How old are your cells? Clinics offer telomere testing
Published Sunday, September 29, 2013 9:20PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 29, 2013 11:22PM EDT
A recent study suggests that healthy lifestyle changes may help slow the aging process by improving a person's "cellular age," and clinics are offering to tell patients how old their cells really are.
Patients can undergo a test that examines the length of a cell’s telomere: the tip of a chromosome associated with cell aging.
Similar to the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces that prevent them from fraying, telomeres are believed to provide protection to stranded molecules and help them to remain stable.
As telomeres shorten, they become weaker, which is believed to cause cells to age. A shorter telomere length is associated with increased risk of premature death and chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
In a study published earlier this month in The Lancet Oncology, researchers found that lifestyle changes like adopting a plant-based diet and daily moderate exercise, were linked to a significant increase in relative telomere length.
The results of the study have piqued the curiosity of some people willing to pay top dollar to test just how long they might have to live.
"I have lived a very stressful life and two years ago I had a major health scare around my heart," Bob Ramsay, 64, told CTV News. "That led me to be very interested in how long I am going to live."
Clinics that offer the telomere testing, such as The Executive Health Centre in Toronto, say the test provides their clients with the motivation to change their lifestyle.
"It's like when you do your blood pressure or measure your weight," said Dr. Elaine Chin of the private health centre. "If your telomeres are short, it's time to clean-up your lifestyle."
The test is done by taking samples of a person's blood or saliva. Chin said results are generally a reflection of a patient's past lifestyle and not a predictor of their future.
But for some patients, the results are more than a reflection of the past, offering them an incentive to continue exercising and follow a sensible diet.
"Some people like to see things on paper and know that this is their level and they can be better," said Stephanie Canestraro, whose test results showed that her telomeres were significantly longer than average for her age.
The 30-year-old chiropractor was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. The diagnosis motivated her to change her diet and begin exercising regularly.
With a report by CTV's Medical Correspondent Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip