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Telomere length associated with PCOS finds new research

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The length of the telomeres on leukocytes has been found to be associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) for the first time, according to a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, on Dec. 3, 2013

Telomeres are specialized chromatin structures located at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes.  They serve to protect our genes from the damage caused as they age and are often compared to the plastic caps at the ends of shoelaces, as their purpose is the same: to stop damage or fraying occurring.  Every time a cell divides, the telomere at the end of its chromosome shortens.  The amount by which it shortens each time varies greatly between different people and within the context of different lifestyle practices such as dietary habits, stress management and exercise.

Telomere length plays a clear role in many disease processes and is linked to the speed at which ageing occurs in the body.  The longer your telomeres, the slower your cells, and thus you, age.

The research team from Fudan University in Shanghai, China hypothesized that leukocyte telomere length or LTL played an important role in the pathophysiology, or disordered metabolic and endocrine processes, that form PCOS.  The scientists used a polymerase chain reaction or PCR technique to measure the length of the telomeres in women with PCOS and those without who served as controls for the study.  When the results were analyzed and adjusted for the age of the women, the researchers found that women with PCOS had significantly shorter LTLs than women without PCOS.

The mean telomere length in PCOS patients was comparable to women in the control group who were over 6 years older, on average.  The women who had the shortest telomere length had a significantly higher risk of disease than those with the longest telomeres, after adjusting for age.  Women in the bottom two-thirds of the group for telomere length had a 60% greater risk of disease than the third of the group who had the longest telomeres.

The researchers concluded that “We provide the first report that LTL is strongly associated with PCOS. This study suggests a new role for LTL in the pathophysiology of PCOS and might have important implications for our understanding of the etiology of the disease.”

PCOS affects about 10 percent of women, though some estimates put that figure as high as 25 percent depending upon the demographic. PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility and the disease greatly increases the risk of premature cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke.  The condition appears to be more prevalent in lesbian women than in heterosexual women, though it is not known why this is. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by excess levels of male hormones which are triggered by excess levels of insulin which act upon the theca cells of the ovaries stimulating them to produce testosterone, irregular ovulation and menstruation which can lead to infertility and is associated with an increased risk for insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

More Information:Although this research may not initially be particularly uplifting for women with PCOS, it is important to note that telomere length can be influenced by a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a healthy diet and stress reduction techniques, all of which are proven to improve PCOS outcomes.  Research published in journals such as the Lancet, PLoS One and Menopause over the last two years have consistently found improvements in telomere length with interventions including a regular exercise program, a Mediterranean diet, a plant-based diet and stress reduction practices such as meditation and yoga.

Li Q, Du J, Feng R, Xu Y, Wang H, Sang Q, Xing Q, Zhao X, Jin L, He L…. (2013) A possible new mechanism in the pathophysiology of polycystic ovary syndrome: The discovery that leukocyte telomere length is strongly associated with PCOS. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. PMID: 24302747

Boccardi V, Esposito A, Rizzo MR, Marfella R, Barbieri M, & Paolisso G. (2013)Mediterranean diet, telomere maintenance and health status among elderly. PloS one, 8(4). PMID: 23646142

Ornish D, Lin J, Chan JM, Epel E, Kemp C, Weidner G, Marlin R, Frenda SJ, Magbanua MJ, Daubenmier J…. (2013) Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. The Lancet Oncology, 14(11), 1112-20. PMID: 24051140

Kim JH, Ko JH, Lee DC, Lim I, & Bang H. (2012) Habitual physical exercise has beneficial effects on telomere length in postmenopausal women. Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 19(10), 1109-15. PMID: 22668817

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