I got my biological age measured

Your chronological age (current year – age of birth) says nothing about how young your cells are, and in what global shape your body is. You may very well be 70 years old (chronological age) with a body of a 50 years old (biological age), or the opposite. You want to remain biologically as young as possible as years pass by, but you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Only recently have we been able to measure the real biological age. I have done it for me, and so could you for a small amount of money.

Cell differentiation

We all start our journey in this world as an egg and a sperm, but as we grow, our cells start to differentiate and specialise. As a fun fact, there are around 200 cell types in the human body (more about it here). This is possible through complex but yet poorly understood processes called epigenetics, by which portions of the DNA in each cell are silenced, depending on its function in the body, and others, at the opposite, are expressed. It makes total sense if we think that the DNA information is the same in each and everyone of your 100 trillion cells, but each cell is different, it’s “running” a different “software program” subset of that global DNA information.

DNA methylation

Again, the mechanisms by which your DNA is partially expressed and partially silenced are poorly understood, but one of them is what we call the “DNA methylation”. DNA methylation consists in whole portions of your DNA being “blocked” by methyl groups (CH3) sticking to Cytosine bases. Thus, those portions of your DNA can’t be properly transcribed into RNA by the “RNA polymerase enzyme”, so they are silenced.

Relationship between DNA methylation and biological age

What is fascinating about DNA methylation is that this mechanism contributes to cell differentiation and thus to the existence of complex organisms such as us humans, to proper gene expression while we’re young and in good health. However, as we age, this DNA methylation becomes more and more chaotic, leading to different portions of DNA which were rightfully silenced, to start being expressed, and create havoc. Imagine portions of DNA related to your neurons being expressed in derm cells, it cannot but harm the overall order and functioning of your body. By the way, this epigenetic disorder has been officially recognised as one of the Hallmarks of Aging, as presented in one of my previous articles (read here).

Based on the hypothesis that DNA methylation disorder is associated with aging, back in 2011, a german scientist called Steve Horvath discovered specific methylation patterns in people’s DNA, allowing him to measure with precision the biological age of the human body. In other words, Steve turned a general observation into a statistically precise method to measure people’s biological age. He called that epigenetic clock.

Later on, multiple biomarkers and AI has been used to increase further the reliability of the epigenetic clock, and the price of these tests has diminished until they became accessible for virtually anyone, which further improved the reliability of the measurement, because the more data we have, the more reliable our statistical models.

So here we are today, with a cheap and precise system to measure how young and in good shape your body really is. Good news!

Why measure your biological age (and how to use it)

Now that we understand the theory, let me tell you that this epigenetic clock is still controversial, but absolutely paramount to the longevity field. As the saying goes, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure”. We want to stay young and in good shape as long as possible, and now “staying young” can be mathematically measured, so it can be improved, at the scientific level, but also at the individual level, for you and I.

If I’m talking to you about measuring your biological age, that is because there’s a strategy behind it. Especially if you’re at the beginning of your longevity journey, you may have some ideas of how to improve your overall health (quick wins are easy when you start: maybe improve your diet, maybe practicing more physical activity, sleeping better, taking some geroprotecting drugs, etc.). However, as this will require some effort on your side (and even some risk taking), you want to optimise that effort, and do more of the things that work, and less of the ones that don’t. Well, good news, your biological age is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) you’re looking for.

The strategy happens in 3 distinct steps:
1. Do an initial test and find out your initial biological age, your “starting point”
2. Apply the measures you believe will be most impactful to improve your health and make you biologically younger
3. After a statistically significant period of time (to be defined depending on what exactly you’re trying, maybe 6 monts is a good order of magnitude), do a new test to find out how you biological age has evolved in between.

Practical aspects of biological age measurement

Now that you understand the theory as well as the rationale behind spending your time with DNA methylation, let me tell you my story with it. I’ve done my DNA methylation with a startup called Humanity, while I was in Montenegro, Zuzalu, back in May 2023. I don’t know if the Humanity app still offers this service but there are many options out there for you to use (if you want an advice, send me an email).

They’ve asked me to spit in a test tube and fill it above a certain line, and that was it! Other variants of the test require some drops of your blood, but whatever their process, it’s quick, easy and painless. It cost me between 200 and 400 dollars (I’m sorry, I don’t have the exact price, I’ve paid in Ethereum, and the pricing is not so relevant because of the volatility of the crypto).

The results took quite some time to come (this is why I’m writing this article only now), and I’m sharing them with you, please see below:

Now you know everything about me 🙂

More seriously, let’s analyse what this means:
– when I took the test, my chronological age (current year – year of birth) was 41.8 years
– however, my biological age (how young my cells are) was 42.7 years, which is older by 0.9 years than the average person

I must admit that I was a little bit surprised by the results, as I thought of myself of being in a very good physical and mental shape, and I was expecting a lower biological age, but what is most important for me, is that I now have a baseline to work on and compare against.

I’ve started whole lot of lifestyle changes (which I’ve shared with you in my previous articles – more to come!), and I’m curious how these will change (or not) my biological age, so in a couple of months, I’ll do the test again, and see how it evolved. When the time will come, I’ll openly share with you the results I got, and how successful (or not) the whole project was.