Regular readers know that I set up ReversingMyAge.com as a vehicle by which to chronicle the events associated with my year long quest to reverse my biological age by lengthening my telomeres. My eagerly anticipated second telomere test results finally arrived from Telomere Diagnostics. As I walked into my apartment, I tossed the unopened package on my living room coffee table and began to cook a meal. My handling of the latest test results stands in stark contrast to my reaction upon receiving the initial, baseline, test results. Some of you may remember reading,
“I finally received the results of the TeloYears genetic test that I have been so eagerly awaiting. I held the package in my hands thinking, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ My heart began to pound. I could feel my blood pressure rising. My hands trembled as as I tore open the envelope and opened the pamphlet to see:”1
I was biologically 35 years old, despite chronologically being 40. I was not pleased with the results because, while I was younger, it would make accomplishing my practically impossible mission even more difficult. It is exponentially easier for an eighty year old man to lengthen his telomeres than a five year old child.
“God Damn it, Son of a Bitch, Mother …!” I thought to myself at the time.2
When I open the results this time there would be no nervousness, no trembling hands, no heart pounding, and no profane outbursts. Two eight to fifteen minute daily sessions of meditation have fundamentally changed me. I have wrestled control of both my head and my emotions. With regards to my new test results; what will be, will be. I was totally relaxed. As I cooked my healthy meal, I contemplated what I would write to you, my faithful readers, regardless of whether the news was positive, or possibly, though hopefully not, negative.
A furious debate rages among biogerontologists and other scientists about the importance of telomeres. One camp claims that telomeres are everything; the very key to aging. Solving telomere shortening or stimulating telomerase, the enzyme which causes telomeres to lengthen, will result in people living indefinitely, so some believe. Many of these scientists are feverishly studying telomeres all over the world; some in a university setting, but far more work in the private sector for pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are working to develop drugs or gene therapies.
One such biogerontologist, a semi celebrity and main character in the movie The Immortalists, is ultramarathon running Dr. Bill Andrews. He thinks it is all about the telomeres, and has been quoted saying, “Aging can be controlled and stopped, a statement solidly grounded in good science, which makes it both verifiable and demonstrable.”3 He’s also written, “The end result, a cure for aging, is inevitable.”4 I agree with Dr. Andrews, but critics are quick to point out that he is currently both selling a supplement called Tam-818 and offering gene therapy that is extraordinarily expensive.
Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of Bioviva, is another celebrity in the field who focuses on telomeres. She used her company’s gene therapy to successfully lengthen her telomeres by the equivalent of 20 years, thus legitimately reversing her age. According to Parrish, “the gene therapy has enhanced the lifespan of the telomere by a whopping 20 years. This was after she received two experimental- one containing muscle mass and the other with longevity gene- therapies back in 2015 (then 44 years of age).”5 Gene therapy to combat aging is currently available in overseas markets, but be forewarned; prices START at about a quarter of a million dollars and go as high as you can imagine. The results are inconsistent and the therapies are potentially dangerous.
The opposition says telomeres don’t matter at all. They’re just something interesting to look at, but don’t have a heck of a lot to do with life expectancy. This camp, much to my dismay, makes some compelling arguments. Some friends and readers of this blog who disagree with the nature of my endeavor, some of whom have PhDs, enjoy taunting me by sending links to articles that indicate telomeres aren’t important. Or, in some cases, that long telomeres are bad. This camp, most of whom I suspect have very short telomeres, argues that having long telomeres, or taking drugs, or doing things to make them long, is a good way to get cancer. They have a point. One article cited the following study which argues, “Results regarding telomere length and cancer risk are conflicting. We tested the hypothesis that long telomeres are associated with increased risk of any cancer and specific cancer types in genetic and observational analyses. Genetic determinants of long telomeres are associated with increased cancer risk, particularly melanoma and lung cancer. This genetic predisposition to enhanced telomere maintenance may represent a survival advantage for precancerous cells, allowing for multiple cell divisions leading to cancer development.”6 My response, in that case, was there is a problem with the study that doesn’t apply to my circumstances. While the study indicates that longer telomeres are associated with certain types of cancer, one cannot equate an individual with naturally long telomeres with those of the person who eats organic, exercises like a mad man, and avoids all kinds of pollution, whether it be drunk, breathed, eaten, or rubbed into one’s skin. There are a lot of really, really smart people out there with an agenda and/or biases. Don’t let them fool you. The implications of this argument is that being healthy will give you cancer. Hmm, that’s not only suspect, it’s simply not true.
Aubrey de Grey, arguably the leader of the “Conquer Aging” movement, is so opposed to telomeres that part of his SENS movement actually seeks to figure out a way to turn OFF, not on, the enzyme telomerase. He thinks that’s the way to beat cancer. Maybe he’s right. By lengthening my telomeres, I am certainly increasing the number of potential cell divisions. According to Cancer.gov, “Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. When cancer develops, however, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed.”7 By lengthening my telomeres, I may be enabling cells that should have died to live on, thus raising my risk of developing cancer. Cancer cells are immortal. They just keep dividing. As such, their telomeres must also keep growing. Do you see the connection between aging, telomeres, and cancer?
Much has happened since I began this quest, not only to me and with respect to what I have learned, but also within the scientific community as it relates to aging. Breathtaking news emerges weekly. The pace at which the scientific community is advancing in this great age of emerging artificial intelligence and super computers is nothing short of mind blowing. My own thoughts and positions as they relate to aging remain in a constant state of evolution. I intend to continue to focus on my telomeres for the duration of this quest. Yet, while I began this quest thinking the key to aging is all about the telomeres, I no longer feel that way. I continue to believe telomeres are important and lengthening them is, legitimately, reversing one’s biological age. As discussed above, we have a limited number of cell divisions. The less healthy cell divisions we have, the less time we have. Longer telomeres = more cell divisions = more healthy time among the living. I am more confident than ever that not only is legitimate biological age reversal possible, but that we will also soon have the option to live significantly longer (and healthier) in the not so distant future. I just don’t think it will play out quite the same way I originally thought.
My Telomere Results
I finally finished my delicious, healthy meal and casually opened the package from Teloyears. Because I had experience with the matter, I knew exactly where to open the pamphlet to get to the heart of the matter; my new (hopefully younger) biological age. I saw the relevant information and immediately shrieked, “No! This can’t be right! There must be some mistake!” I began to sweat. My heart began pounding like a 90 lb jackhammer. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I anxiously read my results.
I looked to the sky and bellowed, “God Damn it, Son of a Bitch, Mother …!”
No amount of meditation could have helped me with this one. During the course of my life, I have experienced many, many epic failures. I’ve grown quite accustomed to them. I am in a very good place psychologically in that respect, as failures no longer incapacitate me like they used to. I now see them as a necessary part of a process. Yet, in this particular instance, I had given 110% of myself to an endeavor and not only had I failed to reverse my biological age, I had dramatically accelerated my aging and shortened my telomeres significantly, by an astounding three years in six months. I started biologically at 35 years old and a mere six months later, I was now 38. This was, arguably, the most spectacular failure of my life!
I called a good friend to share the news. As I began telling him what happened, he began to chuckle. I plowed forward with my explanation until he could no longer control his uproarious laughter. When he finally got a hold of himself, he managed to say between eruptions, “This is so great! This may be the funniest thing I ever heard in my life! I’m going to start taking bets on how biologically old you’ll be in six months. You aged 3 years in six months. In five years you will be 70! Ahhhh, haahahahahahahaha!”
My “friend”, totally unconcerned with my feelings went on to breathlessly state the obvious, “You would have been way better off had you kept drinking beer and Monster, not exercising, and eating McDonalds and Taco Bell!”
He continued, “Think of all the time you wasted reading all those dumb books and watching those idiotic documentaries. Let’s go out drinking! You’ll feel better!” I took my friend’s criticism before growling into the phone, “I’m just getting started! I’ll bet you I still manage to reverse my biological age!” and hung up.
While the discovery of my new, older, biological age and my friend’s comments stung, they genuinely have not discouraged me. In fact, after I calmed down, I realized this, like all my other failures, is probably a good thing. It’s simply part of the process. The results of my second telomere test poses all sorts of new, interesting questions to contemplate:
- Is there a lag between my efforts and when it is reflected in telomere length? The Dean Ornish study lasted five years. It also took Elizabeth Parrish’s telomeres two years to grow the equivalent of 20 years.
- If I was sleep deprived when I drew my blood, would that make a difference?
- What if I was sick?
- Do telomeres possess the ability to lengthen as fast as they shorten?
On a positive note, I’ve demonstrated that telomeres not only respond, but respond relatively quickly to various stimuli. I have discovered that one can significantly shorten one’s telomeres in a very short period of time. Nowhere have I found a single study, source of data, or even anecdotal evidence duplicating my incredibly awful results. No record of anyone shortening their telomeres so much, so fast exists. Nevertheless, I am not devastated by my results because I am demonstrably younger in just about every single other biomarker of aging: Resting Heart Rate, HRV, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, Lean Muscle Mass, Strength, Body Fat, Body Temperature Regulation, Aerobic Capacity, Balance, and even Cognitively.
Possible Explanations Why My Telomeres Shrunk
Rocky Balboa displayed incredible wisdom when he famously said, “It’s not how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Now that I’ve picked myself up off the floor, the first thing to do is to attempt to figure out WHY, precisely, my telomeres shortened so much, so fast. As the test date approached, I began to anticipate this possibility. I have endured a tremendous amount of stress on my mind and body. Perhaps this physical and mental stress had a lot to do with my telomere shortening.
I also must consider what was different before I began this quest. One such difference is that in addition to drinking beer, I also drank about three Monster energy drinks daily. I often drank the Ultra Black variety, which is loaded with 100% of RDA of Vitamin B-12 in each can. The “Monster Energy Blend” includes: Taurine, Panax Ginseng Extract, L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Guarana Extract, and Glucuronolactone and Inositol. When I received my baseline blood test results, I distinctly remember my doctor asking what I am taking to elevate my B-12 levels so much. I couldn’t figure it out until after the fact. It was, I believe, the Monster.
Another possible explanation is a lack of caffeine, which I was getting plenty of prior to beginning this quest. I estimate I consumed 400 mg of caffeine a day via energy drinks. I am unwilling at this juncture to begin drinking coffee or supplementing with caffeine because it also raises blood pressure. This issue will likely be revisited in the future.
Despite this setback, I don’t plan on changing much about my protocol. I’m going to continue focusing on ultrarunning and other ultra endurance activities for the duration, primarily because of the study discussed in a previous post in which it was determined the average Ultrarunner has an average telomere length of someone 16 years younger.8 I will be running my next, the Mohican 100, in mid June. I believe ultra endurance training is the best and fastest way to significantly lengthen my telomeres. I will also begin supplementing with B-12.
If all else fails after my third telomere test results, I will deploy the nuclear option. My friend who bet me I would be over 35 biologically (determined by telomere length) doesn’t realize I have an ace up my sleeve. During the course of my independent research, I believe I may have stumbled upon some “forbidden knowledge.” The nuclear option is called the “nuclear option” because deploying it runs the risk of giving myself cancer. No, I won’t tell you what it is just yet, but if I use it, I will document it and share all the specific details.
I truly still believe I will successfully reverse my biological age. Of all the various types of exercises, diet modifications, supplements, and therapies I am utilizing in my efforts, I already know what the most powerful component is: unwavering tenacity. I intend to wear down my telomeres. I will keep getting knocked down, only to quickly scramble to my feet so I may keep bombarding my telomeres with therapies that logically, should work. Eventually, I predict, my exhausted telomeres will scream, “Mercy! Ok, enough already! We give up! We will begin to lengthen!”
Regular readers are familiar with the concept of hormesis. While thus far my quest must be viewed as an epic failure, couldn’t the concept of hormesis be applied to my telomere’s initial response to my efforts? In order to build muscle, mustn’t we first tear them up and break them down? Only then will they grow bigger and stronger. Perhaps the same applies to my telomeres. As such, I wouldn’t bet against me or my telomeres just yet…
1 Loehr, J. (2018, March 14). How Old are you Really? Retrieved from https://www.reversingmyage.com/blog/how-old-are-you-really/
2 Loehr, J. (2018, March 14). How Old are you Really? Retrieved from https://www.reversingmyage.com/blog/how-old-are-you-really/
3 A BREAKTHROUGH IN LIFESPANRESEARCH. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sierrasci.com/
4 A BREAKTHROUGH IN LIFESPANRESEARCH. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sierrasci.com/
5 Harris, J. (2018, February 13). Forever Young: Bioviva Unveils First Anti-Aging Gene Therapy. Retrieved from https://sanvada.com/2018/02/13/forever-young-bioviva-unveils-first-anti-aging-gene-therapy/
6 Rode, L., Nordestgaard, B. G., & Bojesen, S. E. (2016, October). Long telomeres and cancer risk among 95 568 individuals from the general population. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27498151
7 What Is Cancer? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer
8 Denham, J., Nelson, C. P., O’Brien, B. J., Nankervis, S. A., Denniff, M., Harvey, J. T., . . . Charchar, F. J. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3729964/