The famous 19th century artist Paul Cézanne, said, “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”
I don’t suppose the revolution he was thinking of concerned the extension of human lifespan. Nevertheless, modern scientists have discovered that carrots, and other plants that contain pigments called carotenoids, might be able to extend our lives.
Carotenoids encompass a huge family of colorful pigments that are predominantly found in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids include alpha and beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin.
Some carotenoids convert to vitamin A in the body, and they also have powerful free radical-quenching antioxidant properties.
Since high levels of antioxidants could be one of the secrets to a longer life, scientists from Johns Hopkins decided to test carotenoids life extending potential in a group of women in their seventies.
Carotenoid Levels Predict Mortality
Researchers measured the blood levels of carotenoids in 632 women in the study, as well as measured levels of selenium, another important component in the body’s antioxidant defense system. Five years later, 89 women in the group had died.
After accounting for a wide range of factors that could influence the results, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that women with higher dietary selenium and total carotenoids enjoyed a lower risk of death from heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and infections.
They wrote, “The present study shows that low total carotenoid concentrations were predictive of mortality.”
Lowers Risk of Death By up to 39 Percent
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were also interested in the longevity connection, but specifically in alpha carotene, because very few studies had investigated this carotenoid and the ones that did produced mixed results.
The CDC study involved 15,318 adults who provided serum samples for alpha carotene. After a 14 year follow up, 3,810 participants had died. After adjusting the findings to consider demographic features, lifestyle habits, and health risk factors, the CDC team found that higher levels of alpha carotene reduced the risk of death.
Compared to men and women with blood concentrations of zero to one microgram per deciliter, those with levels between two to three, four to five, six to eight, and nine or more had a risk of death that was lower by 23 percent, 27 percent, 34 percent and 39 percent respectively. A similar pattern was seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer specifically.
Meanwhile, researchers from South Korea took the research one step further and looked to see if there was any link between telomere length and serum carotenoids in adults living in the U.S.
Longer Telomeres—The Key to Longevity
Telomeres are structures at the end of the chromosomes that protect the loss of genetic information during cell division.
Accelerated loss of telomeres is linked to cancer, age-related disease, and a higher risk of death. One reason for accelerated loss of telomeres is oxidative stress that’s caused by a shortfall of antioxidants; therefore, carotenoids might be able to prevent this.
The researchers analyzed carotenoid levels and telomere length in 3,660 adults. They discovered those with double the blood levels of alpha carotene, beta carotene, and beta cryptoxanthin, had telomeres that were two percent longer.
Compared to those with the lowest levels, telomere length for those with the highest levels was significantly increased by five to eight percent. They concluded by writing, “High intake of carotenoid-rich food may play a role in protecting telomeres and regulating telomere length.”
Increasing Your Carotenoid Intake
Eating plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables will guarantee a high intake of carotenoids. The foods that provide the highest levels (besides carrots) are the pumpkin, tomato, watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, peach, orange, yellow corn, mango, yellow sweet potato, zucchini, egg yolk, spinach, and broccoli.
A high alpha carotene content specifically is found in yellow-orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin, and winter squash) and dark-green vegetables (broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnip greens, collards, and leaf lettuce).
There are also a small number of great, evidence-based anti-aging supplements on the market. Our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, has developed one such anti-aging supplement. It starts with a patented nutrient shown in a recent study at Princeton Consumer Research to support telomere health. The supplement is Genesis, and you can learn more about it here.