With the rise of companies like 23andMe, you can now buy all kinds of genetic tests online. One type of test promises to reveal your true biological age by measuring your telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of your chromosomes that wear down over time.
But some scientists are skeptical about the usefulness of direct-to-consumer telomere tests. And by getting tested myself, I discovered these tests can sometimes lead to more questions than answers.
Maybe you have seen a commercial for one of these tests during an NFL game or at the start of a Youtube video. In the ad, a woman described as 42 years old is getting ready to go surfing when she turns to the camera and says, “How old I am means less to me than how well I’m aging. My age is just 29 in TeloYears.”
The TeloYears testing kit comes in the mail and costs less than $100. TeloYears and other similar tests provide consumers with a measurement of their telomeres, along with information about how to improve their telomere health through things like diet and exercise.
They also encourage consumers to buy additional tests in the future to find out if healthy lifestyle changes have improved their aging on a cellular level.
But can these tests really tell you how well you are aging? To find out, I did a little experiment. I ordered the TeloYears test and a competing test from a company called Titanovo.
TeloYears had me prick my finger to extract a few drops of blood. Titanovo had me swab my cheek with a Q-tip. Within a few minutes, I was ready to mail off my samples.
A few weeks later, I got my results. At first, I was pleasantly surprised. TeloYears said my telomeres were longer than 98 percent of men my age, making me 20 in TeloYears. I’m actually 27. So for a moment, I felt like I had won the telomere lottery.
Then I opened my Titanovo results.
Titanovo said my telomeres were shorter than 80 percent of men my age, making me biologically closer to 37.
These two tests — both claiming to provide insights about my aging based on an objective biomarker — completely disagreed.
I wondered what I should make of this. Should I be worried about the length of my telomeres, based on my Titanovo results? Or should I keep doing whatever it is I am doing to keep my telomeres nice and long, according to TeloYears? I called both companies to follow up on these conflicting results.
Dr. Douglas Harrington, medical director for the TeloYears test, said, “Our data is published. Our validation is open. We’ve got an extensive database. And I’m confident of our results. I can’t speak to other laboratories.”
“We can’t comment too much on how another company would have come to their results,”…