citrus fruits) is necessary for the development and maintenance of collagen (what gives skin its youthful padding); andvitamin D has been shown to prevent skin aging and may help keep those telomeres long. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that telomeres were significantly longer in patients with the highest vitamin D levels compared to those with the lowest levels. You can get D in fortified cereals and dairy products, though you may want to talk to your doctor about taking D supplements, as well.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This wonder fat is proven to promote health as we age in a number of ways, from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation to promoting skin health and pain-free joints. Researchers at Ohio State University also found omega-3s help preserve telomere length in overweight but otherwise healthy, middle-aged and older people. “Eating fish twice a week or getting the equivalent in fish oil supplements has been well-documented in delivering cardiovascular benefits,” says Marci Clow, MS, RDN, a dietitian in Santa Cruz, CA. (Just avoid these 12 fish.) Don’t love fish? You can also find omega-3s in flax seeds, nuts (particularly walnuts), vegetable oils, and enriched eggs.
Just like vitamins A, C, and D, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants. “They are found in high quantities in green and white tea,” says Hellman, as well as grapes, grape seeds, and cacao beans.
You’ve probably heard that this spice—common in Indian food—has anti-cancer properties. In one recent study by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, curcumin (it gives turmeric its peppery flavor and mustardy smell) appeared to block the growth of melanoma and other cancers. Curcumin has also tamps down inflammation in the body, says Clow. “Inflammation is a common factor in many chronic conditions and it is exacerbated by the aging process,” she says. Sprinkle the spice into marinades, salad dressings—or make curry.
This mineral plays a key role in more than 300 vital body processes, says Lorraine Maita, MD, a physician in Summit, NJ, and author of Vibrance For Life: How to Live Younger and Healthier. “It relaxes muscles and calms the nervous system, which helps us sleep,” she says. “It’s also necessary for heartbeat rhythm, blood pressure regulation, protein synthesis, bone formation, and blood sugar control.” Essentially, it helps keep many of our body functions running smoothly as we get older—and it may also protect telomeres, says Hellman. “Magnesium may influence telomere length by helping promote DNA integrity and repair, as well as reducing oxidative stress and inflammation,” she says. You need 400 mg daily; nearly two-thirds of Americans fail to get there. Try adding more dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fish, and whole grains to your diet.
Wine lovers rejoiced when research emerged about the anti-aging benefits of resveratrol—an antioxidant found in red wine. In addition to helping to improve insulin sensitivity and protect against heart disease by relaxing blood vessels, research has also linked resveratrol to longevity. “Resveratrol promotes healthy regeneration and repair of the body’s cells, ultimately preserving telomere length,” says Maita.
This enzyme plays a crucial role in generating energy for our cells. The body uses co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to make a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels the energy-producing center of cells—the mitochondria. As we age, we make less Co-Q10, and the unhappy result is that our cells don’t function like the whippersnappers they once were, says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California. There’s no set target for how much Co-Q10 you need, but you can get more from your diet from beef, sardines, mackerel, and organ meats like liver. Vegetarians can get small amounts from spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower.