Every cell in the body has chromosomes with so-called telomeres, which are shortened over time and also through lifestyle choices such as smoking and obesity. Researchers have long speculated that the shortening of telomeres increases the risk of heart attack and early death. Now a large-scale population study in Denmark involving nearly 20,000 people shows that there is in fact a direct link, and has also given physicians a future way to test the actual cellular health of a person.
In an ongoing study of almost 20,000 Danes, a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen have isolated each individual’s DNA to analyse their specific telomere length – a measurement of cellular aging.
“The risk of heart attack or early death is present whether your telomeres are shortened due to lifestyle or due to high age,” says Clinical Professor of Genetic Epidemiology Borge Nordestgaard from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Professor Nordestgaard is also a chief physician at Copenhagen University Hospital, where he and colleagues conduct large scale studies of groups of tens of thousands of Danes over several decades.