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My feelings about salivary telomere testing

spittingI published this in response to a blog touting the benefits of salivary testing from a company called TeloMe. I will use the same phrase I did when comparing the efficacy of other telomerase activators to TA-65. It went like this, “How much will people spend on something worthless to “save money”?  Answer: About a hundred bucks.

Here is what I wrote in response to that blog.

Sir, there are a few things that need to be addressed in your blog.

First, the analogy between 23andMe and TeloMe is stretched, because 23andMe measures genes, not telomeres. The accuracy and reproducibility of the salivary genetic testing is improved when the gene is fairly large. In most cases, the genes commented on by 23andMe are in excess of 200,000 base pairs.

The average newborn has a telomere length of 10,000 base pairs, the average middle aged adult, 6,800 base pairs – far shorter and far more likely to be misinterpreted by a salivary test, where DNA degradation is inevitable. Most people are not forensic scientists and will not use the careful collection and processing needed to preserve salivary samples.  In addition, salivary cells completely leave out the important WBC component tested in blood telomere testing. You mention immunosenescence. Nothing about salivary testing tells you anything about this.

Next, biologic age can only be interpreted by the percentage of short telomeres present, not by mean or average telomere length. Those values in the individual case are worthless and say nothing of the biologic age. I have seen numerous cases where people had ‘normal’ average telomere length and very different (higher or lower) percentage of short telomeres, which would have been missed by a mean telomere length test. In the same vein, a mean telomere test has huge gaps in accuracy and reproducibility that are not found in HT Q-FISH short telomere testing. In all cases, two or more tests done at 1 year intervals will be much more useful. I would be very curious to see how close your 1 year values will be with this test. If they vary greatly, which is highly likely, the results will be meaningless.

Next, careful what you say about calorie restriction. Like sirtuins and resveratrol, this has been a banner for large amounts of money research dollars and even a society dedicated to its enactment. But the data are extremely thin, as one moves up the biologic ladder from invertebrates to mammalian forms. There are only a very few strains of mice that respond to calorie restriction with extended lifespans.  Recently, Maria Blasco tested the effects of CR on wild type and telomerized mice. CR did not extend lifespan in either. Increasing telomerase expression did. The recent debacle in monkeys, surrounding the horrible diet fed to the controls and the optimal diet fed to the CR monkeys, abrogated any response from CR in what had been the flagship species, to prove the efficacy of CR in higher mammals. Increased expression of telomerase is, at this point, the only broadly applicable way to increase lifespan in many higher species. For it to work the way it does, it must improve mitochondrial function de facto, as well as a whole host of other things, including protein cross linking, sirtuin expression, AGE’s, mutation rates, etc. etc.

The mitochondrial theory of aging is most likely false for many reasons. The simplest of which is that mitochondrial diseases do not present with accelerated aging. Telomeropathies do. Next, the work of Passos and DePinho, in the past 2 years, points out the likely way that short telomere length controls the behavior of mitochondria, which frankly have too few genes that regulate even their own function, to be a true central controller of aging.

While telomere testing varies greatly in price and accuracy, people spend more on their cell phones and TV’s than on an accurate telomere test, that gives them true biologic age and other information. Not a good use of funds. You mention various price points for testing. At this point, there is no good, cheap way to get meaningful information from a cheap test. People are better off ponying up if they want a real answer, or saving their money and waiting until prices on better tests come down. In similar fashion, if you actually want to ‘take a telomerase activator to do something for your telomeres’ you are better off investing in the only product that has a human track record of safety and efficacy, TA-65.

At a most recent conference, Dr Maria Blasco, one of today’s premier telomere scientists, certified that there are some food supplements, such as TA-65, that activate telomerase and contribute to natural rejuvenation and life extension, without causing cancer.

And there you have it, from a person who I would bet on for a future Nobel Prize!


Dr Dave – author, The Immortality Edge– Wiley 2010.

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