A DNA Take a look at That Can Decide Your Charge of Ageing

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Jennifer Kovacs-Nolan, PhD, is Goops Director of Science and Research. She has a sharp bullshit detector, always knows the right thing to say, and has extensive and useful knowledge of working wellness products.

For the most part, I keep things pretty sane. I eat well, and I love taking a good walk around the neighborhood to get my heart rate up. I deal with my stress and see friends in times without COVID. (COVID has changed things of course, but I’m sticking to the habits that are most important right now – like lots of sleep – and giving myself plenty of leeway on the negotiating matters: if I don’t get a lot of vegetables in every food, that’s okay. ) Sometimes I also like to use health trackers. When I work out, I track my activity on my Apple Watch. It’s cool to see a data-driven, visual representation of what is going on in your body in order to achieve your goals. The technology is out there so why not take advantage of it?

That brings me to Elysium Health, a health science company that makes some of the most innovative biological data technologies I’ve seen. Elysium’s primary role is to turn critical scientific advances into something that as a scientist or doctor one does not have to go to in order to benefit. The company’s scientific advisory board includes 25 world-renowned researchers and clinicians, including eight Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Casual.) One of the most popular and compelling options on offer is a test called Index, developed by aging and pathology expert Morgan Levine, PhD. Index examines certain epigenetic markers on your DNA – how many there are, where they are – to determine if you are aging faster or slower than expected.

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I’m Goops Director of Science and Research. When Index landed on my desk, I was able to do an in-depth review of the science behind it. And while I won’t go into that here – the algorithm used is beyond the scope of this article – I’ll say that I was impressed with the test itself. The research behind this is complex and well-researched, and the results it provides are simple, straightforward, and easy to understand for just about anyone.

Part of my evaluation was to try out Index for yourself. After the order was placed, I received a post box with everything I needed to run the test. It was surprisingly easy. (The complicated stuff comes later in Elysium’s labs.) The index test has a series of fairly detailed instructions, a small collection bottle, a small funnel, a tray, and everything you need to pack when you’re done. I made sure to follow the instructions exactly as they were arranged, which turned out to be easy. The basics: spit into a tube, cap it, and send it back to the lab.

After I mailed my sample, Elysium kept me updated via email and my online portal, confirming that they had received my sample, that it passed quality control, that it extracted my DNA and my methylation patterns read and analyzed my data. (None of this required action on my part, but I did like knowing what was happening and when.)

When the result email came, I have to admit that I was nervous. I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t show that I was aging dramatically faster than I should be. Turns out I wasn’t what I’m pretty happy with: My Estimated Biological Age – the number they use to represent the approximate age your body appears to be functioning, rather than how many years it was on this one Planet – came four years younger than my chronological age. (“Chronological age” Elysium calls the number of years since you were born, which does not always match the age of your body since then.) This biological age divided by my chronological age determined my cumulative aging rate 0.93. That said, my body has aged 7 percent more slowly than expected. It’s good. While Index cannot make any promises about my longevity, this test was a confirmation that the mostly healthy lifestyle I like to live is being done right by me.

I liked my index results. And since I received it, I’ve been thinking about what it would have been like if my results found the opposite – that my body was biologically above my real age. Even if it wasn’t the result that I would have liked, I would have reminded myself that the biological age determined by this test is not fixed. The kit says: You can change your habits and possibly change your score over time. I’m not saying a complete habit overhaul would bring your numbers down in a couple of months. But in the long run, all of the healthy habits you can maintain add up.

Because of this, your results include a digital lifestyle guide that addresses healthy habits that can improve your aging rate, regardless of whether your biological age is lower or higher than your chronological age. It covers the usual things – a balanced diet, regular exercise, good sleep, an active social life, and a mindful attitude. These tips are general, but not unimportant. The idea is that these are ways to deal with stressors in your body that can add to your rate of aging. And if at any point you want to take the test again, you might improve your score.

At the end of the day, the biological age you get from the index is a data point. Like other everyday health data you might collect (your steps per day, your resting heart rate, your sleep scores), that’s what you make of it. Since getting my results, I’ve been living the way I usually do. No comprehensive health resolutions here. I look forward to getting back to the swing of normal life, where I move a little more and snack a little less whenever that happens. But in the meantime, I’m not worried. I am glad I established a foundation for healthy habits, and I look forward to continuing to build on them. And maybe in a few years I’ll be doing Index again – if only to keep my data up to date.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor should it be used as a substitute for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article contains advice from any doctor or health care professional, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of goop.