Company offers saliva test that 'tells you how quickly you're ageing'

EXCLUSIVE: Want to know how quickly you’re ageing? Company starts offering £170 saliva test that reckons it can tell you… and scientists say the calculations are legit

  • Epigenetic test made by DAM Health gives a figure for your biological age
  • Company says the test can show what diseases you may be susceptible to 
  • Experts say measure these can give an accurate picture of your risk of diseases 

After two-and-a-half years of lockdowns, wars and political crises, Britons can’t be blamed for feeling like they’ve aged more than they’ve lived.

And a new £170 saliva test claims to tell you exactly whether that is the case. 

British health and diagnostics company DAM Health has created an epigenetic test that can, in theory, distinguish between your chronical and biological age.

The former refers to how many years you’ve lived, while the latter is an estimate of the body’s decline based on subtle markers on your DNA.

DAM Health also says the test can show what diseases you may be susceptible to.

Health and diagnostics company DAM Health have produced an epigenetic test (pictured) that can distinguish between your chronical and biological age

DAM Health were recently presented with a prestigious European Diversity Award for its work in the area of medical diagnostics. The company’s medical director Professor Frank Joseph was presented with the award by the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson (pictured together)

What are epigenetics?

DNA is widely considered to be the instruction manual needed to build you.

For comparison, epigenetics are the notes scrawled in the margin.

How can epigenetics tell how old you are? 

The traditional view of ageing is that it’s caused by a slow build-up of damage at a cellular level. Just like a car, bits of us get broken or wear out. 

It can be difficult to put a number on this.

That’s where epigenetics comes in. 

Clock tests measure so-called DNA methylation levels.

This is the extent to which special molecules, called methyl groups, have latched on to the DNA in your cells.

These have been described as being like barnacles attaching themselves to the hull of a ship and slowing it down.

Should I get a test?

If you’re interested in how quickly you’re ageing, epigenetic tests could be for you.

But if you’re looking for a mystic ball to predict how long you’ll live, you may be left feeling disappointed.

Dr Andrew Steele, a computational biologist and author of a new book on longevity, said: ‘There are lots of variations on these tests, and scientists are still debating which ones are most useful and for what. 

‘Honestly, although the results might be scientifically interesting, I think for now people are better off saving the money on a biological age test, and spending it on vegetables or a pair of running shoes! 

‘But this is a fast-moving field and I’m confident that won’t be the case forever — one day getting your biological age measured, and even being prescribed drugs to help slow it down, might well be part of a regular check-up at the doctor.’

Epigenetics is a well-established field, with dozens of companies producing their own saliva and blood ‘clock’ tests. 

But questions have been raised over whether epigenetics themselves can be used to recommend lifestyles changes.

The traditional view of ageing is that it’s caused by a slow build-up of damage at a cellular level. Just like a car, bits of us get broken or wear out. 

It can be difficult to put a number on this.

That’s where an epigenetic clock test comes in. 

It measures so-called DNA methylation levels.

This is the extent to which special molecules, called methyl groups, have latched on to the DNA in your cells.

These have been described as being like barnacles attaching themselves to the hull of a ship and slowing it down.

DAM Health’s DNA Epigenetics test was designed in partnership with Muhdo, a company specialising in epigenetics.

Buyers use a funnel to spit into a vial, which is then sent to a lab by post for analysis.

They are given health reports based on their DNA and their epigenetics.

The DNA tests informs them on their health, and recommend how they can change their diet, vitamins and supplements. 

The epigenetic component of the test calculates their biological age, using data captured in the same saliva sample.

It also allows them to give an estimate of their eye, memory and hearing age, they claim.

DAM Health’s director of research and innovation Dami Aboyeji said: ‘Epigenetics shows when people have certain changes to their genes which affect your lifestyle. 

‘This information will provide insight into intolerances and diseases you may be susceptible to, long before they appear. It is a wealth of information. 

‘DNA epigenetics can tell you your biological age compared to your chronological age and advanced testing can even tell people the age of their eyes. 

‘In short, it is looking at what the DNA is telling us about your health and your lifestyle.’

The first epigenetic tests came after German geneticist Professor Steve Horvath developed an ageing ‘clock’ at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2011. 

He measured specific epigenetic patterns linked to ageing to produce a model that estimated someone’s age based purely on methylation levels.

When tested across groups of hundreds of people, this model accurately predicted most of their ages.

This meant the clock served as a useful comparison to see how much younger or older your cells are than the average person of your age.

Since then, companies such as Zymo Research and Epimorphy and  Chronomics have brought out tests.

Mr Aboyeji said: ‘I believe this technology is going to become so much more important in the future because we have always believed evolution is something which happens over a long period of time. 

‘But DNA epigenetics shows us the changes which are happening within our lifetime and can even show people the effects drinking alcohol has on their body, or certain foods. 

‘On the other hand, it can give a clear idea of what we should be eating and drinking and what types of exercise are right for our body types.’ 

Experts told MailOnline epigenetic tests like DAM Health’s are well known to offer an accurate picture of biological age.

Dr Andrew Steele, a computational biologist and author of a new book on longevity, said the clocks are ‘very good’ at predicting disease risk.

He said: ‘These “epigenetic clocks” are one of the leading contenders to measure biological age.

‘What we know so far is that they’re getting very good at predicting things like disease risk — if your “epigenetic age” is higher than the number of candles on your birthday cake, then you tend to be at greater risk or, conversely, having a younger epigenetic age is good news.’

But doubts persist about how useful they actually might be at recommending lifestyle changes based on your specific risks. 

And they do not necessarily give an accurate prediction of an individual’s lifespan.

The clocks are based on averages across thousands of people, and so while they can give an idea of risk for people sharing similar epigenetics, they can’t specify how long you might live on an individual level. 

Dr Steele said: ‘What’s a bit more challenging is knowing how these clocks change when people make diet or lifestyle changes, or take medication that improves their health.

‘We just haven’t got solid human data yet to tell us whether these changes show up in your epigenetic age or, if they do, what exactly that means. 

‘As a result, though receiving a high epigenetic age could be a motivator to start eating a bit better or exercising a bit more, the recommendations from a test like this are likely to be fairly unsurprising, probably things that most of us know we should be doing already.’

DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: How to have a longer and healthier life… thanks to these simple lifestyle changes proven to hold back the clock!

At 65-and-a-half years old, I am rapidly approaching retirement age (for men and women of my vintage, it’s 66).

While I’m happy to continue doing what I am doing (writing, making TV documentaries and podcasts), lots of my friends are retiring — and most seem content with their new, less affluent but more relaxed lives.

It obviously depends on your circumstances, but retirement clearly suits many of us. A survey of 300,000 people by the Office for National Statistics in 2016 found that levels of ‘life satisfaction’ and ‘happiness’, which were lowest in those aged between 45 and 59, peaked between the ages of 65 and 79, then slowly declined.

So that’s something to look forward to if you haven’t yet hit your 60s.

Your personality is also key to how much you enjoy retirement.

In a recent survey by Kasetsart University in Thailand, more than 2,000 British retirees, aged 50 to 75, were asked to do a personality test and also rate their level of life satisfaction

In a recent survey by Kasetsart University in Thailand, more than 2,000 British retirees, aged 50 to 75, were asked to do a personality test and also rate their level of life satisfaction.

Those who were rated ‘conscientious’ or ‘agreeable’ enjoyed retirement most, while extroverts struggled. The researchers said this is probably because extroverts miss the social contact you get from working.

But enjoying your retirement also depends on having enough money and being in reasonable health.

I’ve been thinking a lot about healthy ageing recently as I’m currently making a TV series on super-agers — people in their 70s and 80s who have the brains and bodies of those decades younger.

A survey of 300,000 people by the Office for National Statistics in 2016 found that levels of ‘life satisfaction’ and ‘happiness’, which were lowest in those aged between 45 and 59, peaked between the ages of 65 and 79, then slowly declined 

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to scientists about the ageing process and why some people seem to age so much slower than others.

What’s particularly fascinating is the work being done on ‘epigenetic’ clocks: these are tests used to measure your biological age — how old your body really is, not just what it says on your passport.

The traditional view of ageing is that it’s caused by a slow build-up of damage at a cellular level.

Just like a car, bits of us get broken or wear out. The problem is that it’s difficult to put a number on this.

An epigenetic clock test, instead, measures so-called DNA methylation levels: the extent to which special molecules, called methyl groups, have latched on to the DNA in your cells.

You can think of methyl groups as a bit like barnacles attaching themselves to the hull of a ship and slowing it down.

Our methyl group levels tend to rise in a very precise way as we get older. The epigenetic clock test is a powerful predictor of healthy ageing and life expectancy.

In a study in 2016, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) tested blood samples collected from more than 13,000 people before their deaths. Using the epigenetic clock test, they were able to predict their lifespans with a high degree of accuracy.

More recently, the same scientists showed that this epigenetic clock test can predict the biological age and life expectancy of all sorts of different animals, from elephants to kangaroos, rhinos and goats.

Dr Michael Mosley:  I’ve spent a lot of time talking to scientists about the ageing process and why some people seem to age so much slower than others

You can actually buy epigenetic clock tests online, but their real value lies in measuring the effectiveness of anti-ageing therapies — the idea is you’d take the test before an intervention, then after, to see if it’s made any difference.

Although it sounds macabre, one of the most promising current anti-ageing therapies involves being infused with young blood.

A 2020 study in the journal Science showed that giving blood from young, active mice to old mice made the older mice smarter, more alert, and led to the growth of new brain cells. In another study, published recently as a pre-print (meaning it’s not yet been formally accepted by a journal), the UCLA researchers showed that this kind of blood transfusion also improved older mice’s grip strength and rejuvenated their hearts, livers and memories. Amazingly, it also halved their biological age.

Research is now under way to find out exactly what it is in young blood that has these remarkable, rejuvenating effects. But it’s not yet being used in humans.

Scientists are also using the epigenetic clock to test everyday medicines for anti-ageing properties.

For instance, research published in the journal Cell in 2019 showed that taking a cocktail of common drugs could reverse people’s biological age.

In the study, nine healthy male volunteers aged 50 to 65 took a combination of a growth hormone, metformin (commonly used for type 2 diabetes) and a drug called DHEA (a synthetic version of a hormone our bodies naturally produce and that helps in the production of sex hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen).

After a year, not only had their biological ages dropped by an average of two-and-a-half years, but their immune systems showed clear signs of being rejuvenated. This was a small trial, so you can’t read too much into it, but a much larger study is now under way.

We’re not going to be guzzling anti-ageing drugs or infusing ourselves with young blood any time soon, but there are some lifestyle changes that have been shown to make a difference.

In a study last year in the journal Ageing, 43 men were asked to either follow an eight-week lifestyle programme — which included intermittent fasting, 30 minutes of brisk exercise a day and twice-daily breathing exercises to reduce stress — or act as a control.

After just two months, the men on the programme reduced their biological age by 1.96 years on average, while the control group had got a bit older.

So if your job is stressing you out and retirement or going part-time isn’t an option, then that might be something you should consider. It could buy you more time.

Source: Read Full Article