Cardiovascular Health Associated with Cellular Age

A preliminary study, the data for which was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions at the end of 2016, implies that the age of a person's immune cells may predict their risk of cardiovascular disease.

When replicating to replace old, damaged or dead cells a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of the cell's chromosomes, known as the telomere, shortens. The telomere protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes.

Telomere shortening is involved in all aspects of the aging process on a cellular level. Telomere length represents our biological age as opposed to our chronological age. Studies have shown a strong connection between short telomeres and cellular aging. For example, the immune system, which normally weakens as we age, is highly sensitive to shortening of telomeres.

In the present work researchers examined the relationship between telomere length of leukocytes, the body's immune cells, and overall cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association's Life Simple 7 metrics (smoking, physical activity, diet, body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose) were used to rate cardiovascular health. Data on over 5,000 subjects from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was combined with information on telomere length. Researchers found that subjects with shorter leukocyte telomere length tended to have poorer cardiovascular health. Interestingly, leukocyte telomere length reflected cardiovascular health more accurately in women and white people.

The authos of the work concluded that the data support a link between cardiovascular health and cell aging. However, the authors conclude more research is needed to explain the gender and race differences.