Nav: Home

Telomere length unaffected by smoking

June 05, 2019

A new study has surprised the medical world, finding that smoking does not shorten the length of telomeres - a marker at the end of our chromosomes that is widely accepted as an indicator of ageing.

This suggests that adult telomere length should be considered a static biomarker that changes relatively little during adult life.

The meta-analysis of 18 previously collected datasets led by researchers at Newcastle University is published in the Royal Society journal Open Science today.

The researchers chose to focus on smoking simply because there are more data available on the associations between smoking and telomere length than for any other unhealthy behaviour.

The study confirms that while smokers do indeed have shorter telomeres (as many previous studies have shown), importantly, there is no evidence that telomeres shorten faster in smokers compared to non-smokers, as would be predicted if smoking causes telomere shortening. The results suggest that smoking is not responsible for the shorter telomeres observed in adult smokers.

Professor Melissa Bateson from Newcastle University's Faculty of Medical Sciences who led the study said: "The importance of this study is that it forces us to rethink the value of telomere length as a read-out of how our current lifestyles are affecting our bodies. We don't dispute the abundant evidence that smoking is bad for you, but merely the evidence that telomere length is a good way of assessing the biological damage done by smoking and possibly, by extension, other unhealthy behaviours."

This leads to the question of why then do smokers have shorter telomeres? The team of international researchers suggest that a plausible answer to this question is that both telomere shortening and smoking are made more likely by a third variable, possibly exposure to various forms of adversity in early life such as physical and emotional abuse. The Newcastle University team are continuing research into this area.

This finding changes previous scientific understanding of telomere length, a recognised biomarker of increased morbidity and reduced longevity. It was previously believed that telomere length responds dynamically to current adult behaviour, shortening more when we do unhealthy activities such as smoking and perhaps lengthening in response to healthier behaviours. However, this study suggests that adult telomere length should be reinterpreted as a static biomarker that changes relatively little during adult life.

Method

Data were included from 18 longitudinal studies, spanning 10 countries and four continents. The study was made possible by an international collaboration between the researchers involved in all of these original studies making their data available for re-analysis. The combined dataset is the largest of its type and includes data from 12,579 adults (4,678 current smokers and 7,901 non-smokers). The mean age of the participants varies from 26 to 80 years.

The change in participants' telomere length was measured over a follow-up period of around 8.6 years, using measures of telomere length in blood samples taken at the beginning and end of this period.

Professor Bateson added: "For the scientific community it means that measuring changes in adult telomere length may be less useful than previously thought for identifying behaviour that is harmful and for monitoring the consequences of behaviour change.

"More generally, the findings underline the need for caution when interpreting correlational data. Just because two variables are correlated does not mean that one variable causes the other."
-end-
REFERENCE: Smoking does not accelerate leukocyte telomere attrition: a meta-analysis of 18 longitudinal cohorts. Melissa Bateson et al. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190420

Newcastle University

Related Smoking Articles:

Smoking rates falling in adults, but stroke survivors' smoking rates remain steady
While the rate of Americans who smoke tobacco has fallen steadily over the last two decades, the rate of stroke survivors who smoke has not changed significantly.
What is your risk from smoking? Your network knows!
A new study from researchers at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication found that most people, smokers and non-smokers alike, were nowhere near accurate in their answers to questions about smoking's health effects.
Want to quit smoking? Partner up
Kicking the habit works best in pairs. That's the main message of a study presented today at EuroPrevent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
Smoking and mortality in Asia
In this analysis of data from 20 studies conducted in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India with more than 1 million participants, deaths associated with smoking continued to increase among men in Asia grouped by the years in which they were born.
Predictors of successfully quitting smoking among smokers registered at the quit smoking clinic at a public hospital in northeastern Malaysia
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health, Nur Izzati Mohammad et al. consider how cigarette smoking is one of the risk factors leading to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases and cancer.
Restaurant and bar smoking bans do reduce smoking, especially among the highly educated
Smoking risk drops significantly in college graduates when they live near areas that have completely banned smoking in bars and restaurants, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
How the UK smoking ban increased wellbeing
Married women with children reported the largest increase in well-being following the smoking bans in the UK in 2006 and 2007 but there was no comparable increase for married men with children.
Smoking study personalizes treatment
A simple blood test is allowing Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) researchers to determine which patients should be prescribed varenicline (Chantix) to stop smoking and which patients could do just as well, and avoid side effects, by using a nicotine patch.
A biophysical smoking gun
While much about Alzheimer's disease remains a mystery, scientists do know that part of the disease's progression involves a normal protein called tau, aggregating to form ropelike inclusions within brain cells that eventually strangle the neurons.
A case where smoking helped
A mutation in the hemoglobin of a young woman in Germany was found to cause her mild anemia.
More Smoking News and Smoking Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.