What are Telomeres?
Telomeres are distinctive structures, regionalized in DNA strands that are located at each end. They are caps to prevent the deterioration of the chromosome, a bit like the plastic shells of a shoelace. They have a repetitive, short DNA sequence and are many kilobases in length.
Telomeres also prevent Fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Telomeres comes from the two Greek words “telos “meaning” end ”and” meros “meaning”part”.
The sequence in human telomeres is TTAGGG, which is repeated about 2,500 times. There are 194 telomeres in one human cell, 4 for each of the 46 chromosomes.
What are Telomere Tests?
As the cells grow older, telomeres gradually become shorter. The average cell will split about 60 times before it dies. When the cell splits, telomeres, of course, become shorter and shorter each time. In the end, it will become too short to allow cells to replicate, which means that the cells can not divide and will die.
This branch of DNA testing is similar to the microbiome test – new, innovative, but still not fully proven.
So, what does this tell us and why are DNA testing companies so interested?
Well, since telomeres are linked to the cell’s age, the length of the telomeres could give us an indication of the person’s age.
The analysis is performed on a large selection of peripheral whole blood cells. The average length of the telomer is calculated and compared to the average of a population sample in the same age group as the customer. This produces a percentile score, which is usually placed on a graph with a linear line down (Telomere length at age).
Regardless of how it is presented, the client will essentially be hoping for a high percentile, which would represent having cells younger than the average person of your age, which is supposedly one (of many) signs of good health.
Which companies are doing Telomere analysis? What do they say they can tell you?
Companies claim that there are nutritional implications of Telomere length results. For example, it is argued that a diet that increases oxidative stress or is generally inflammatory, will shorten telomeres more quickly. Carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, trans and saturated fats and soft drinks.
To combat this, a significant variety and high amount of antioxidants should be consumed as they help improve the dense oxidative and suppress oxidative stress, which means that the process of Telomere shortening will be slowed down.
The length of telomeres can also be preserved by consuming certain foods and micronutrients (here we wrote a lot about health and genetics). This includes: omega-3, fish, vegetable protein, mixed fiber, monounsaturated fats (which help counteract saturated fats!) and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A DNA company also suggests a 12-hour speed most nights.
Is it Scientifically Credible?
Telomere tests are marketed as a way to “stay younger for longer,” getting information about whether you need to act by getting a low percentile score.
One problem here is if there is a high risk of Type II error, that is, if a client has poor health for their age, but receives test results that claim to be healthy because their telomeres are long. So, are the tests accurate and are they a good health indicator?
Telomere tests are great at finding patients with short telomere syndromes, which has been around for years, but the commercialization of these tests is exaggerating a bit.
The problem is, when it comes to the medium, you forget about the distribution. This leads to the “absurdity of reporting any value that is below the median of an abnormal white blood cell count”” according to Mary Armanios, of the telomere center at John Hopkins University School.
It seems that, although these tests are useful for those in extreme conditions, there are too many variables within the population and the individual to offer solid information.
It’s not that they’re not worth the money. There may be people who discover something of value, especially if they are in the end. The commercialization of science is also picking up a healthier lifestyle that is hitting the mainstream. Reading about the best DNA test kits is also a great way to find those who are not trying to scare you into buying products.
What should cause concern are Telomere support supplements that are sold by some sites. Selling supplements and such through the use of semi-reliable science to scare you into sales is certainly an exploitation marketing tool.
If you pay for a test, it is worth keeping in mind the limitations, don’t be afraid to pay the same company for things that coincidentally “fix” your poor result, and, finally, get a professional to help interpret and explain the results (because there may still be something to worry about there).