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Telomere length linked to risk of dying

Large study examines association between protective caps at end of chromosomes and health

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9:49pm, November 11, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly gnawed-off telomeres — the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes — may portend a higher risk of death, a new study suggests.

Telomeres prevent a chromosome’s DNA from being eaten away. Previous studies have shown that telomeres shorten with age and linked short telomeres with several diseases. What no one has yet been able to say is if truncated telomeres cause health problems or are a side effect of aging and poor health.

To find out, researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, San Francisco measured telomere length in 110,266 people in northern California. The participants are part of an ongoing project that explores links between genetics and health. This study is the largest ever to examine telomeres’ role in health.

The 10 percent of people with the shortest telomeres had a more than 20 percent higher risk of dying than people with longer telomeres

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