This is the fifth article in Keep Health’s series on Setting Your Health Baseline. Do you think you are healthy? Can you prove that to yourself? Can you measure whether changes to your lifestyle improve or degrade your health? Doing so requires first establishing a health baseline, a quantified status of your physical, mental and emotional health. The first article provided The Basics of Setting Your Health Baseline. Additional articles reviewed the offerings of specific providers of Health Baseline services including The Human Longevity Institute, Viome and Arivale. This article evaluates Life Length.
Life Length provides health baseline services in telomere and telomerase measurement and diagnostics. Each time your cells divide, they lose 25-200 base pairs from the ends of their chromosomes.Typically, people lose a few hundred base pairs per year as cells divide about 50-75 times in an average life. Fortunately, you have around 11,000 bases of telomeres at birth. This declines to fewer than 4,000 bases in old age. Telomeres protect the end of your chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. When your telomeres become too short, your cells either die or become senescent, causing inflammation in your body. Life Length tells you how your telomeres compare to a person of your age.
Fortunately, telomere loss isn’t inevitable. Your body can generate a low amount of the enzyme telomerase which repairs your telomeres by adding base pairs. Your body likely doesn’t generate significantly higher amounts of telomerase because telomerase is key to cancer cells being immortal and replicating continuously. As Elizabeth Blackburn notes in her book, The Telomere Effect, a healthy lifestyle is good for preserving and repairing telomeres.
Life Length is headquartered in Spain and serves customers in the United States through their partner lab in Pennsylvania. For thousands of individual clients, they’ve provided telomere testing as part of biological age monitoring. Biological age or true age is calculated on the basis of a person’s physical and mental condition. Life Length only tests your physical condition. Life Length clients seek to understand how their chronological age compares to their physical age. For example, a very healthy 50 year old man might find out his biomarkers indicate he is more comparable physically to a 45 year old man.
There are skeptics on the value of telomere length testing, since at birth people start with a wide range of telomere lengths. Life Length’s research has led them to focus not on the average of telomere length, but on the median and most importantly on the length of the shortest 20% of telomeres in the body. Even 1 short telomere can cause dysfunction. That cell becomes less efficient and less repairable. With its decrease in metabolic efficiency, it loses the ability to produce energy and with less energy it loses the ability for repair. If it doesn’t die, it becomes senescent, then sits there, continuing to function, but creating free radicals which damage your surrounding cells, causing inflammation. This becomes a vicious cycle as innocent bystander cells are damaged, then move to senescence and expand the inflammation. Immunosenescence occurs with aging and is likely your cause of death if you avoid heart attacks, cancer and strokes. According to Life Length doctors, the best thing that physically older people can do is to suppress inflammation in their body.
Life Length’s two clinically validated primary methods for analysing telomere and telomerase activity require sending them a blood sample. They are:
- TAT: a proprietary technology to determine telomere length variables in cellular samples and tissues including mean and median telomere length, lowest 20th percentile telomere length and your percentage of cells with short telomeres. It is based on the DNA in your white blood cells.
- Q-TRAP: an innovative assay to measure telomerase activity in cellular samples. This is not yet available for online ordering.
From their online store, Life Length sells their TAT test kit for $480. It includes an in-home blood draw from a registered phlebotomist and a doctor’s consultation on your results. If you choose to do the blood draw yourself, it is $410.
You’ll receive an email on how to schedule your phlebotomist.
You’ll receive the test kit in the mail. Inside you’ll find three forms to fill out.
- Patient Informed Consent Form to be completed by you and shared with the consulting doctor
- Patient Log Sheet — to be included with your blood sample for your physician
- Test Requisition Form — to be completed by the phlebotomist
There is also an optional online questionnaire to take about your health. It is recommended.
At least 24 hours before your phlebotomist arrives, remove the unfrozen ice pack in your test kit and put it in your freezer. It must accompany your blood sample.
Your friendly phlebotomist shows up at your door. The blood draw is quick because they only need one tube. The phlebotomist packages up and takes your blood and ice pack to the post office and ships it to the lab for you.
There have been reasonable concerns about the quality and analysis of Life Length data and recommendations. Telomere analysis is a new field and progress is continuous. Some questions include:
- How representative is a single blood sample? How often should updates be re-submitted?
- Is it meaningful to test just physical biomarkers to determine true age?
- How normal is the Life Length customer population?
Understanding Your Results
Your results arrive as an email attachment. Then you schedule your appointment with a Life Length doctor for consultation. You’ll find out that their high-throughput results on 700K-1MM of your telomeres are compared with their population of people who have taken the Life Length TAT test. Their 10,000+ customers are not the typical population of people and that affects where your results are placed in their charts.
Typically, Life Length customers have high income, an advanced educational background and pursue healthy lifestyle choices, all factors which are correlated with higher telomere length. People not interested in their health won’t take their test.
So a normal telomere length result is normal within the much healthier Life Length population. Even those on the fringes of LifeLength are usually within normal ranges of the general population. As an example, 9.6K to 11K bases is normal for 50 years olds within the LifeLength population. Telomere lengths of 9.1-9.6K are considered short and lengths < 9.1K are considered very short.
Life Length tests white blood cells because they have a nucleus with chromosomes and telomeres. They see telomere length in white blood cells as the best biomarker because white blood cells are how body repairs itself. Also, correlation studies show white blood cell telomere length will map to the rest of the cells in your body unless you have organ or other disease.
Here are some examples of Life Length test results:
LifeLength recommends getting retested in one year to calculate your aging trajectory. A single point of data not as good as a line showing telomere aging progression. It is possible to start with short telomeres and stay short and be fine for a while.
As part of a healthy lifestyle which supports your telomere length, Life Length doctors recommend maintaining good Vitamin D levels and taking toxin-free Omega3-acid ethyl ester supplements. See Keep.Health’s article on Dietary Supplements for recommendations on Vitamin D and good providers for Omega3.
Life Length recommends 4-6 grams per day keeping the ratio of Omega3 to Omega6 levels to 60-70%. Underdosing does not seem to have beneficial effects. Too much is harmful. Test kits are available on Amazon.
Competitive Telomere Testing Approaches
Lower cost saliva tests for telomere length are more popular, however they only provide an average telomere length number based on total fluorescent signal, which is not a meaningful result. LifeLength determines median and average based on every signal. The Life Length doctor compared saliva tests to a 1970s camera which used average light for the whole picture compared to a digital camera today. Another analogy is that if you were flying over a city and hung a light meter out of plane that would be a saliva test average. If instead, you pointed a camera at every single light, you would get a very different look.
Other alternative tests such as Spectrocell QPCR show people as younger because they are also not calculating medians. QPCR is relatively inaccurate, not personalized and hard to get repeat results.
Why are medians important? A bell-shaped curve of results does not apply to telomeres. For telomere dynamics, a spike to the left of a bell-shaped center would be a healthy normal. The median correlates with that spike on the left. Telomere average is the center of the bell-curve and thus longer and giving misleading results that their customers are younger. Thus, median telomere length is far more important as an accurate health biomarker.
This concludes today’s rather long article. To reward yourself, go outside to get 20-30 minutes of sunshine so your body can make Vitamin D and keep your telomeres happy.