How Old Are You? The Epigenetic Clock Knows09 September 2019
How Old Are You? Your Epigenetic Clock Knows
How old are you? Do you know? This might sound strange, but most of us don’t. That’s because aging isn’t something that happens once a year on your birthday. It’s taking place every second, but not like a wristwatch or a stately grandfather clock. The speed of the aging process varies from person to person and is influenced by a vast array of factors. Aging is complicated, but with DNAge, there is now a way to gauge its progression.
The Power of Epigenetics
Epigenetics is a hot topic. There are few areas of biology it hasn’t touched. DNA determines what makes up a given protein, but epigenetic modifications tell it when and how much of a protein needs to be produced. Methylation, the addition of a methyl group to DNA, is the best studied epigenetic modification. Methylating a sequence of DNA silences it, stopping it from making a particular protein. Steve Horvath, a professor of human genetics and biostatistics at UCLA, has used insights from epigenetics to construct a clock.
“The great promise of DNAm age biomarkers of ageing is the identification and/or validation of effective anti-ageing interventions in humans.”
– Steve Horvath and Kenneth Raj
The ultimate goal of Horvath’s research is for a patient to visit the doctor, get their clock checked, receive treatment, and return to see it has been rewound. Then, on your next appointment, your doctor says, ‘Wow… I can see your epigenetic age has been slowed.’”
Horvath’s first encounter with epigenetic research was with a group studying the relationship between DNA methylation and sexual preferences When the findings showed no correlation Horvath commented, “of course it didn’t.” In the 1960s Russian scientists noted that decreased methylation was a sign of aging, but the picture became more complex as it was discovered that increased methylation in some parts of the genome is also indicative of biological aging. The Horvath Clock can accurately predict mortality because it takes the increase and decrease in methylation into account.
Then what’s the point? What’s the point of checking your epigenetic clock? This kind of test can be a wake up call, but it’s also a unique way of comparing your present and future selves. It’s a way of seeing how your lifestyle choices are affecting your health. There are plenty of ways to measure kidney or liver or heart health – and they’re all important in different contexts, but aging contributes to the decline of every part of your body. If you have a decent way of assessing it, you can get a decent picture of your health.
Telomeres and Stem Cells
Telomere shortening is the consequence of cells repeatedly dividing. The methylation of certain DNA sequences contributes to senescent cells – dysfunctional cells that no longer divide and contribute to a slew of health problems. To quote Horvath, “although the epigenetic clock does not relate to telomere length in differentiated cells, several lines of evidence suggest that telomere biology relates to epigenetic ageing in stem cells.” Telomere dysfunction is a known factor in dwindling stem cell production, which is one of the reasons why Integrated Health Systems offers telomerase gene therapy.
DNA methylation is another. As Horvath states, the methylation of critical areas has “profound effects” on stem cell differentiation. That is, the ability of stem cells to transform into heart, liver, and kidney cells to replenish themselves.
The epigenetic clock is perhaps the most useful tool we have in accurately measuring someone’s biological age. That is why BioViva Sciences offers DNAge, a test based on Steve Horvath’s epigenetic clock, the gold standard of epigenetic age-calculation. Simply submit your urine or blood sample, and we will determine your biological age by measuring the epigenetic modifications on your DNA.
References and Suggested Reading
Ju, Z., and K. L. Rudolph. “Telomeres and telomerase in stem cells during aging and disease.” Genome and Disease. Vol. 1. Karger Publishers, 2006. 84-103.
Horvath, Steve, and Kenneth Raj. “DNA methylation-based biomarkers and the epigenetic clock theory of ageing.” Nature Reviews Genetics 19.6 (2018): 371.
Health, Elysium. “Is Horvath’s Clock the Smoking Gun of Biological Aging?” Medium, Endpoints | A Science Publication by Elysium Health, 23 Aug. 2019, endpoints.elysiumhealth.com/is-horvaths-clock-the-smoking-gun-of-biological-aging-7a6d3a94d2e4.