Telomeres, located at the end of linear chromosomes, are essential to maintain genomic stability. Telomere biology has recently emerged as an important player in the fields of ageing and disease. To maintain telomere length (TL) and reduce its degradation after mitosis, the telomerase enzyme complex is produced. Genetic, epigenetic, hormonal and environmental factors can regulate telomerase function. These include stress hormones such as cortisol and growth factors. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been evaluated in psychiatric diseases where hypercortisolism and oxidative stress are often present. Some researches have linked TL shortening to increases in stress-related cortisol, but others have not. The effects of cortisol on the telomere system are complex and may depend on the intensity and duration of exposure. On the other hand, low levels of IGF-1 are associated with inflammation and ageing-related diseases (ischaemic heart disease, congestive heart failure). Both IGF-1 and TL diminish with age and are positively and strongly correlated with each other. It is not clear whether this positive correlation reflects a single association or a cause-effect relationship. Further research will ideally investigate longitudinal changes in telomeres and both these hormonal axes. To our knowledge, TL dysfunction has not been described in either endogenous hypercortisolism (Cushing's syndrome) or acromegaly where excessive amounts of GH and consequently IGF-1 are produced. This review focuses on the possible relationships between telomere dysfunction and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and GH-IGF-1 system. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.