Telomere length and health outcomes: An umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of observational studies

Lee Smith, Claudio Luchini, Jacopo Demurtas, Pinar Soysal, Brendon Stubbs, Mark Hamer, Alessia Nottegar, Rita T. Lawlor, Guillermo Felipe Lopez-Sanchez, Joseph Firth, Ai Koyanagi, Justin Roberts, Peter Willeit, Thomas Waldhoer, Mike Loosemore, Adam David Abbs, James Johnstone, Lin Yang, Nicola Veronese

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The aim of the present study was to map and grade evidence for the relationships between telomere length with a diverse range of health outcomes, using an umbrella review of systematic reviews with meta-analyses. We searched for meta-analyses of observational studies reporting on the association of telomere length with any health outcome (clinical disease outcomes and intermediate traits). For each association, random-effects summary effect size, 95% confidence interval (CI), and 95% prediction interval were calculated. To evaluate the credibility of the identified evidence, we assessed also heterogeneity, evidence for small-study effect and evidence for excess significance bias. Twenty-one relevant meta-analyses were identified reporting on 50 different outcomes. The level of evidence was high only for the association of short telomeres with higher risk of gastric cancer in the general population (relative risk, RR = 1.95, 95%CI: 1.68–2.26), and moderate for the association of shorter telomeres with diabetes or with Alzheimer's disease, even if limited to meta-analyses of case-control studies. There was weak evidence for twenty outcomes and not significant association for 27 health outcomes. The present umbrella review demonstrates that shorter telomere length may have an important role in incidence gastric cancer and, probably, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. At the same time, conversely to general assumptions, it does not find strong evidence supporting the notion that shorter telomere length plays an important role in many health outcomes that have been studied thus far.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalAgeing research reviews
Early online date15 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • Observational studies
  • Telomere length
  • Umbrella review


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