The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Picture: public domain
Those who are genetically unlucky die even earlier, if the hypothesis of an epigenetic clock is true
It is a big blow for the anti-aging community, which believes that life can be prolonged by healthy living and following certain rules. As is increasingly the case with diseases and life success in general, everyone should be responsible for how long and how healthy they live. The body is a machine that needs to be well cared for and used to its full capacity.
The puritanical hope that life can be prolonged by sports, diet and other means that require time, money and perseverance is particularly strong in California, where transhumanism was born. Just in California, at the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers have now found that lifestyle does not contribute much to life expectancy, at least in one population group, so it may not matter so much whether you hedonistically indulge in lazing around and stuffing yourself, or only feed your body certain foods and keep it moving as much and strenuously as possible.
Years ago, biostatistician Steve Horvath developed a method for determining the age of each cell. The method he discovered "epigenetic clock" is based on how the genes in the cells are read out by certain markers that are passed on during cell divisions. The frequency of DNA methylation in many different cell types can be used to calculate the epigenetic age of a person with a relatively high degree of accuracy. And from this it follows that some people age faster than others – which is genetically determined and has nothing to do with the way of life for which they are responsible.
"Es gibt Menschen", Horvath told the Guardian, "who live vegan, sleep 10 hours a day, have a job with little stress and still die early." Blood samples from 13 people were examined for the new study.000 people from the U.S. and Europe. By comparing the biological age of blood with the age of life, scientists tried to predict life expectancy. Even when risk factors such as age, sex, medical history and weight are taken into account, the epigenetic clock can be used to predict people’s lifespan. The higher the biological or epigenetic age, the more likely an early death will take place. Particularly affected are 5 percent of the people who age the fastest and thus have an average 50 percent higher risk of death.
California researchers drove the example of two 60-year-old men who smoke because they are under high stress. If the epigenetic age of one man is in the highest 5 percent, his probability of dying in the next 10 years is 75 percent, while for the other man it is 60 percent if his biological age is in the middle range. So people can die young or prematurely even though they exercise, don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet and drink little alcohol. They are just unlucky. But of course, the known risk factors such as smoking, high blood prere or diabetes still have an effect and increase the risk of death for everyone.
Women have a higher life expectancy, although the gap has narrowed in many countries. This is not due to the female lifestyle, says Horvath. The difference in life expectancy became apparent from the age of 5 years onwards. At the age of 40, the differences accumulate to a difference of 1 to 2 years in life expectancy.
But even if aging is in the genes, it’s not destiny, say Californian scientists. Sure, if you know the causes, you could influence them, which could not be influenced by lifestyle, but by targeted pharmacological treatment. The biological clock would be interesting not only for pharmaceutical companies, but also for insurance companies. Those who age faster must pay more – or perhaps less. The blood test was only 300 US dollars. Horvath does not want to bring it to the market, but it hardly depends on a single person in the long run.
It is clear, however, that the statistical analysis does not show whether the methylation biomarker is the cause of early death or whether it simply makes the body less resistant to certain diseases. Horvath, in any case, is very fond of the Californian ideology that it is necessary to find means to prolong life up to 20 years more. It would not be possible to observe people for decades to see whether a drug works. His epigenetic clock, however, would make it possible to determine within three years whether an anti-aging therapy was effective.