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Shortened telomeres associated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease and early mortality

Shortened telomeres associated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease and early mortality

Tuesday, February 21, 2012. The March, 2012 issue of the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology reports the finding of Danish researchers of a link between short telomeres and an increased risk of heart disease and early death. Telomeres cap and protect the ends of chromosomes and shorten with the passage of time, which makes them useful as a marker of cellular aging. While accelerated telomere shortening has been associated with obesity, smoking and other factors; multivitamin use, exercise and high levels of omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have a protective effect on their maintenance.

University of Copenhagen Clinical Professor of Genetic Epidemiology Borge Nordestgaard and his colleagues measured white blood cell telomere length in blood samples from 19,838 participants in the Copenhagen City Heart Study and the Copenhagen General Population Study. The subjects were followed for up to 19 years, during which time 2,038 cases of ischemic heart disease, 929 heart attacks and 4,342 deaths occurred.

Telomere length was found to decrease with age in both men and women. Shortened telomeres were detected in 25 percent of the participants, and were associated with a 49 percent adjusted increase in heart attack risk, a 24 percent increased risk of heart disease, and a 25 percent greater risk of early mortality. "The risk of heart attack or early death is present whether your telomeres are shortened due to lifestyle or due to high age," remarked Dr Nordestgaard, who is a chief physician at Copenhagen University Hospital. "That smoking and obesity increases the risk of heart disease has been known for a while. We have now shown, as has been speculated, that the increased risk is directly related to the shortening of the protective telomeres - so you can say that smoking and obesity ages the body on a cellular level, just as surely as the passing of time."

"Future studies will have to reveal the actual molecular mechanism by which the short telomere length causes heart attacks," he added. "Does one cause the other or is the telomere length and the coronary event both indicative of a third - yet unknown - mechanism?"

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Fewer calories equal longer telomeres in men

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An article published online on January 11, 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals the presence of longer telomeres among men who consume fewer calories in comparison with those who consumed more. Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age, and are used as a biomarker of cellular aging.

Researchers from Hebrew University in Israel and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey analyzed data from 405 men and 204 women who participated in the Jerusalem LRC Prevalence Study, a long term observational study of Jerusalem residents. Leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length was measured in blood samples obtained between 1989 and 1991 and at follow-up (which averaged 13.1 years after baseline). Dietary questionnaire responses provided data on daily calories and foods consumed.

Lower calorie intake at baseline and follow-up were associated with longer telomere length in men, whereas the association with women was not significant. Further analysis determined that the association was restricted to those who never smoked. Of foods consumed, decreased unsaturated fatty intake had the strongest association with longer telomeres. "We found calorie intake at a mean age of 30 years to be significantly inversely associated with leukocyte telomere length at the mean ages of 30 and 43 years but not with leukocyte telomere length change during the relatively brief 13 year window of follow-up," the authors write. "This finding was confined to men and was evident for all of the macronutrients (although more so for unsaturated fatty acids), suggesting that energy per se, and not specific nutrients, might play a role."

"The inverse calorie intake–leukocyte telomere length association is consistent with trial data showing beneficial effects of calorie restriction on aging biomarkers," they conclude.

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