PUFA Status and Methylmercury Exposure Are Not Associated with Leukocyte Telomere Length in Mothers or Their Children in the Seychelles Child Development Study

J Nutr. 2017 Nov;147(11):2018-2024. doi: 10.3945/jn.117.253021. Epub 2017 Oct 4.


Background: Leukocyte telomere length (TL) is associated with age-related diseases and early mortality, but there is a lack of data on the determinants of TL in early life. Evidence suggests that dietary intake of marine n-3 (ω-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is protective of telomere attrition, yet the effect of methylmercury exposure, also found in fish, on TL is unknown.Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the associations between prenatal PUFA status, methylmercury exposure, and TL in mothers and children in the SCDS (Seychelles Child Development Study), for whom fish consumption is high.Methods: Blood samples collected from 229 mothers (at 28 wk gestation and delivery) and children (at 5 y of age) in the SCDS first nutrition cohort were analyzed for PUFA concentrations. Prenatal mercury was measured in maternal hair collected at delivery. Postnatal mercury was also measured in children's hair samples with the use of a cumulative metric derived from values obtained at 3-5 y of age. Relative TL was measured in blood obtained from mothers at delivery, in cord blood, and in children at 5 y of age by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Linear regression models were used to investigate the associations between PUFA status, methylmercury exposure, and TL.Results: Neither prenatal PUFA status or methylmercury exposure was associated with TL of the mother or child or with TL attrition rate. However, a higher prenatal n-6:n-3 PUFA ratio was significantly associated with longer TLs in the mothers (β = 0.001, P = 0.048). Child PUFA status and methylmercury exposure were not associated with child TL. However, higher family Hollingshead socioeconomic status (SES) scores at 9 mo of age were significantly associated with longer TLs in cord blood (β = 0.005, P = 0.03).Conclusions: We found no evidence that PUFA status or methylmercury exposure are determinants of TL in either the mother or child. However, our results support the hypothesis that family SES may be associated with child TL.

Keywords: Seychelles Child Development Study; fish consumption; maternal infant nutrition; methylmercury exposure; polyunsaturated fatty acid status; pregnancy; telomere length.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Fishes
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / drug effects*
  • Linear Models
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis*
  • Mothers
  • Seafood / analysis
  • Seychelles
  • Telomere / drug effects
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Methylmercury Compounds