Psychological distress and metabolic dysregulation are associated with markers of accelerated cellular aging, including reduced telomerase activity and shortened telomere length. We examined whether participation in a mindfulness-based intervention, and, secondarily, improvements in psychological distress, eating behavior, and metabolic factors are associated with increases in telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs).
We enrolled 47 overweight/obese women in a randomized waitlist-controlled pilot trial (n = 47) of a mindfulness-based intervention for stress eating and examined changes in telomerase activity from pre- to post-intervention. In secondary analyses, changes in telomerase activity across the sample were examined in relation to pre- to post-intervention changes in psychological distress, eating behavior, and metabolic factors (weight, serum cortisol, fasting glucose and insulin, and insulin resistance).
Both groups increased in mean telomerase activity over 4 months in intent-to-treat and treatment efficacy analyses (p < 0.001). Nonsignificant trends showed that greater attendance was associated with increases in telomerase, and telomerase increases were 18% higher among ‘as treated’ participants compared to controls. Across groups, changes in chronic stress, anxiety, dietary restraint, dietary fat intake, cortisol, and glucose were negatively correlated with changes in telomerase activity. In exploratory analyses, decreases in dietary fat intake partially mediated the association between dietary restraint and telomerase activity with marginal significance.
While there was no clear effect of the intervention on telomerase activity, there was a striking pattern of correlations between improvements in psychological distress, eating behavior, and metabolic health and increases in telomerase activity. These findings suggest that telomerase activity may be in part regulated by levels of both psychological and metabolic stress.