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DNA 'Telomere' Length Tied to Aging, Death Risk
Date:11/8/2012

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- The shorter the DNA sequences found at the end of a person's chromosomes -- known as telomeres -- the higher the risk for death, a large investigation into the microscopic underpinnings of mortality contends.

The finding stems from a fresh look at the role of telomeres, and the degree to which they serve as so-called "biomarkers" of aging.

More than 100,000 participants volunteered both saliva samples and medical records for analysis and review.

The result: Even after accounting for a host of lifestyle factors, shorter-than-average telomere length did seem to be associated with a boost in mortality risk.

"We found that individuals whose telomeres were in the shortest 10 percent were about 23 percent more likely to die in the three years following measurement of their telomeres, when compared with individuals whose telomeres were longer," said lead study author Catherine Schaefer, director of the Kaiser Permanente research program on genes, environment and health, based in Oakland, Calif.

This was true even after adjusting for the effects of smoking, alcohol consumption, education and other factors that are associated with telomere length, the study found.

The findings may suggest that shorter telomere length is not just a byproduct of the aging process but, instead, perhaps itself a significant root cause of aging and death, the researchers said.

A surprise finding was that heavier people had longer telomeres, which contradicts earlier, smaller studies, Schaefer said.

"The higher the body mass index, the longer the person's telomeres," she said. "This was true for both men and women and for all age groups. Other studies have reported that obesity was associated with shorter telomeres."

Schaefer and her colleagues are set to present their team's findings Thursday in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the
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