What Your Telomeres Say About Your Health

View as:|
1 of 6

Telomeres are the protective cap-like protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes. They protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer. Read on to find out what telomeres may say about our overall health and which diseases could be directly linked to them.

They predict your susceptibility to the common cold

Researchers found that the length of telomeres (protective cap-like protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes) predicts resistance to upper respiratory infections in young and midlife adults. As a cell's telomeres shorten, it loses its ability to function normally and eventually dies, leaving the immune system without proper defenses.

They can help detect cancer

As a cell begins to become cancerous, it divides more often, and its telomeres become very short. If its telomeres get too short, the cell may die. It can escape this fate by becoming a cancer cell and activating an enzyme called telomerase, which prevents the telomeres from getting even shorter. Studies have found shortened telomeres in many cancers, including pancreatic, bone, prostate, bladder, lung, kidney, and head and neck.

They can show your risk for emphysema

Mice that have short telomeres showed a significant increased risk of developing emphysema after exposure to cigarette smoke. Cells with damaged DNA stopped dividing, and lung cells with too much damage could no longer be repaired. The results show how telomere length, an inherited factor, interacts with an environmental factors to cause disease.

They may predict cardiovascular outcomes

A new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) suggests a strong link between telomere shortening and poor cardiovascular outcomes in patients with acute coronary syndrome.

They may predict pancreatic cancer risk

Pancreatic cancer is a somewhat elusive disease when it comes to evaluating risk. But  scientists have found a link between pancreatic cancer and differences in telomeres' length in blood cells. The outcome suggested the shorter the telomere, the higher the likelihood of pancreatic cancer.