Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take a vitamin that would turn on your longevity genes – the part of your DNA that helps you live longer?
Well, guess what. You can!
Research shows that there’s a vitamin that seems able to help your so-called longevity genes perform microscopic tasks that insure cellular survival and produce a potentially longer life expectancy for you.
Every cell in your body contains an identical helping of DNA that determines how the cell makes the proteins and other substances that carry out life’s processes.
And researchers are discovering that certain natural substances can determine the accuracy of the chemical instructions that are doled out to the cell.
When the instructions are garbled, the cell suffers and can die. But keep the messages precisely correct and the cell thrives. Your life expectancy may thrive as well.
The vitamin that keeps DNA function on track – vitamin D.
In lab tests at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, researchers have found that extra helpings of vitamin D may extend life by up to 33 percent.
According to these researchers, an important part of vitamin D’s anti-aging powers resides in the fact that it may:
- Protect the brain against problems like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Keep the heart functioning properly.
- Lower the risk of cancer,
They point out that as you get older, you run a greater risk of running short of vitamin D. Older people may not be eating enough foods rich in vitamin D like fish, egg yolks and mushrooms. And while the skin makes vitamin D from sunlight, many seniors don’t get much sun. And their skin doesn’t make the vitamin very efficiently.
An added factor – the weight gain that often accompanies old age increases body fat and extra fat can lower the body’s vitamin D – though nobody can yet explain why this happens.
According to the Buck researchers, vitamin D keeps cellular DNA on track coordinating the production of properly folded proteins and avoiding harmful, misfolded proteins that are “insoluble.” (Insoluble proteins often build up in cells when we age.)
In the lab tests, says researcher Gordon Lithgow, vitamin D “slowed the aging-related misfolding of hundreds of proteins.”
Ligthgow also points out that misfolded and insoluble proteins have not only been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but also type 2 diabetes, Huntington’s disease and heart disease.
In other areas of health, researchers are continuing to find unexpected ways vitamin D can help improve aging:
- Reduces inflammation, pain and swelling of sunburn. A study at the Case Western Reserve University shows that taking a large dose of vitamin D an hour after getting a sunburn can make it hurt less and reduce the burn’s complications.
- Makes pain from arthritis, menstrual cramps and chronic back pain more manageable. Tests in Brazil show that getting consistent sleep and vitamin D helps control chronic pain conditions.
- Improves heart health when you exercise. A 20-year study at Johns Hopkins showed that people who both exercise and get enough vitamin D have the healthiest cardiovascular systems. Exercise and vitamin D seem to produce a synergistic benefit that helps the heart and arteries.
- Makes your muscles stronger. Research at the University of Birmingham in England shows that muscles are stronger when you get enough vitamin D. The scientists involved in this study say that your muscles also seem to activate vitamin D in your body while excess body fat converts the nutrient into an inactive form.
How Much Vitamin D You Should Take
However, when it comes to figuring out how much vitamin D to take in a daily supplement, I have to tell you that the situation is a mess.
The experts can’t seem to agree.
While the Institute of Medicine (which sets the recommendations you see on packaging) advocates 600 International Units (IU) daily for people between 1 and 70 years old, and 800 IU for folks older than that, other experts think we should be taking more.
How much more apparently depends on your individual situation. The Endocrine Society (an international organization of doctors, scientists and educators) has a long list of conditions and circumstances that they say means you need more vitamin D. Their detailed recommendations are at https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/96/7/1911/2833671/Evaluation-Treatment-and-Prevention-of-Vitamin-D.
But to sum up their point of view, if you probably don’t have enough vitamin D in your body, you need to take 800 to 2,000 IU a day to get your vitamin D level to climb. And you have to take it everyday since it can take a while to get your vitamin D back to where it belongs for optimal health.
The Endocrine Society also says it’s a good idea to have a knowledgeable healthcare provider give you a blood test to see how much vitamin D you might need. That way you can make an informed decision about how much to take.