Telomeres: The Secret to the Fountain of Youth?

What if the road to the Fountain of Youth began in the mouth?

Researchers in London have found a link between periodontitis, oxidative stress, and telomere length, according to an article in Free Radical Biology & Medicine.

The National Institute of Health’s genetics glossary defines telomeres as segments at the end of chromosomes that regulate cell division. Because a piece of the telomere is lost every time a cell divides, the cell dies when the telomere is gone.

According to the study, people with chronic periodontitis displayed significantly shorter telomere lengths when compared to the control group. Short telomere length was also correlated with increased oxidative stress, which is a known effect of periodontal disease.

It has been well established that lifestyle factors—including inflammation, stress, diet, and nutrition—heavily influence the length of a person’s telomeres, which is considered a biomarker of cellular aging. Short telomeres correlate with increased age, so telomeres may serve as a useful indicator of progression of age-related diseases.

Because of their shortened telomeres, old cells do not maintain and repair tissues as well as young cells. Shorter telomeres mean an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, often appearing at 30-40 years of age rather than 70-80 years of age.

Shortened telomeres are not necessarily a one-way ticket to an early grave, however. Studies have shown that the rate of telomere shortening can be increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors, some of which include inflammation, stress, diet, and nutrition.

Many studies have associated shortened telomeres with inflammatory disease, but only a few have addressed oral inflammation specifically. A 2013 study concluded that, “chronic inflammatory burden observed in people with chronic periodontitis could represent the driver of telomere shortening.”

As the body of knowledge on the destructive and progressive nature of oral inflammation expands, it makes sense that future research would seek to examine the relationship between telomere length and oral inflammation.

Source: Oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and telomere length in patients with periodontitis.