Measurements of the extreme ends of chromosomes, which differ between patients and shrink with age, showed that men with short telomeres were almost twice as likely to develop CHD as those with long telomeres.
The findings come from data collected as part of the West of Scotland Primary Prevention Study. Over 6,000 men aged 45-64 years with no history of MI were assessed for cardiovascular risk factors and randomly assigned to 40mg pravastatin daily or placebo.
The latest analysis focused on 484 men who went on to have CHD events during almost five years' follow-up and 1,058 men who remained event free. Leukocyte telomere length was measured using blood samples. Compared with men in the highest tertile of telomere length, risk of CHD events was 44 per cent higher in those in the lowest tertile and 51 per cent higher in those in the middle tertile.
When the researchers looked at the placebo arm of the study, they found that the risk of CHD was 93 per cent higher in men in the lowest tertile and 94 per cent higher in the middle tertile than those in the highest tertile.
But in patients treated with pravastatin, this risk fell substantially. Those in the lowest tertile were only 12 per cent more likely to have CHD events than those in the highest tertile.
The risk of CHD events was similar for men with the middle and highest tertiles.
Lead researcher Professor Nilesh Samani, from the University of Leicester, said: ‘The benefits of statin treatment seems to be affected by risk as shown by telomere length.'
The link is still to be determined, but cell culture studies have shown that when telomeres shorten, cells over express genes known to be involved in atherosclerosis, said Professor Samani.