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Longer telomeres linked to eating less fat, more fruit and vegetables

Longer telomeres linked to eating less fat, more fruit and vegetables

Tuesday, January 1, 2013. A decrease in telomere length, which has been linked with age-related diseases including coronary heart disease, heart failure, hypertension, diabetes and some forms of cancer, has been found in a recent study to be associated with a reduced intake of vegetables in women and fruit in men.  Men also experienced a decrease in average white blood cell telomere length in association with a greater intake of fat, particularly butter.  The study was reported in the December, 2012 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Telomeres are bits of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with cellular aging. Telomere length has been suggested as a marker for biological aging, chronic disease risk and premature mortality. For the current study, researchers in Helsinki, Finland measured leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length in 1,942 men and women enrolled in the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study of subjects born between 1934 and 1944 at Helsinki University Central Hospital. Self-administered dietary questionnaire responses were analyzed for the intake of fats, fruits and vegetables.

Higher total fat intake as well as saturated fat was associated with shorter telomeres in men, but not women, however, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats were not associated with telomere length in either gender.  Consuming more butter was associated with shorter telomere length among men. Women who ate more vegetables and men who consumed more fruit had longer telomeres. Further analysis found a protective effect for a higher intake of vegetables only among overweight or obese women.

The authors remark that the increase in inflammation and oxidative stress associated with increase saturated fat intake could explain the adverse effect on telomere length observed in this study. However, fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which could help protect telomeres.

"Compared with other studies on diet and leukocyte telomere length, our sample was one of the largest and the subjects fully represented the general population," the authors write. "More studies are needed to replicate the results."

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Telomere shortening rate in cells linked to life span of individual whole organism

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An article published online on September 27, 2012 in the journal Cell Reports describes the finding of researchers in Madrid of an association between the rate of increase in the percentage of short telomeres over a lifetime and the length of life of individual animals. Telomeres, which are sequences of DNA that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes, shorten with the age of a cell and are a marker of cellular aging. While studies have correlated shorter telomeres with diseases or their risk factors, the current study's findings are the first to use telomere measurements to predict the life expectancy of mammals.

"Aberrantly short telomeres result in decreased longevity in both humans and mice with defective telomere maintenance," write María Blasco and her associates at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. "Normal populations of humans and mice present high interindividual variation in telomere length, but it is unknown whether this is associated with their lifespan potential."

In contrast with studies that evaluated telomere length once over time in a large group of individuals (transversal population studies) Dr Blasco and colleagues measured telomere length throughout the lifespan of two varieties of mice. "In the transversal studies, it appears that individuals with short telomeres have a significantly increased probability of developing illnesses, including cancer," Dr Blasco explained. "But this information is not applicable to a specific individual."

The team found that mice that lived longer were those that had less telomere shortening over time in comparison with other animals, rather than longer telomeres at any given age.

"The important thing is not so much the long telomeres at any given time as the tendency or the evolution of the length of the telomeres over time," lead author Elsa Vera concluded.

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