All About Telomeres

This section was compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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If there are terms in these articles you don't understand, you can get a definition from the Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary.   If you want information about a specific disease, you can access the Merck Manual.   You can also search Pub Med for more abstracts on this, or any other health topic.

Jump to: What is a Telomere? Telomere Basics Telomere Research

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What Is A Telomere?

Our chromosomes contain genetic material in the form of strands of DNA.
Telomeres are extensions of those DNA strands that protect the integrity of the DNA.

Telomeres are similar to those plastic tips on the end of shoelaces, that protect the threads of the shoelace from fraying.   Telomeres tend to get shorter as we age.

Evidence suggests telomere length is a reliable indicator of overall health.   Shorter telomeres are associated with increased health risk factors.


Telomere Basics

Telomeres: The Key to Chromosome Immortality
iBiology.Org ~ 2014 Update

This video is a complement to Elizabeth Blackburn’s iBiology Discovery talk, where Blackburn recalls the events that led to the discovery of telomerase.

Elizabeth Blackburn: Telomeres and Telomerase
iBiology.Org ~ June 2008

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, discusses the events that led to the discovery of telomerase.
I. The Roles of Telomeres and Telomerase
II. Telomeres and Telomerase in Human Stem Cells and in Cancer
III. Stress, Telomeres and Telomerase in Humans


Telomere Research

Impact of Nutrition on Telomere Health: Systematic Review of
Observational Cohort Studies and Randomized Clinical Trials

Advances in Nutrition 2020 (May 1); 11 (3): 576–601

Diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors have been implicated in the pathophysiology of several chronic diseases, but also in a lower total mortality and longer life expectancy. One of the mechanisms in which diet can reduce the risk of disease is with regard to its impact on telomeres. Telomere length (TL) is highly correlated to chronological age and metabolic status. Individuals with shorter telomeres are at higher risk of chronic diseases and mortality. Diet may influence TL by several mechanisms such as regulating oxidative stress and inflammation or modulating epigenetic reactions. The present systematic review aims to examine the results from epidemiologic and clinical trials conducted in humans evaluating the role of nutrients, food groups, and dietary patterns on TL. We also discuss the possible mechanisms of action that influence this process, with the perspective that TL could be a novel biomarker indicating the risk of metabolic disturbances and age-related diseases. The available evidence suggests that some antioxidant nutrients, the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and Mediterranean diet are mainly associated with longer telomeres. However, most of the evidence is based on high heterogenic observational studies and very few randomized clinical trials (RCTs). Therefore, the associations summarized in the present review need to be confirmed with larger prospective cohort studies and better-designed RCTs.

Telomere Length of Multiple Dietary Supplement Users -
A Cross-sectional Study in Comparison with Age-matched Controls

Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences 2018 (Nov 26); 6 (5): 129–134

This study showed that long-term multi-supplement users had longer telomere length in their 50s, 60s and 70s compared to controls. The results suggest that heavy dietary supplementation may attenuate telomere shortening and is consistent with a previous study’s findings that long-term multiple dietary supplement usage was associated with significantly improved health and nutritional status. Based on the published literature and putative mechanisms, supplements containing vitamins C, D and E, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols may all contribute to the effects on telomere length. Further research, including prospective longitudinal studies, is needed to have a better understanding of the active nutrients and their mechanisms of action.

Cross-Sectional Analysis of Telomere Length in People 33-80 Years of Age:
Effects of Dietary Supplementation

Poster Presentation @ American College of Nutrition's 55th Annual Conference ~ FULL TEXT

Telomere length has been associated with aging, age-related diseases, adverse conditions, and mortality. Moreover, studies in humans suggest a causal role of short telomeres or accelerated telomere shortening in disease and mortality risk. A previous cross-sectional study has shown that supplement usage significantly improved various health parameters and nutritional status. [1] The objective of the current cross-sectional study was to explore the effect of dietary supplementation on telomere length.

Cognitive Impairment, Genomic Instability and Trace Elements
J Nutr Health Aging. 2015 (Jan); 19 (1): 48–57

Cognitive impairments are often related to aging and micronutrient deficiencies. Various essential micronutrients in the diet are involved in age-altered biological functions such as, zinc, copper, iron, and selenium that play pivotal roles either in maintaining and reinforcing the antioxidant performances or in affecting the complex network of genes (nutrigenomic approach) involved in encoding proteins for biological functions. Genomic stability is one of the leading causes of cognitive decline and deficiencies or excess in trace elements are two of the factors relating to it.

Mediterranean Diet and Telomere Length in Nurses' Health Study:
Population Based Cohort Study

British Medical Journal 2014 (Dec 2); 349: g6674 ~ FULL TEXT

In this large study, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomeres. These results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity.

Association Between Higher Plasma Lutein, Zeaxanthin,
and Vitamin C Concentrations and Longer Telomere Length:
Results of the Austrian Stroke Prevention Study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2014 (Feb); 62 (2): 222–229 ~ FULL TEXT

Multiple linear regression analyses with adjustment for age and sex demonstrated that higher lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin C concentrations were strongly associated with longer telomere length. The associations were independent of body mass index, maximum oxygen uptake, and vascular risk factors and were not mediated by advanced oxidation protein products content.   This study provides first evidence that higher lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin C concentrations in plasma are associated with longer LTL in normal elderly persons and suggest a protective role of these vitamins in telomere maintenance.

Folate Deficiency Induces Dysfunctional Long and Short Telomeres;
Both States Are Associated With Hypomethylation and DNA damage
in Human WIL2-NS Cells

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014 (Jan); 7 (1): 128–138 ~ FULL TEXT

Together, these results demonstrate the impact of folate deficiency on biomarkers of telomere maintenance and integrity, and provide evidence that dysfunctional long telomeres may be as important as critically short telomeres as a cause of chromosomal instability.

Do Telomeres Adapt to Physiological Stress?
Exploring the Effect of Exercise on Telomere
Length and Telomere-Related Proteins

Biomed Res Int. 2013 (Dec 24); 2013: 601368 ~ FULL TEXT

Aging is associated with a tissue degeneration phenotype marked by a loss of tissue regenerative capacity. Regenerative capacity is dictated by environmental and genetic factors that govern the balance between damage and repair. The age-associated changes in the ability of tissues to replace lost or damaged cells is partly the cause of many age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and sarcopenia. A well-established marker of the aging process is the length of the protective cap at the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres.

Multivitamin Use and Telomere Length in Women
Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 (Jun); 89 (6): 1857–1863 ~ FULL TEXT

After age and other potential confounders were adjusted for, multivitamin use was associated with longer telomeres. Compared with nonusers, the relative telomere length of leukocyte DNA was on average 5.1% longer among daily multivitamin users (P for trend = 0.002). In the analysis of micronutrients, higher intakes of vitamins C and E from foods were each associated with longer telomeres, even after adjustment for multivitamin use. Furthermore, intakes of both nutrients were associated with telomere length among women who did not take multivitamins.   This study provides the first epidemiologic evidence that multivitamin use is associated with longer telomere length among women.

Homocysteine Levels and Leukocyte Telomere Length
Atherosclerosis. 2008 (Oct); 200 (2): 271–277

1,319 healthy subjects were recruited from a population-based cohort. LTL was negatively correlated with plasma homocysteine levels, after adjustment for smoking, obesity, physical activity, menopause, hormone replacement therapy use and creatinine clearance. The difference in multiply-adjusted LTL between the highest and lowest tertile of homocysteine levels was 111 base pairs (p=0.004), corresponding to 6.0 years of telomeric aging. This relationship was further accentuated by decreased concentrations of serum folate and increased levels of C-reactive protein.   Increased homocysteine levels are associated with shortened LTL, further supporting the tenet that LTL is an index of cardiovascular risk.

Telomere Length Predicts Poststroke Mortality, Dementia,
and Cognitive Decline

Ann Neurol. 2006 (Aug); 60 (2): 174–180

Longer telomeres at baseline were associated with reduced risk for death (hazard ratio for linear trend per 1,000 bp = 0.52; 95% confidence interval, 0.28-0.98; p = 0.04, adjusted for age) and dementia (odds ratio for linear trend per 1,000 bp = 0.19; 95% confidence interval, 0.07-0.54; p = 0.002) and less reduction in Mini-Mental State Examination score (p = 0.04, adjusted for baseline score).   Telomere length is a prognostic marker for poststroke cognitive decline, dementia, and death.

Association Between Telomere Length in Blood and
Mortality in People Aged 60 Years or Older

Lancet. 2003 (Feb 1); 361 (9355): 393–395

Those with shorter telomeres in blood DNA had poorer survival, attributable in part to a 3.18-fold higher mortality rate from heart disease (95% CI 1(.)36-7.45, p=0.0079), and an 8.54-fold higher mortality rate from infectious disease (1.52-47.9, p=0.015). These results lend support to the hypothesis that telomere shortening in human beings contributes to mortality in many age-related diseases.

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