Dietary patterns, food groups, and telomere length in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Nov;88(5):1405-12. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26429.


Background: Telomere length reflects biological aging and may be influenced by environmental factors, including those that affect inflammatory processes.

Objective: With data from 840 white, black, and Hispanic adults from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, we studied cross-sectional associations between telomere length and dietary patterns and foods and beverages that were associated with markers of inflammation.

Design: Leukocyte telomere length was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Length was calculated as the amount of telomeric DNA (T) divided by the amount of a single-copy control DNA (S) (T/S ratio). Intake of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy, nuts or seeds, nonfried fish, coffee, refined grains, fried foods, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened soda were computed with responses to a 120-item food-frequency questionnaire completed at baseline. Scores on 2 previously defined empirical dietary patterns were also computed for each participant.

Results: After adjustment for age, other demographics, lifestyle factors, and intakes of other foods or beverages, only processed meat intake was associated with telomere length. For every 1 serving/d greater intake of processed meat, the T/S ratio was 0.07 smaller (beta +/- SE: -0.07 +/- 0.03, P = 0.006). Categorical analysis showed that participants consuming >or=1 serving of processed meat each week had 0.017 smaller T/S ratios than did nonconsumers. Other foods or beverages and the 2 dietary patterns were not associated with telomere length.

Conclusions: Processed meat intake showed an expected inverse association with telomere length, but other diet features did not show their expected associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / ethnology*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Black People
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Ethnicity
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Male
  • Meat Products / adverse effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Racial Groups
  • Risk Factors
  • Telomere / physiology*
  • White People


  • Biomarkers