Could this simple blood test help predict how long you’ll live?

TORONTO – Would you take a blood test that could tell you how healthy you are in relation to age and how long you’ll live?

Some of us live long into our golden years, but others aren’t as lucky. Researchers have been trying to figure out why and have advanced their studies on telomeres – the ends that keep cells together and may be key to predicting patients’ health in the long run.

Telomeres are crucial components that maintain cell survival, according to Dr. Gil Atzmon. They’re located on either end of our chromosomes, helping to keep our bodies’ building blocks together.

Think of them as the “caps” on either end of a shoelace, protecting the strings from unraveling, Atzmon said. And science is suggesting that the longer these structures are, the longer we’ll live.

“Think of telomere length as though it was a thermometer. It measures the health of your genetic material,” Atzmon said.

“It tells you how fit you are in relation to the age you are. If you have longer telomeres, you are in good shape. If you have shorter telomeres, you are less fit for your age and are not in good health,” he said.

Atzmon is a scientist at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

His findings revealed that some centenarians who were as healthy as those who were 30 years younger had the same telomere length.

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In the world of health research, studying telomeres is a burgeoning new field. It’s only about a few decades old but the controversial industry is already growing with companies offering testing to the public.

As we grow and repair our bodies, our bodies use telomerase enzymes to help divide chromosomes. But with time, telomerase activity declines and our telomeres become shorter.

That’s been linked to age-related illnesses, conditions like heart disease, dementia, and even cancer.

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Earlier this year, research suggested that these DNA proteins can even protect the likelihood of a patient getting a winter cold.

In this case, scientists in Pittsburgh injected 152 subjects with a common cold virus, then quarantined the patients for five days to see if they got sick.

Turns out, those with shorter telomeres were more likely to get infected while those with longer telomeres resisted the cold.

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Atzmon hopes his findings, published late last week in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, will help move the research further.

Ultimately, patients could be monitored and treated based on their relative health so it isn’t based solely on age. Follow @Carmen_Chai

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