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Senior Citizen Longevity & Statistics

Those Long Telomeres Inherited from an Older Father Give You Longevity

Short telomeres a cause of ill health that occurs with aging — long telomeres promote slower aging



Fluorescence-stained chromosomes (red) on a microscope slide. Telomere sequences (yellow) reside at the ends of each chromosome. More about telomeres from University of Utah below main story.


June 13, 2012 - Senior citizens – most of them, anyway - are fond of trying to find reasons they are going to live longer. Well, here is a new one for you to contemplate. Researchers say that if your father conceived you late in life, you probably inherited some life-extending benefits – long telomeres.

It’s all based on a biological assumption that a slow pace of aging requires the body to invest more resources in repairing aging cells and tissues.

Researchers from Northwestern University say that our bodies might increase these investments to slow the pace of aging if our father and grandfather waited until they were older before having children.


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Their study, which was conducted in the Philippines, found that children of older fathers inherit longer telomeres, which are DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. And, the discovered, that the association of paternal age with offspring telomere length is also cumulative across multiple generations.

Shorter telomeres seem to be a cause of ill health that occurs with aging — longer telomeres seem to promote slower aging.

It appears that as men delay reproduction, they will pass on longer telomeres to offspring, which may facilitate extension of life span and allow reproducing at older ages.

"If your father and grandfather were able to live and reproduce at a later age, this might predict that you yourself live in an environment that is somewhat similar — an environment with less accidental deaths or in which men are only able to find a partner at later ages," said Dan T.A. Eisenberg, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Northwestern.

"In such an environment, investing more in a body capable of reaching these late ages could be an adaptive strategy from an evolutionary perspective."

Christopher W. Kuzawa, co-author of the study, associate professor of anthropology at Northwestern and a faculty fellow at the University's Institute for Policy Research, says these new findings are fascinating.

"If our recent ancestors waited until later in adulthood before they reproduced, perhaps for cultural reasons, it would make sense for our bodies to prepare for something similar by investing the extra resources necessary to maintain healthy functioning at more advanced ages," Kuzawa said.

Eisenberg said he hopes the study will further our understanding of the evolution of aging, why we get old and the ways that we adapt to the environment.

"When we think of adaptation, we tend to think of it happening over hundreds of generations," Eisenberg said. "This study illustrates a means by which much more rapid adaptive genetic changes might occur over just a few generations."

"The idea that information about the environment can be passed on biochemically from one generation to the next is certainly not something new," said M. Geoffrey Hayes, co-author of the study, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and assistant professor of anthropology at Northwestern. "But what is quite unique in the case of our telomere study is that we're seeing an association across more than one generation."

The researchers said their study should not be taken as a recommendation that men reproduce at later ages as previous research has shown that older fathers are more likely to pass along harmful mutations to their offspring at conception, which can lead to increased rates of miscarriage and other health issues in offspring.

However, Kuzawa said, "These new findings suggest that there might also be underappreciated benefits to having an older father or grandfather."

And while the findings are fascinating, Kuzawa said they will need to see if they are replicated in other populations.

"We will want to see if the longer telomeres that offspring of older fathers and grandfathers inherit at birth have fewer health problems and ailments as they age," Kuzawa said. "Based upon our findings, we predict that this will be the case, but this is a question to be addressed in future studies."

The report on this study, "Delayed Paternal Age of Reproduction in Humans Is Associated With Longer Telomeres Across Two Generations of Descendants," was published June 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chromosome Ends Shorten with Age, Predict Mortality from Heart Disease, Various Infectious Diseases

News release from 2003 issued by The Lancet on research from the U of Utah School of Medicine's Department of Human Genetics, Huntsman Cancer Institute, and Department of Family and Consumer Studies



Once a person is older than 60, their risk of death doubles with every eight years of age. So a 68-year-old has twice the chance of dying within a year compared with a 60-year-old. Cawthon's study found that differences in telomere length accounted for only 4 percent of that difference.

And while intuition tells us older people have a higher risk of death, only another 6 percent is due purely to chronological age. When telomere length, chronological age and gender are combined (women live longer than men), those factors account for 37 percent of the variation in the risk of dying over age 60. So what causes the other 63 percent?


January 30, 2003 -- As if it's not bad enough that people lose their hair, teeth, and eyesight as they age, their chromosomes desert them, too.

As people get older, telomeres-the ends of chromosomes-get shorter in all dividing cells in the body, except the germline (cells from which a new organism can develop).

This, according to University of Utah medical researchers, holds major health implications for people over age 60 because shortened telomeres in blood are associated with increased risks of dying from heart disease or infectious diseases.

In a study published in the February 1 issue of the international medical journal, The Lancet, researchers from the U of Utah School of Medicine's Department of Human Genetics, Huntsman Cancer Institute, and Department of Family and Consumer Studies concluded that women and men with shorter telomeres died sooner than people with longer telomeres.

Women with shorter telomeres died a median 4.8 years sooner, while men died a median 4 years earlier than their counterparts.

"Telomere length was a significant predictor of mortality in people ages 60 to 74," said Richard M. Cawthon, M.D., Ph.D., research assistant professor of human genetics and lead author of the study.

In people age 75 and older, telomere length was a moderate predictor of mortality.

The researchers studied 143 unrelated Utah residents, ages 60 to 97, who donated blood from 1982-1986. At the time the study concluded, 101 of the people had died.

People whose telomere length was in the bottom half of the study group had a heart disease mortality rate more than three times higher than subjects whose telomere length was in the top half, the researchers found.

Those with telomere length in the bottom quarter had an infectious disease mortality rate eight times higher than people in the top three-quarters for telomere length.

"Overall, individuals with shorter telomeres had nearly twice the mortality rate of people with longer telomeres," Cawthon said.

Telomere length is measured in base pairs of DNA. The average length at birth is 8,000, but as people age, the average drops to around 3,000 base pairs. Telomere lengths of those in the study ranged from 1,930 to 4310 base pairs.

Although the study correlated telomere length with increased heart disease and infectious disease mortality, the researchers still aren't sure exactly what that means. But the study findings raised three possibilities:

-- Shorter telomeres increase disease mortality risks and it's possible that a medical intervention to lengthen telomeres could increase longevity.
-- Shorter telomeres do not increase the risk of dying, but are markers of an underlying cause of heart disease and infectious disease, perhaps a fundamental process of aging.
-- People in the study with shorter telomeres already were ill and telomere length was simply a sign of disease.

"The most exciting possibility suggested by the study is that if we could do some sort of medical intervention and lengthen people's telomeres, they would live longer and healthier lives," Cawthon said.

It may be possible, for example, to introduce the gene that produces the enzyme that makes telomeres longer.

Even if short telomeres do not raise mortality risks directly, but are merely a marker of an underlying cause of age-related disease, measurements of telomere length still may lead researchers to the genes that regulate rates of aging in people, according to Cawthon.

Telomere shortening is accelerated in dyskeratosis congenita, a genetic disorder in which patients suffer premature onset of multiple age-related diseases. The median age of death for people with the disorder is 16.

The Utah researchers had hypothesized that telomere shortening in people without the disorder also would contribute to mortality in multiple age-related diseases.

Evan C. Hadley, M.D., associate director of geriatrics and clinical gerontology at the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said the study bears follow-up.

"This is a very interesting finding … But, as the authors note, the association between telomere length and mortality doesn't prove that telomeres cause increased mortality risk-they may just be a marker, reflecting other processes that are the real culprits," Hadley said. "We need further study to clarify this."

The NIA provided funding for the study.

Along with Cawthon, the researchers included Ken R. Smith, Ph.D., professor of family and consumer studies; Elizabeth O'Brien, Ph.D., and Anna Sivatchenko, M.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah; and Richard A. Kerber, Ph.D., also of the Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah School of Medicine.


Are Telomeres the Key to Aging and Cancer?

Inside the center or nucleus of a cell, our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.

Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces because they prevent chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would scramble an organism's genetic information to cause cancer, other diseases or death.

Yet, each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell no longer can divide and becomes inactive or "senescent" or dies. This process is associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. So telomeres also have been compared with a bomb fuse.

… What role do telomeres play in 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.

Measuring telomerase may be a new way to detect cancer.

… What about telomeres and aging?

Geneticist Richard Cawthon and colleagues at the University of Utah found shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

While telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process, it is not yet known whether shorter telomeres are just a sign of aging - like gray hair - or actually contribute to aging….

… How big a role do telomeres play in aging?

Some long-lived species like humans have telomeres that are much shorter than species like mice, which live only a few years. Nobody yet knows why. But it's evidence that telomeres alone do not dictate lifespan.

Cawthon's study found that when people are divided into two groups based on telomere lengths, the half with longer telomeres lives five years longer than those with shorter telomeres. That suggests lifespan could be increased five years by increasing the length of telomeres in people with shorter ones.

>> More on Telomeres at the University of Utah


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