Smoking and perceived stress in relation to short salivary telomere length among caregivers of children with disabilities

Xiaoli Chen, Juan Carlos Velez, Clarita Barbosa, Micah Pepper, Asterio Andrade, Lee Stoner, Immaculata De Vivo, Bizu Gelaye, Michelle A. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Telomere length (TL), the length of repeated DNA sequence that forms protective caps at the end of chromosomes, has emerged as a novel biomarker of cell aging and oxidative stress. There is increasing research exploring the associations of smoking and perceived stress with TL, and the results are inconsistent. This study aimed to examine whether smoking and perceived stress were associated with shortened salivary TL among primary caregivers of children with disabilities. Using a quantitative polymerase chain reaction method, salivary TL was assessed among 89 caregivers aged 19-69 years (87% were women) who took care of disabled children in the Patagonia Region, Chile. Interviewer-administered questionnaires were used to collect information on sociodemographic and lifestyle factors. The 14-item Perceived Stress Scale was used to assess perceived stress. Mean relative TL was 0.92 (standard error=0.03). Smokers had age-adjusted mean TL that was 0.07 units lower (β=-0.07, standard error=0.03; p=0.012) than non-smokers. Smokers were 2.17 times more likely to have shorter TL (<0.73, the lowest quartile of TL) than non-smokers (odds ratio=3.17; 95% confidence interval=1.05-9.52) with adjustment for age and perceived stress. Caregivers with higher perceived stress were 2.13 times more likely to have shorter TL (odds ratio=3.13; 95% confidence interval=1.03-9.55) than caregivers with lower perceived stress after adjustment for age and smoking. This study provides the first evidence of strong associations between smoking and perceived stress and shortened salivary TL among caregivers of children with disabilities. Larger studies with detailed information on smoking status are warranted to confirm our findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-28
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Biomarker
  • Caregiver
  • Child with a disability
  • Saliva
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Telomere length

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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