Telomere length is associated with several physical and mental health conditions, but whether it is a marker of multimorbidity is unclear. We investigated associations between telomere length and multimorbidity by sex.
Data from adults (N = 5,495) aged ≥50 years were taken from the US Health and Retirement Study (2008–14). Telomere length was measured in 2008 from salivary samples. The cross-sectional associations between telomere length and eight chronic health conditions were explored using logistic regression, adjusting for confounders and stratified by sex. Logistic, ordinal and multinomial regression models were calculated to explore relationships between telomere length and multimorbidity (using a binary variable and a sum of the number of health conditions) and the type of multimorbidity (no multimorbidity, physical multimorbidity, or multimorbidity including psychiatric problems). Using multilevel logistic regression, prospective relationships between telomere length and incident multimorbidity were also explored.
In cross-sectional analyses, longer telomeres were associated with reduced likelihood of lung disease and psychiatric problems among men, but not women. Longer telomeres were associated with lower risk of multimorbidity that included psychiatric problems among men (OR=0.521, 95% CI: 0.284 to 0.957), but not women (OR=1.188, 95% CI: 0.771 to 1.831). Prospective analyses suggested little association between telomere length and the onset of multimorbidity in men (OR=1.378, 95% CI: 0.931 to 2.038) nor women (OR=1.224, 95% CI: 0.825 to 1.815).
Although telomere length does not appear to be a biomarker of overall multimorbidity, further exploration of the relationships is merited particularly for multimorbidity including psychiatric conditions among men.