Telomere length is a biomarker for aging. It is known that oxidative stress can accelerate telomere shortening, whereas antioxidants can delay their shortening. Carotenoids as antioxidants are favorably associated with health- and aging-related diseases caused by oxidative stress, but their association with telomere length is less certain. We investigated the association between blood carotenoid levels and leukocyte telomere length in a representative sample of US adults.
We analyzed 3660 participants aged 20 years and older in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The levels of carotenoids-alpha-carotene, beta-carotene (trans + cis), beta-cryptoxanthin, combined lutein/zeaxanthin, and trans-lycopene-were measured using high-performance liquid chromatography. The leukocyte telomere length (T/S ratio) was assayed using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction method.
A doubling of blood alpha-carotene, beta-carotene (trans + cis), and beta-cryptoxanthin was associated with approximately 2 % longer telomeres. Compared with the lowest carotenoid quartile of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene (trans + cis), and beta-cryptoxanthin, telomere length for adults with the highest quartiles was significantly increased by 5-8 %.
We found that increasing levels of blood carotenoid were significantly associated with longer leukocyte telomeres in US adults. High intake of carotenoid-rich food may play a role in protecting telomeres and regulating telomere length.