It would be really good to be able to tell how ‘old’ your cells are – how they have coped with the wear and tear of life, and how the genetic ‘hand’ you have inherited is playing itself out.
The closest we have come to such a test of ‘biological age’ is the Telomere Length test. This is a genetic test, measuring the length of telomeres (rather like protective caps on the ends of chromosomes) that shorten with age like a biological clock, and shorten faster in poor health. When the telomeres in a cell shorten beyond a certain length, the cell dies. As more cells die, we age, and when enough cells die, we die.
Cancer, strokes, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes are among many age-related diseases associated with short telomere length.
In a short study in 2008, a programme of lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, stress management and increased social support) was shown to cause increased production of an enzyme called telomerase – the body’s tool for adding back length to short telomeres.
Thirty-five men with localized prostate cancer (and short telomeres) took part in the original telomerase study, and they were then observed for a 5-year period. Ten of them implemented the lifestyle changes, 25 did not. The results were published on September 16th (in The Lancet Oncology), and showed that in the 25 men who made no changes, telomere length decreased by 3% – as expected, because telomeres shorten with age. But in the 10 men who followed the programme of lifestyle changes, telomere length increased by 10%. The more intensely they implemented the programme, the more dramatic was the increase in telomere length.
Biologically, they grew younger.
Is it premature to speculate that increasing your telomere length could improve your health and lengthen your life? One of the lead authors of this study thinks that it is not premature, and I consider that a justified view.
This study is the first to show that lifestyle change, the core of Functional Medicine, can increase telomere length.
At Genesis Wellness, we offer telomere length testing (done on a simple blood sample) as part of the monitoring of our Functional Medicine and Anti-Aging programmes.
If you are serious about your long-term health, the telomere length test is an essential answer to the question: ‘am I doing enough to safeguard my genetic resources and protect my future health?’