How Old Are You, Really? New Tests Want to Tell You
You know when you ask someone’s age, and they tell you a number based on the date they were born? That’s how peasants do it, and the new startup Tally Health claims it found a better way.
What’s more, according to this company, age is just a number you might be able to change (I confirm it’s possible, you just need some friends at your local driver's license authority). It’s all thanks to DNA testing. With just a blood or urine sample, you can get tested about your “real” age, that is, your biological one, which might differ from the years since you were born. Even a cheek swab might be enough.
Using DNA tests for various consumer purposes has been established for a while now, including services like Ancestry that allow you to find your ancestors, or at least where they came from. Heck, you can even use DNA to identify the breed of your dog nowadays.
Biological age has its own rhythm, and it’s the speed at which cells, tissues, and organs seem to decline. Based on health and lifestyle choices, it can vary greatly from person to person.
Tally Health is just one example. There are about a dozen companies at it. David Sinclair, Harvard biologist and Tally Health’s cofounder likes comparing it to a credit score for your health. You send your sample via mail and they send you back your biological age.
It doesn’t end there. Sinclair claims they want to help people that get a “good” credit score, that is, those younger than the chronological age remain that way. The same goes for bad results, with the company claiming they want to help you get back on track to reducing your biological age.
What contributes to older biological age, you might wonder? Both genetics and lifestyle have a huge influence, but epigenetics too. You see, certain bad habits might contribute to how your genes work, and that’s called “epigenetics”. Unlike information stored in your DNA, these changes can be reverted.
When it comes to lifestyle, drinking alcohol, diet, exercise, smoking, stress, and even pollution can cause epigenetic changes. According to Sinclair, these factors are more important than genetics when determining someone’s “real” biological age. He proudly mentions that his chronological age is 53 but the test claims he’s 43.
Sinclair is no stranger to controversy. He gained a lot of attention because of his promotion of resveratrol. This compound is found in red grapes, and he claims it’s a miracle molecule when it comes to antiaging. In other research, it was found that the compound offered mixed results in animal models.
That didn’t deter Sinclair from taking resveratrol supplements daily, and he even keeps researching this compound at Harvard. He’s a well-known personality in the field of antiaging, having written several books and founded other companies.
Melanie Goldey, Tally Health’s CEO explains that the company’s ultimate goal is to “change the way we age”. She’s no Sinclair, however, with her biological age being just six months less than her chronological one.
True to its end goal, the company sends you an action plan with lifestyle recommendations such as getting more sleep, eating habits, and other rather obvious things that would benefit anyone. You can get a test for $229 or a membership with tests every three months so you can check your progress.
This is the best deal according to Goldey, because it allows you to check whether your changes worked or not, and make necessary adjustments with the new results. Memberships have different tiers and range from $129 to $199 a month.
This sounds very nice, but how exactly do they do it? The company checks DNA methylation patterns. These are chemical tags on your DNA, which affect your genes’ activity. DNA methylation has been established as critically related to aging since the 1970s.
However, only in 2013 the first epigenetic “clock” was published by Horvath, a UCLA geneticist and biostatistician. This is a predictive test that is supported by data from thousands of samples of 51 healthy tissues and cell types. Using them, it measures the DNA methylation patterns related to aging and calculates your age algorithmically.
There have been several epigenetic clocks since then, offering various modifications based on new research, which ultimately led to Tally Health’s proposal. In this case, they measure your DNA methylation patterns by comparing them from 8,000 people they have samples of.
Even if you don’t care about your biological age, the proposed lifestyle changes are a good way to keep healthy, even though there are some doubts about certain habits. One of them is adopting a reduced-calorie diet.
In a study by Columbia University’s Daniel Belsky, associate professor of epidemiology, it was tested whether the aforementioned diet influenced people’s age. The researchers used three different epigenetic clocks to assess the results. Two of them showed this diet did not influence age, while the third one concluded it had a minor improvement over biological age.
The anti-aging industry is currently booming, with more companies than ever offering tests and researching for the ultimate solution, that is, reversing your age chemically. Charles Dupras, a bioethicist at the University of Montreal, claims for caution.
He considers that the healthy habits encouraged by these companies are a source of inspiration for anyone wanting to improve their physical state, but you should be wary of grandiose claims. Besides, in a twisted irony, the tests aren’t old enough yet to know if they helped people, according to him.
Be as it may, a lot of people simply take things for granted. This includes age, social status, your role in life, and many other things. If anything, these tests can help you question what you think it’s true, and that alone can change your life. And who knows, you may be getting younger in the process, too.Advertisement
Doctor says to patient “You have the fitness of a 30 year old man”
Patient replies “But, doc, I *am* 30 years old!”
Joke aside, giving one’s calendar age is not a “peasant’s” reply but an administrative one, harder to beat in terms of objectivity.
OK : lifestyle, genetics and … “epigenetics” defined here as certain bad habits that might contribute to how your genes work” : that’s lifestyle, redundant, no?
“The Greek prefix epi- (???- “over, outside of, around”) in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional genetic basis for inheritance.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics]. OK.
For sure you cannot prolong one’s life but lifestyle might shorten it if we consider genetics as a reference. But to what extent : Winston Churchill died at 90 years old, though a passion for tobacco and whisky and a detestation for sports activity. Recently football, soccer players suffered, died on the very playground.
Biological age may certainly increase/decrease insurance rates, this said. We’d then be motivated to ensure physical activity, a healthy lifestyle by financial reasons, at least in countries such as the USA :=)
FWIW my credo would rather be “Bring life to years” rather than “years to life”. All depends on what one calls “life” : is it feeling good in your body or in your mind, provided antagonism between both? I’m also convinced that brain activity deeply contributes to mental health (from there on physical as well) and that our world’s trend to intellectually assist us, especially in the digital area, won’t contribute to a better mental health.
“It’s all in your brains” was the leitmotiv of on of my friends. Perhaps not all but most, perhaps.