• aging;
  • cardiovascular disease;
  • inflammation;
  • lifestyle;
  • oxidative stress;
  • telomere


Evidence assembled over the last decade shows that average telomere length (TL) acts as a biomarker for biological aging and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in particular. Although essential for a more profound understanding of the underlying mechanisms, little reference information is available on TL. We therefore sought to provide baseline TL information and assess the association of prevalent CVD risk factors with TL in subjects free of overt CVD within a small age range. We measured mean telomere restriction fragment length of peripheral blood leukocytes in a large, representative Asklepios study cohort of 2509 community-dwelling, Caucasian female and male volunteers aged approximately 35–55 years and free of overt CVD. We found a manifest age-dependent telomere attrition, at a significantly faster rate in men as compared to women. No significant associations were established with classical CVD risk factors such as cholesterol status and blood pressure, yet shorter TL was associated with increased levels of several inflammation and oxidative stress markers. Importantly, shorter telomere length was associated with an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle, particularly in men. All findings were age and gender adjusted where appropriate. With these cross-sectional results we show that TL of peripheral blood leukocytes primarily reflects the burden of increased oxidative stress and inflammation, whether or not determined by an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle, while the association with classical CVD risk factors is limited. This further clarifies the added value of TL as a biomarker for biological aging and might improve our understanding of how TL is associated with CVD.