TeloYears Genetic Test

Updated March 11, 2019

This article was scientifically reviewed by YourDNA

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TeloYears is an easy-to-use DNA test that uses state-of-the-art genetic analysis to allow consumers to create personalized programs to improve their health. It is all based on the study of telomeres, a revolutionary new field of scientific advancement. Telomeres are the specialized repeating nucleotide sequences at the end of chromosomes which protect our body’s DNA from cellular damage.

What's in this Guide?

Disclaimer: Before You Read

It is important to know that your genes are not your destiny. There are various environmental and genetic factors working together to shape you. No matter your genetic makeup, maintain ideal blood pressure and glucose levels, avoid harmful alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get regular sleep. And for goodness sake, don't smoke.

Genetics is a quickly changing topic.

Dr. Adam Rutherford, a geneticist and author of Creation: The Origin of Life explains it in the following terms: “Chromosomes are made up of a double helix, two strands of DNA, and they need an endpoint. Without telomeres they’d unravel, like two bits of string that have been tied together.”

Telomeres are intrinsically important to our bodies. But telomere loss occurs naturally in cells over time. In recent years, scientists have identified telomeres as key factors in cell vitality and aging. The reason cells age and die--a process known as senescence--is because of the shortening of telomeres.

Recent scientific discoveries have told us that an individual’s telomere length correlates to cellular age and, hence, can be a huge indicator of one’s overall health. TeloYears DNA test uses a science-based test to extract cellular data and employs a proprietary method to analyze consumers’ average telomere length and cellular age based on comparison with other people of their age and gender. This allows for the construction of a personalized health plan to be calculated based on lifestyle changes associated with telomere length. Like other important biomarkers such as cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and blood pressure, telomere length can provide a critical instructional guide toward how one should approach nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, and other important health factors.

Just as importantly as determining the current health of your telomeres is anticipating their future. The TeloYears test allows for you to build a personalized approach toward the future of your health based on the data gleaned from telomeres. Through repeat testing, the test allows you to track how changes you make in your lifestyle can affect your overall cellular health. Studies have shown that critical lifestyle choices have a dramatic impact on telomere length. TeloYears allows you to track this impact and tweak it in order to maximize your health.

Who created TeloYears?

TeloYears is the creation of Telomere Diagnostics, a Silicon Valley-based biotech company that specializes in telomere diagnostics and direct-to-consumer genetic tests. The founder of Telomere Diagnostics, Jack Szostak, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine alongside Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, for game-changing research and discoveries into how chromosomes “are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.” The long-term goal was even more comprehensive than that though; Szostak wanted to bring this science to consumers in a way that would actually change lives.

Thus, Telomere Diagnostics was born and, soon thereafter, so too was the TeloYears genetic test, which, according to the company’s CEO, Jason Shelton, represents the cross-pollination of consumer fitness with health tracking. Shelton has stated: “TeloYears was designed to be a simple-to-take, easy-to-understand and affordable way to reveal actionable and inspiring self-knowledge that contributes to a healthy, active lifestyle.”

The Telomere Diagnostics lab, located in Silicon Valley, is one of the few certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), to measure, test, and study telomeres. The company uses its proprietary DNA extraction method to test how oxidative stress from inflammation and toxins erode telomere integrity over time. To measure how this activity affects the length of telomeres, lab technicians use qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction), specifically the “Cawthon qPCR assay” protocol. They then quantify and index a telomeric ratio (a complex scientific and mathematical calculation) that represents telomeres in healthy people.

The company believes that the “self-knowledge gained from [the] TeloYears [test] can be powerful motivation to achieve healthy aging and for some an affirmation of an already active lifestyle.”

Additionally, Telomere Diagnostics runs the TeloYears Advanced Ancestry test, which uses next-generation full-mitochondrial DNA sequencing technology, powered by Centrillion Technology, to collect 100 times more data than other tests across 70+ ethnic groups. This yields the most trustworthy maternal lineage currently available.

What is the experimental research behind telomere science?

As mentioned earlier, groundbreaking research in the last couple decades has shown that telomeres are intrinsically linked to human aging and lifespan. Telomeres, which are essentially bundled DNA sequences that cap the ends of our chromosomes, work to ward off cell destruction and disease. However, our cells have a laborious and neverending job: they are naturally dividing and replicating throughout the human’s lifespan; as this happens, telomeres get worn down, truncated, and ultimately run out of the raw material to continue replicating. In short, as we age, so too do our cells and telomeres act as a metric for our cellular age.

Telomeres shorten for other reasons than just cell age. Oxidative stress from free radicals, as well as factors like radiation, inflammation, and environmental toxins, also reduce the health of the body’s cells. Deteriorated cellular health shortens telomeres, too.

For these reasons, many medical practitioners believe that the length of an individual’s telomeres reflect certain truths about the health of that individual that can be independent from chronological age.

The TeloYears test uses a database of healthy telomere lengths in order to generate an age range based on telomere health. This range incorporates a “four-parameter logistic regression model” that analyzes and compares an individual’s actual age with their telomere length and health.

The reason these metrics are important is because a number of studies have shown that telomere length correlates with age-related conditions, including heart disease and cancer. Thus, telomeres are considered a bio-marker that can be assessed along with cholesterol, BMI, and blood pressure in determining a person’s overall health. Some researchers believe there is a simple but important correlation that basically means longer telomeres equal younger cells and, subsequently, greater, more vital health. It is for this reason that telomeres are sometimes referred to as "the new cholesterol" because some studies suggest that telomere length has a bigger impact on heart disease and longevity than age itself.

Telomeres also occupy an unexpected but potentially rewarding place in the human genome. While genetics and ancestry do play a role in telomeres, the fascinating discovery in the last decade is that telomere health, unlike other components of DNA, can transform and improve. Humans may not be able to escape certain predetermined genetic health factors, but with a careful approach, individuals can affect the vitality of their telomeres.

Studies consistently show that telomeres may shrink more slowly, and could even increase in length, due to alterations in nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep cycles. The same certainly can not be said of other facets of our DNA.

One ongoing study related to telomeres is actually being conducted in space by NASA. Scientists have long been interested in the effects of space flight on the human body. So a team decided to use astronaut Scott Kelly and his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, in a unique experiment. After spending 340 days on the International Space Station (ISS), Scott returned to Earth and allowed medical experts to assess how space flight altered his physiology and genetic health, using as an experimental control his Earth-bound brother, Mark, who has a homozygous biological profile.

While some of the more sensationalized gene mutations reported in the news were incorrect, scientists did make a shocking discovery with regard to telomeres. It turns out that Scott’s telomeres elongated while in space. When he returned to Earth, they rapidly shrank back to their normal levels. While the changes in space may have been partially due to the astronaut’s altered exercise and diet regimen, the discovery lent further confirmation that telomere length and vitality can be significantly changed on a structural level by lifestyle choices.

Scientists believe this experiment helped “provide a deeper understanding of an informative biomarker of aging and age-related pathologies that captures the interplay between genetics and lifestyle.”

Because of these new scientific discoveries about telomeres, consumer genetic companies like TeloYears are racing to devise strategies to help individuals understand their telomeric profiles and implement changes to their lives that can improve their overall health. TeloYears “developed proprietary methods to tackle the sensitive nature of the qPCR telomere length assay with regards to sample collection, storage, preparation, and assay conditions.”

TeloYears is the only functioning telomere lab whose methodologies have been peer-reviewed in an acclaimed scientific journal. It is this proprietary method, the “Cawthon qPCR assay,” or quantitative polymerase chain reaction that is able to analyze DNA with such precision as to arrive at an average telomere length for specific data sets of people. With this complex mathematical model, TeloYears can assess an individual’s ATL (average telomere length) and calculate their age in TeloYears.

How does the TeloYears test and health program work?

The TeloYears telomere health tracking program begins as a test kit that arrives in the mail. The test kit allows the consumer to extract a couple drops of blood from the fingertip and mail it back. TeloYears then uses its next generation sequencing technology to extract DNA from the blood cells and analyze telomere length and deduce one’s “cellular age.”

A second component of TeloYears’ suite of tools is the world’s first genome-wide ancestry service, TeloYears Advanced Ancestry, which uses 300 million data points to deliver a detailed heritage report.

This information forms the foundation of a personalized consumer report, letting the individual know whether their cellular age falls in the “expected, better, or improvable range” as compared to comparable peers of their age and gender.

The TeloYears test results are accompanied by the TeloYears Blueprint for Aging Well, a document that encapsulates years of research and breaks it down into actionable items. These items include:

  • A self-assessment tool that assesses lifestyle factors which may impact your telomere health and tips for better managing and improving them.
  • An educational report on the effects of oxidative stress, inflammation, lifestyle choices, and other health factors that can result in telomere shortening.
  • A comprehensive list of recommendations related to healthy nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep cycles, and other important factors.
  • A comprehensive analysis of the science of telomeres and how it impacts a variety of age-related diseases.

The TeloYears test results and the Blueprint for Aging Well are really just the beginning of the telomere health tracking program. After receiving this personalized assessment of their health, as interpreted by telomere length, individuals will have the opportunity to opt into the TeleCoach service. This service is really where one can fuse the information they’ve learned about their specific telomeres with years of accumulated knowledge about how one can make lifestyle adjustments that structurally improve their cellular health. The TeloCoach ‘lifestyle improvement plan’ goes beyond cliched tips about cholesterol and heart rate, and hones in on the components of your DNA that speed up or slow down the aging process.

Once the lifestyle plan is implemented for 3 to 6 months, new measurements are taken so that people can chart their progress. The aim is to take incremental steps toward increasing your longevity by targeting the genetic units that most directly affect our long-term health.

In recent years, an entire scientific movement has formed around the science of telomeres. One of the key discoveries that led to the creation of Telomere Diagnostics was the the Nobel prize winning research into telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomeres in cells. What became clear is that in cancer cells, the telomerase enzyme, which is normally turned off, is turned on. When cells have an inexhaustible supply of telomeres, they attain a degree of immortality.

It is this idea that has led many starry-eyed futurists to believe that telomeres are the key to vastly extended lifespans. And while human longevity may be exponentially increased due to “immortal” telomeres, the short term steps are making everyday people aware of the importance of this aspect of their cellular health. This is the challenge accepted by Telomere Diagnostics and forged into consumer genetics by the TeloYears test: for less than the price of a smartphone, you can vastly improve your genetic health by learning about the status of your telomeres and taking practical steps toward maximizing their lifespan--and yours.

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