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Genetic Linkage

Telomere Testing: Science or Snake Oil?

It seems lately that any biometric can inspire a test pitched to consumers, using jargony buzzwords and promises of health, wellness, and longevity. Measuring the length of telomeres, the short DNA sequences at the tips of chromosomes that whittle down as we age, is one such pseudoscience-based offering.

“The DNA test to help you stay younger longer,” and “control how well you’re aging based on your telomere length,” blares one website. Send in a swab and receive “your current telomere length reported as the age of your cells in TeloYears, and the option to work with an expert to develop a personalized lifestyle improvement plan based on telomere science.”

Not surprisingly, Telomere Support supplements are available to help achieve the promised stoppage of time. These include the usual suspects of vitamins and anti-oxidants, plus black tea extract and pygeum extract (from the African cherry tree, used to treat an enlarged prostate). Only $59 a month!

Another company offers to tell the consumer “physiological/biological age” via the mean length of the telomeres, with a deal to test four times a year for $299, to track changes.

I’m not buying any of it.

Yes, diseases can result from abnormal telomere maintenance, but that’s got nothing to do with what the companies are pitching. Two new articles in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings report on 17 patients with short telomere syndromes, while a third article, a commentary, tackles the commercialization of the science, "Telomeres in the Clinic, Not on TV".

Continue reading at DNA Science, my blog for Public Library of Science.  Read More 
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