By Mariel Emrich, Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School
Have you ever wondered how long you are going to live? Then this may be the test for you!
Humans are comprised of trillions of cells. In the nucleus of each cell, DNA is packaged into structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA, which is tightly coiled around proteins called histones. Every human cell contains 46 chromosomes (23 pairs), except the sex cells. Telomeres are sections of genetic material at the end of each chromosome. Their purpose is to prevent “fraying” when a cell replicates. As humans get older, the telomeres become shorter. At a certain point, telomeres will become too short to allow cell replication. Therefore, the cell stops dividing and the person will eventually die.
Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid invented a telomere test that measures the length of the telomeres in the patient’s body. The Patient’s Telomere Score is calculated based on the telomere length on white blood cells. The higher the telomere score, the younger the cells. Scientists believe that telomere length is one of the most accurate ways of distinguish how long a person will live. It is possible to tell whether a person’s biological age is close to the same as their chronological age. It is about $653 to get tested. Testing should be done once a year to evaluate the rate of aging and make adjustments in nutrition, vitamins, weight management, and exercise.
Researchers believe that this test will become widespread in the next 5 to 10 years. It raises concern with scientists how the patient will react when they find out their biological age. Also, scientists are worried that companies that sell anti-aging products may gain control of these tests and tell patients false information just to encourage sales of their anti-aging products. However, there are many scientists that say that this test could provide extremely important insight into the risk of dying prematurely from a range of age-related disorders including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. It has been proven that people who are born with shorter telomeres have a shorter lifespan. However, it is not proven that if you are born with longer telomeres you will live longer.
This telomere test can detect small differences in telomere length and it is a very simple and fast technique. Many samples can be analyzed at the same time. It also can detect dangerous telomeres -- those that are very short. The test cannot tell exactly how many days or months a person has to live, but it can tell generally.
A diet that increases stress will shorten telomeres faster. This includes refined carbohydrates, fast food, processed food, sodas, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats. A diet with a large amount of antioxidants will slow telomere shortening. This includes fresh and relatively uncooked fruits and vegetables, fiber, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. There are treatments to help slow telomere aging including, Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEI), Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB), and Renin Inhibitors. Fasting for 12 hours each night at least 4 days per week is recommended. Also, decreasing visceral fat is very important. Regular aerobic and resistance exercise for at least 1 hour a day, sleeping for at least 8 hours a day, and stress reduction are essential.
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Mariel is currently a sophomore at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in New York City. She loves learning about science and particularly enjoys genetics, cancer research, radiology, and forensics.