A shorter telomere was associated with a 50% increased risk for developing cold symptoms.
The latest, and most likely program theory of aging is the telomere shortening theory. Telomeres are the end-cap segments of DNA (our genetic material). Each time a cell replicates, a small piece of DNA is taken off the end of the chromosome. The shorter the telomere gets, the more it affects gene expression. The result is cellular aging and an increased risk for immune dysfunction, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and other degenerative diseases.

Background information

The key to extending maximal human lifespan will ultimately involve preserving or restoring telomere length to the DNA (as well as decreasing chromosomal damage, cellular oxidation and many other factors). Several measures have already been shown to achieve this goal:
  • Simply adopting a comprehensive dietary and lifestyle change consistent with good health has been shown to preserve telomere length.
  • Physical exercise has been shown to be associated with preserving telomere length.
  • Meditation has been shown to preserve telomere length by reducing the negative effects of stress.
  • Higher vitamin D levels are associated with longer telomeres
  • Since levels of inflammatory markers in the blood correlate with telomere shortening, natural strategies that reduce inflammation are very important in reducing the rate of telomere shortening.
New data

In a very elaborate and detailed study, individuals with shortened telomeres had an increased risk of contracting colds after laboratory exposure to a cold virus. The researchers measured telomere length from white blood cell samples collected from 152 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55, and then exposed each subject to a virus that causes the common cold, rhinovirus. Subjects were quarantined in single rooms for five days to see if they got sick.

More than 100 of the participants of the participants developed a respiratory infection. When researchers looked at the telomere length in a specific type of white blood cell, called CD8CD28 T- cells, they found that 77% of those with the shortest telomere lengths developed a cold compared with 50 percent of those in the group with the longest telomeres. Among those with the shortest telomeres, 26% became clinically sick with the common cold, compared to 13% of those in the group with the longest telomeres. Hence, it was concluded that a shorter telomere was associated with a 50% increased risk for developing cold symptoms.

The researchers undertook the study to better understand the link between telomere length and immune function. This study provides additional support for an increased focus on incorporating dietary, lifestyle, and supplemental strategies to preserve telomere length, especially in white blood cells.


Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB, et al. Association between telomere length and experimentally induced upper respiratory viral infection in healthy adults. JAMA 2013; 309: 699-705.