Background: Exposure to environmental stressors can lead to shorter leukocyte telomere length and increase the risk of chronic diseases. Preservation of leukocyte telomere length by reducing oxidative stress exposure and reinforcing immunity may be a mechanism by which nutritional factors delay or prevent chronic disease development.
Methods: Healthy pregnant women (aged 18–45 years) at 9–15 weeks of gestation living in Gasabo District, Kigali, Rwanda, were recruited from 10 health centers for a prospective, longitudinal study from September to October 2017 to determine possible associations between nutrition health, infectious disease and leukocyte telomere length. Anthropometric and laboratory measurements were performed using standard procedures; sociodemographic parameters and health histories were assessed via surveys, and leukocyte telomere length was assessed using quantitative PCR expressed as the ratio of a telomeric product to a single-copy gene product (T/S).
Results: Mean gestational age of participants (n = 297) at enrollment was 13.04 ± 3.50 weeks, age was 28.16 ± 6.10 years and leukocyte telomere length was 1.16 ± 0.22 (T/S). Younger age; no schooling vs. primary schooling; and lower levels of ferritin, soluble transferrin receptors and retinol-binding protein were independent predictors of longer telomere length in multivariable models.
Conclusions: Leukocyte telomere length is an indicator of biological aging in pregnant Rwandan women. Maternal micronutrient status, specifically lower ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor levels, and retinol-binding protein levels were associated with longer maternal telomere length in contrast with some studies from North America and Europe. There were no associations between inflammation and infectious disease status and maternal leukocyte telomere length. Further studies are needed to enhance our understanding of the interplay between maternal nutritional status and infectious disease in relation to leukocyte telomere length in developing countries.