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Find out how long you'll live with a blood test

Find out how long you'll live with a blood test

Posting in Cancer

The tests measure telomeres, which are structures on the end of chromosomes that shorten as people age. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a number of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Blood tests that measure your biological age are available, but don't expect the tests to reveal intimate details about how many months or years you have left, reports Andrew Pollack for The New York Times.

The tests measure telomeres, which are structures on the end of chromosomes that shorten as people age. According to some research studies, shortened telomeres have been linked to a number of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

One California-based company, Telome Health, measures telomere length in white blood cells. The woman behind Telome Health is Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor of biology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco - known for her work in telomeres.

The point of the test is not to give people bad news about the state of their well-being. But instead, give people knowledge to monitor their health so they can make lifestyle changes to improve the length of their telomeres.

"It looks like you can, by changing your lifestyle. Observational studies show that exercise, nutritional supplements and reducing psychological stress can help. Chronic high stress and smoking can lead to accelerated telomere shortening," Blackburn told me.

Other companies such as SpectraCell Laboratories in Houston and Life Length in Spain sell similar tests. But before ordering from Life Length and Telome Health, a doctor needs to be involved.

But some experts worry the telomere tests are not ready for prime time, considering the sensitive nature of the information revealed.

"I'm skeptical and concerned about [the Life Length] test mainly because of the lack of evidence that this information is useful and yet this test touches on really significant issues, such as predictions of life expectancy," Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neuroscientist, said to The Independent.

So if stress is associated with shorter telomeres, and lifestyle changes can slow down the shortening of the telomeres... then these test might have some value. But if you think about it, shouldn't we try to exercise and do everything we should be doing to live a healthy life anyway?

A Blood Test Offers Clues to Longevity [New York Times]

Check out my interview with Elizabeth Blackburn in New Scientist.

Photo: Pistols Drawn/ flickr

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure