A striking variability exists in the susceptibility, age of onset, and pace of progression of cardiovascular diseases. This is inadequately explained by the presence or absence of conventional risk factors such as age, family history of cardiovascular disease, and cholesterol levels. Other major risk factors include cigarette smoking and high blood pressure. Other identified factors associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease include lack of exercise, diabetes, obesity, too much alcohol consumption, increased homocysteine levels, certain infections and inflammation, estrogens, androgens, and chronic stress. The combination of multiple risk factors must also be considered.
Researchers at the Department of Cardiology, University Medical Centre, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, wrote that differences in biological aging might provide an additional component of the observed variability. Telomere length provides a potential marker of an individual's biological age, shorter telomeres reflect a more advanced biological age. Telomere length at birth is mainly determined by genetic factors. Telomere attrition occurs as a consequence of cellular replication and can be accelerated by harmful environmental factors such as oxidative stress.
When telomeres reach a critical threshold the cell will enter senescence and becomes dysfunctional. Telomeres are remarkably shorter in patients with aging associated diseases, including coronary artery disease and chronic heart failure (CHF). In addition, numerous conventional cardiovascular risk factors are associated with shorter telomere length. If telomeres can be proven to be not only associated but also causally involved in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease, it might provide exciting new avenues for the development of future preventive and therapeutic strategies.
Recent studies suggest that longer telomeres are associated with multivitamin use and exercise.
In a proceeding study, the authors note that the findings in this study “. . . adds to the growing body of evidence for an association between telomere shortening and ischemic heart disease. Telomere shortening in peripheral blood leukocytes is a promising index of ischemic disease risk in older people . . .” Starr et al. Association between telomere length and heart disease in a narrow age cohort of older people. Exp Gerontol 42:571-3 (2007).
Huzen J, de Boer RA, van Veldhuisen DJ, van Gilst WH, van der Harst P. The emerging role of telomere biology in cardiovascular disease. Front Biosci. 2010 Jan 1;15:35-45. PMID: 20036804 [PubMed - in process]