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Are Your Cells Aging Faster Than You? Check With New Test
October 26, 2016
Your cells might be aging faster than you are, and new tests purport to help you find out.
A few companies are offering mail-order testing to measure the length of people’s telomeres, the protective caps of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that have been likened to the plastic tips that prevent shoelaces from fraying. Telomeres gradually shorten as people age and eventually may disappear, leaving cells vulnerable to disease and death.
Telomere Diagnostics, of Menlo Park, Calif., launched an $89 test last week. Users mail in a drop of blood and get back a calculation of their age in “TeloYears,” adjusted up or down depending on how they compare with the general population. The service also provides advice for improving diet, fitness, sleep and stress levels, which some small studies suggest may help telomeres regain length.
Still, some top telomere scientists say such information amounts to little more than high-tech palm reading, in part because telomere length varies so widely in the general population that it isn’t clear what length is problematic.
“We don’t yet know how to interpret these results. It might suggest there is something wrong when there isn’t,” says Carol Greider, director of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering how telomeres protect chromosomes.
WHAT YOUR CELLS CAN TELL YOU
- What are telomeres?
- Telomeres are stretches of DNA at the end of chromosomes that protect them from damage, but they gradually wear away each time cells divide. When telomeres become critically short, chromosomes can fuse together and malfunction, causing cells to die, which contributes to disease.
- How do telomeres relate to aging?
- Many studies have linked diseases of aging with short telomeres, but it isn’t clear whether short telomeres are a sign of cellular age or help cause the process.
- Can this process be slowed?
- Telomere shortening is determined by heredity, environment, and lifestyle choices. Some studies suggest that controlling inflammation, exercising, maintaining a healthy diet and weight and not smoking, can slow the rate of shortening. An enzyme called telomerase adds more length to telomeres, but it is mostly found in sperm, egg and stem cells and cancerous tumors. There is no evidence that telomerase supplements help.
- Can measuring my telomeres tell me how long I have to live?
- No. Most people never reach the end of their telomeres, and some scientists say they have to be extremely short before they contribute to disease.
Fellow Nobel winner Elizabeth Blackburn, now president of the Salk Institute, co-founded the predecessor company to Telomere Diagnostics, but parted ways with it in 2013 and is no longer connected to the company. Dr. Blackburn declined to comment for this article.
Since telomeres were discovered in the 1990s, hundreds of studies have suggested links between telomere length and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and mental-health issues.
Read More – Source: Mail-Order Tests Check Cells for Signs of Early Aging
By – MELINDA BECK