What’s Your Real Age?

XY-chromosomes on grey background, scientific and biology concept with depth of field effect. 3d illustration
They say you are only as old as your feel, but what would your telomeres say?  Telomeres are the end caps to your chromosomes that slowly deteriorate over time. They can be compared to the aglet or plastic cap on the end of a shoelace, which prevents it from fraying apart.

Dr. Rashna Staid of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Jefferson answered some questions about the telomere, and what researchers think its length can tell about your “real age”.

What is the concept of “real age”?
“Real age” refers to the concept that your birth age may be different than your body’s biological age. These structural chromosomal changes may be affected by a person’s lifestyle and their underlying level of inflammation due to factors such as poor diet, reduced exercise activity, exposure to stress, poor sleep quantity and/or quality, previous history of diseases, medications, toxic exposures, etc.

Why would someone want to test their telomere length?
Someone would want to test their telomere length to assess their biological age, which would give them insight into how their body is actually aging.  This snapshot could be a great wake0-up a call to persuade someone to start making the necessary changes to slow down the loss of their telomere length and in turn slow aging and disease.  Shorter telomeres have been associated with many abnormalities including metabolic diseases, obesity and degenerative diseases such as cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease.  By having this powerful information, a patient can change factors in their life including their diet, exercise, stress levels, nutrient intake, etc.  to improve their overall health and well-being.

What does the telomere test entail?
The test I administer to measure Telomeres uses a non-fasting blood sample  that is drawn in our office.

What are the implications if someone’s “real age” is much older than their actual age? Can they fix the problem? If so, how?
If a person’s “real age” is much older than her actual age that person may have a significant risk of developing diseases in the future including cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases, and several degenerative diseases including dementia.

Whether a patient can fix the problem depends on whether the factors affecting their health are modifiable risk factors or non-modifiable risk factors.  Patients can make significant improvements in their health by adopting an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, which would include eating a healthy well balanced whole foods diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress (deep breathing or meditation exercises), optimizing their sleep, and building strong relationships with others to form a supportive community/family.  Of course, there are factors a person cannot improve, but that should not be a deterrent to optimizing their health through lifestyle changes.   Finding balance in life and an anti-inflammatory lifestyle are critical to optimizing health and well-being.

What are some commonalities you see with people with a young “real age”? Does it normally entail things like genetics, diet, exercise, things of that nature?
People who have a younger “real age” then their birth age usually are individuals who tend to have a healthier diet, exercise regularly, sleep at least 7-8 hours per night, and manage their stress well.  Genetics are important, but for most diseases it is only the predisposition for developing a disease; most diseases are caused by environmental factors. Thus, many of the chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancers) can be prevented and/or delayed by optimizing your health through an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

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