The April, 2011 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Biological and Medical Sciences reports the finding of Annette L. Fitzpatrick of the University of Washington and her colleagues of an association between shorter telomere length and an increased risk of dying over 6.1 years of follow-up.

What are Telomeres?

Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes which shorten as individual cells age.

Leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length has been associated with

  • age,
  • gender,
  • age-related diseases,

1,136 participants in the Cardiovascular Health Study of adults aged 65 and older were analyzed for leukocyte telomere length between 1992 and 1993. Tehy were followed and the cause of death was ascertained for 468 deaths that occurred over 6.1 years of follow-up.

Telomere length was reduced in association with

  • increasing age,
  • greater internal carotid intima-media thickness, ( narrowing of arteries)
  • former smoking status,
  • elevated interleukin-6
  • male gender.

This with telomeres among the shortest 25 percent of participants had a 60 percent greater risk of dying over follow-up compared with those whose telomeres were among the longest 25 percent.

Infectious disease emerged as significantly associated with shorter telomeres.

The authors of this study report that “Data strongly suggest that erosion of telomeres is the result of an accruing burden of oxidative stress and inflammation, which is known to be enhanced by exposure to infectious and inflammatory diseases.

The significant relationship between leukocyte telomere length and interleukin-6, a biomarker of inflammation, found here and in our earlier study, supports this finding.”

The authors of this study state …”This study, one of the largest to date to evaluate associations between leukocyte telomere length and mortality, provides additional evidence that leukocyte telomere length may be a proxy for underlying mechanisms that bring about pathophysiological changes in persons surviving to old age,” they conclude.

LI Comment: This study adds to the current knowledge that telemere length is an important biomarker. As yet it is not available to be measured routinely. However are many lifestyle practices especially the 12 pathways to Wellbeing that have been demonstrated to delay the process of telomere shortening.