Your birthday provides a reference point for tracking your chronological age. However, how we age and live doesn’t solely depend on genetics and how long we’ve been alive. Scientists think they have found ways to identify your biological age (how fast our cells, organs, and tissues deteriorate).
Our environment, diet, and lifestyle affect DNA methylation (how genes turn on and off), which changes as we age.
Chronological age refers to one’s birthday. However, one’s biological age may be younger or older than this based on behavioral and psychological factors and daily life habits.
Epigenetics study how environmental and behavioral activities can positively or negatively impact what genes in our body are active.
Genetics’ impact (non-changeable) on aging only accounts for 25% or less, while epigenetics account for the rest (changeable).
Sinclair’s Test may help identify your biological age. However, further research is needed to determine long-term health benefits derived from changes made based on results.
Biological vs. chronological age
Age isn’t a disease, and we all get older, but everyone wants to discover the fountain of youth. Learning how to improve our longevity traces back to the start of civilization. We cannot change our birthdate (chronological age).
However, our biological age can be altered. Individuals who don’t exercise, smoke or drink too much, or engage in other unhealthy behaviors may be biologically much older than their birthday would indicate.
If you're actively engaging in longevity strategies, you can try some of the best biological age tests to see whether they're working.
The study of epigenetics
One's epigenome describes all chemical changes to one's DNA and proteins that regulate how genes are expressed in the body. Epigenetics describes the science of understanding how environmental and behavioral inputs in your day-to-day life cause changes to your body’s genes and how they function. Thus, your lifestyle plays a role in how your body ages. Genetics plays a role by affecting your body’s proteins; changes to your epigenome tell the body what genes to express (turn on or off). Various behaviors affect your overall health, including sleep health, dietary habits, exercise, and how you interact with your surroundings.
Even more, our epigenetics change as we age, and what genes turn on and off as kids may differ once we reach adulthood. Some changes to the epigenome are permanent, while others may improve or worsen by future behaviors or environmental exposures. Think about smokers vs. non-smokers vs. former smokers. This is a perfect example of how stopping harmful behavior can lessen one's chance of developing various diseases over time. This occurs due to alterations to one’s epigenome.
Chronological tests vs. epigenetic tests
Tests related to normal aging processes have been around for years but often identify problems after they occur. Epigenetic tests may help identify problem areas and allow for behavior changes that could reverse negative changes to our DNA, extending our lives.
Until recently, researchers and healthcare professionals have relied on blood tests (biochemical markers such as cholesterol, enzyme markers for liver and kidney function, and others) to help identify normal aging. We used to think that blood pressure, BMI, belly circumference, biomarkers, and MRI/CT scans, for example, were crucial to assessing aging. While these tests are still invaluable, helping to detect chronologically expected normal and abnormal values and disease states, they misrepresent biological age.
Tests like blood work and MRIs fail to consider one’s epigenetic clock. Researchers today feel that evaluations of which genes in our body are switched on and off (occur by DNA methylation) provide a more accurate assessment of one’s biological age. This methylation process changes as we age, and our various activities and health behaviors may cause more or less methylation over time. Stress, smoking, alcohol, and other factors could impact what genes remain on or off, leading to a faster or slower aging process.
Researchers have developed tests to look at DNA methylation patterns, evaluating what genes are expressed and which are not. They interpret the data provided using mathematical and computer-generated algorithms to make recommendations to improve health. Several epigenetic assays have been established as a result.
One such test, developed by Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard University, led to Tally Health™, a startup company offering biological age assessment testing. They describe one’s chronological age as the calendar day we celebrate as our birthday. While suggesting that one’s biological age refers to how fast or slow the body ages internally. They feel that they have identified accurate measures of one’s biological age and developed a salivary test for this purpose.
Aging and Sinclair’s test
Dr. Sinclair developed his biological age assessment test based on years of research on how the body ages. As a result, he created the information theory of aging (ITA). The aging process sequentially occurs as:
- DNA damage
- Genome instability
- Epigenome disruption
- Loss of cellular identity
- Cellular senescence (age deterioration)
When performing a literature review of Dr. Sinclair’s work, numerous research studies on mechanisms of aging and ways to combat age-related changes are evident. His research brings new light into the aging process. He feels that our epigenetic factors (by making changes in our lives that can turn off ‘bad’ genes and switch on ‘healthy’ coding genes) can lead to a longer life.
However, according to Vujin and Dick, 2020, Sinclair admits “that all aging-related therapies lack the rigorous, long-term clinical studies required to understand the breadth of possible health outcomes.” In other words, we need more research to characterize the benefits of altering our life habits based on his or similar epigenetic tests.
What is DNA methylation?
In this type of chemical reaction, a small molecule known as a “methyl group” (CH3) is added to the body’s DNA, proteins, or other molecules. Adding methyl groups to molecules can change how they work in the body. For instance, if the DNA sequence of a gene is methylated, the gene may stop making proteins. Changes in how genes or proteins are methylated can make a person more likely to get a disease or age more rapidly than another with the same chronological age.
Identifying which genes are turned on or off helps understand the risks of underlying illnesses. Knowing this can then permit recommendations to alter behaviors to adjust which genes remain activated or inactivated. The early research suggests that this type of epigenetic evaluation can provide valuable knowledge for future generations.
Accuracy of Sinclair’s test
Is there a consensus on biological age assessment? Not yet. Sinclair’s test methods and research have not been thoroughly peer-reviewed. Research into accurately identifying one’s biological age is ongoing but still very early. Definite conclusions that suggest one way of assessing biological age is more accurate than another have not yet emerged. Thus, direct conclusions that making these epigenetic changes will alter not just one’s lifespan but also the cellular and molecular aging changes it is still promising.
All things considered, the Sinclair test may inform individuals about their overall health. It may allow recommendations to modify behaviors and the physical environment to improve health outcomes. To better one’s overall health, using Sinclair’s Test may give you the elixir of life you seek, but there are no guarantees.
Sinclair's Test is still in its infancy. While the website claims to have scientific research to back the test, long-term studies are needed to determine the long-term benefits and results. One thing to also note is that the website for this testing program clearly states, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
So, whatever the Sinclair results show, share that information with your healthcare provider before making potentially life-altering decisions. Do not make drastic dietary changes or add supplements to your daily routine without talking it over. Remember, not all supplements are created equal. Various interactions of medications, supplements, and foods can occur. No matter what testing one does, be it blood work and biochemical markers, or epigenetic biological age testing of several types, make healthy decisions with the help of your health practitioner.
- Health Science Inquiry. The information theory of aging: Hacking immortality?
- Immunity & Ageing. Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango.
- eBioMedicine. Epigenetic signatures of starting and stoping smoking.
- NIH’s National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: methylation.
- Tally Health. Science.