According to a British news article, there’s a new blood test that can show how fast someone is aging and supposedly offers an accurate estimate of how long one will live. It does this by measuring the length of their telomeres.
In the spirit of scientists’ fantastically creative naming processes, which typically involves sticking two or more simple words together and translating them into a foreign language, telomeres is a word originating from the Greek words for “end” and “part”.
And before a worldwide epidemic of telomeres-envy is started, let me explain what these little things are: repetitive DNA structures at the tips of chromosomes.
The concept behind this life-duration estimate is that with each instance of DNA replication – which constantly occurs – segments of DNA fail to be copied and are lost. As time goes on, you can literally see life disappearing before your eyes as these telomeres get shorter and shorter. Interestingly, there are enzymes that can restore telomere length in some cases and cancer cells in particular never get shortened because of a constant delivery of this enzyme.
You might wonder why over time our ancestors with the longest telomeres weren’t selected. Well, some smart people have already given great amounts of thought to that and their conclusion is bigger isn’t always better. It turns out that it is a matter of energy expenditure and conservation. If the body devotes too much energy to constructing long, redundant telomeres, it presumable didn’t give enough energy to general survival.
So while there might be an objective test for determing the limitations of one’s body, the jury is still out on a scientifically proven correlation between life span and one’s mind state. There have been suggestions that strong relationships exist between the state of the body and the state of the mind. And things like telomeres length may just be a consequence rather than driver of a body’s physical limit. I suspect that in the coming years there will be many similar indications discovered until finally someone really smart and important publishes a debate-ending tome that we can all treat as the bible on the mind/body relationship…
*puts two fingers to ear* What’s that? My sources tell me this has been known since the times of Plato and Aristotle and published in the 17th century by René Descartes in “Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy”.
OK, never mind.
But I think we’ll find that telomeres length doesn’t really tell you anything new. If you ask the guy with the short telomeres how he’s feeling about his life and his prospects of living many more years, you might not be too surprised by his answer. I mean I’m personally not resigned to the fact that I’m telomerically challenged, but some days I feel like that old man all the way on the right in the graphic above that can barely stand straight. That’s just my bad back talking though.
Close family members such as spouses of those with less than average telomeres length may also be accurate indicators/predictors of this phenomenon. It’s not anything to be ashamed about…
Some people want to know what objective tests like this say about their longevity and some don’t care to know, saying how long one will live is not in anyone’s hands but God.
Others will wonder if physiological manifestations like this can be controlled – or at least impacted – by the state of the mind.
I would say all of the above. Any other thoughts out there?