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Telomere attrition is linked to modifiable lifestyle factors

News
June 1, 2022
By
Ehab Naim, MBA.

Healthy behaviors and modifiable characteristics could potentially influence leukocyte telomere length that is associated with longevity, and age-related diseases.

Telomeres are structures that cap the end of chromosomes and play a role in cellular replication. Their length varies between individuals and is mainly measured using leukocyte telomere length (LTL). LTL is a highly heritable trait and correlates with age, gender, ethnic background, and other factors. Research suggests that LTL is associated with longevity, age-related diseases, and biological characteristics. For example, shorter LTL was found to be linked to an increased risk of degenerative conditions, like coronary artery disease.

The abovementioned associations instigated further research to understand better whether individuals could influence their LTL, hence modifying the risk of age-related diseases. Telomeres shorten with every cell cycle, with the attrition process accelerating under oxidative stress and inflammation. The literature indicates the possibility of influencing the telomere attrition by modifying environmental and lifestyle factors, like smoking, diet, and physical activity. However, not all studies examining the said modifications produce conclusive results. For example, lower physical activity has been linked to shorter LTL. However, results obtained across studies remain inconsistent due to the diversity of their methodologies. Overall, the available evidence associates longer LTL with healthy habits and shorter LTL with unhealthy ones. 

Using the UK Biobank, Bountziouka et al. investigated whether healthy behaviors influence the link between LTL and diseases and their association with a longer lifespan and lower risk of coronary artery disorders. The research included 422,797 participants with a mean age of 56.6 years. The investigators identified 17 modifiable traits with a significant association with LTL. These associations were equivalent to ≥2 years of age-related change in LTL.

Results highlighted that participants who consumed fish oil had longer LTL (equivalent to 2.4 years of age-related change in LTL). Further, subjects who reported poor overall health status had a shorter LTL (equivalent to 4.0 years of age-related change in LTL) than those with good overall health. Education also played a significant role. Those who had a degree-level education had longer LTL (equivalent to 2.8 years of age-related change in LTL) compared to those whose level was less. Brisk walking pace was found to be linked to longer LTL (equivalent to 2.2 years of age-related change in LTL), while smoking was associated with shorter LTL (equivalent to 2.0 years of age-related change in LTL). Study subjects with more healthy behaviors had longer LTL and were less likely to have hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Overall, the authors concluded that healthy behaviors and modifiable characteristics could potentially influence LTL. This means substantial clinical benefits could be obtained from modifying telomere length by utilizing lifestyle approaches.

 

Source: Bountziouka V, Musicha C, Allara E, Kaptoge S, Wang Q, Di Angelantonio E, Butterworth AS, Thompson JR, Danesh JN, Wood AM, Nelson CP. Modifiable traits, healthy behaviours, and leukocyte telomere length: a population-based study in UK Biobank. The Lancet Healthy Longevity. 2022 May 1;3(5):e321-31.

Telomeres are structures that cap the end of chromosomes and play a role in cellular replication. Their length varies between individuals and is mainly measured using leukocyte telomere length (LTL). LTL is a highly heritable trait and correlates with age, gender, ethnic background, and other factors. Research suggests that LTL is associated with longevity, age-related diseases, and biological characteristics. For example, shorter LTL was found to be linked to an increased risk of degenerative conditions, like coronary artery disease.

The abovementioned associations instigated further research to understand better whether individuals could influence their LTL, hence modifying the risk of age-related diseases. Telomeres shorten with every cell cycle, with the attrition process accelerating under oxidative stress and inflammation. The literature indicates the possibility of influencing the telomere attrition by modifying environmental and lifestyle factors, like smoking, diet, and physical activity. However, not all studies examining the said modifications produce conclusive results. For example, lower physical activity has been linked to shorter LTL. However, results obtained across studies remain inconsistent due to the diversity of their methodologies. Overall, the available evidence associates longer LTL with healthy habits and shorter LTL with unhealthy ones. 

Using the UK Biobank, Bountziouka et al. investigated whether healthy behaviors influence the link between LTL and diseases and their association with a longer lifespan and lower risk of coronary artery disorders. The research included 422,797 participants with a mean age of 56.6 years. The investigators identified 17 modifiable traits with a significant association with LTL. These associations were equivalent to ≥2 years of age-related change in LTL.

Results highlighted that participants who consumed fish oil had longer LTL (equivalent to 2.4 years of age-related change in LTL). Further, subjects who reported poor overall health status had a shorter LTL (equivalent to 4.0 years of age-related change in LTL) than those with good overall health. Education also played a significant role. Those who had a degree-level education had longer LTL (equivalent to 2.8 years of age-related change in LTL) compared to those whose level was less. Brisk walking pace was found to be linked to longer LTL (equivalent to 2.2 years of age-related change in LTL), while smoking was associated with shorter LTL (equivalent to 2.0 years of age-related change in LTL). Study subjects with more healthy behaviors had longer LTL and were less likely to have hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Overall, the authors concluded that healthy behaviors and modifiable characteristics could potentially influence LTL. This means substantial clinical benefits could be obtained from modifying telomere length by utilizing lifestyle approaches.

 

Source: Bountziouka V, Musicha C, Allara E, Kaptoge S, Wang Q, Di Angelantonio E, Butterworth AS, Thompson JR, Danesh JN, Wood AM, Nelson CP. Modifiable traits, healthy behaviours, and leukocyte telomere length: a population-based study in UK Biobank. The Lancet Healthy Longevity. 2022 May 1;3(5):e321-31.

Article reviewed by
Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.
SCIENTIFIC & MEDICAL ADVISOR
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Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.

Scientific & Medical Advisor
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Ana has over 20 years of consultancy experience in longevity, regenerative and precision medicine. She has a multifaceted understanding of genomics, molecular biology, clinical biochemistry, nutrition, aging markers, hormones and physical training. This background allows her to bridge the gap between longevity basic sciences and evidence-based real interventions, putting them into the clinic, to enhance the healthy aging of people. She is co-founder of Origen.life, and Longevityzone. Board member at Breath of Health, BioOx and American Board of Clinical Nutrition. She is Director of International Medical Education of the American College of Integrative Medicine, Professor in IL3 Master of Longevity at Barcelona University and Professor of Nutrigenomics in Nutrition Grade in UNIR University.

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