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You can actually test how fast you’re aging, and it’s pretty fascinating

Anti-aging is big business. But when we talk about looking and feeling younger, most of the focus continues to be on what we put on our skin rather than the internal factors contributing to aging.

Cells aren’t sexy, and they don’t sell magazines or make most people click on posts, which is why there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the word telomeres. But alternative medical expert Bryce Wylde explains why staying on top of your cells — thanks to an at-home test you can purchase — is the key to adding years to your life.

“In the past few decades, scientists discovered that normal cells can divide only a limited number of times, after which cells effectively commit suicide,” Wylde says. “The number of times a cell is genetically programmed to reproduce varies from species to species. In the case of human cells, the limit is about 50 and is directly linked to the life span of an individual. Put bluntly, it’s difficult for you and me to live on when our cells are preprogrammed to conk out after so many recycles. Here is the truth about aging.”

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Every time the cell divides, the telomere — which is the region at the end of the chromosome that acts as a sort of safety mechanism to prevent over-replication — gets shorter, kind of like the fuse on a bomb, Wylde says. When there is no more telomere left, self-destruction is initiated. Your cell, basically, commits suicide (the medical term for this is apoptosis). This death is constantly happening in our bodies. In the average human adult, between 50 billion and 70 billion cells die each day due to apoptosis, Wylde says.

Here’s where the telomeres test comes in. Testing telomere length, which can be done at home by purchasing a kit through My Health Report (the cost is between $300 and $1,200, and you’ll need to provide spit or a drop of your blood), is calculated based on the telomere length of your white blood cells (T-lymphocytes). Age-adjusted telomere length, which is your average compared to the telomere length on lymphocytes from a sample of the population in your same age range, is the best method to date to assess your biological age.

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“The higher your telomere score, the ‘younger’ your cells are and the younger you are,” Wylde says. “In other words, telomere length is a great indicator of how rapidly you are aging relative to a normal population. It is important to note that besides rapid aging, studies have also shown that telomere length is strongly associated with risk of heart disease, nutritional deficiencies and cancer, and testing is a useful biomarker for risk assessment. And now the punch line: Naturally occurring antioxidants and therapies directed at slowing the loss of telomere length can slow aging and age-related diseases.”

So let’s say you order a kit and discover you have the cells of a woman 30 years your senior. Aside from this being an insane bummer, it can also alert you to the fact that you may need to make some critical lifestyle and diet changes that will actually slow down the loss of telomere length. Consider it the bright side of testing.

Diet is the first change within your control.

“An inflammatory diet, which is laden with refined food and excess sugar, will inevitably increase oxidative stress and will shorten telomeres faster,” Wylde says. “This would include micronutrient-deficient carbohydrates, fast foods, processed foods, sodas, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and saturated fats. Eating a rainbow is key. Consumption of 10 servings of fresh and relatively uncooked fruits and vegetables, mixed fiber (both soluble and insoluble), monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, cold water fish, and high-quality vegetable proteins can prevent premature telomere shortening.”

In addition, restricting your calories (about 200 to 300 calories less than your basal metabolic rate would suggest) is advised, as well as fasting for 12 hours each night at least four days per week, Wylde says.

“Decreasing visceral fat is probably the most important variable,” Wylde says. “Regular aerobic and resistance exercise for at least one hour per day, sleeping for at least eight hours per night, stress reduction, discontinuation of all tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy when necessary, and supplementing with proven antioxidants may all decrease the rate of telomere shortening.”

More: Something called nicotinamide riboside could anti-age your body

As for skin care, Wylde says SPF is a must, but he believes we’re wasting money on topical anti-aging creams and ointments.

“To slow aging from the inside out, start at the cellular level, which is how my favorite antioxidant, called nicotinamide riboside or Niagen, works,” Wylde says. “Niagen increases metabolism, supports energy production, and supports brain and cognitive health. It boosts necessary cell energy levels, which are important in lengthening telomeres and keeping you young. You want to look for products with the ingredient Niagen on the label to be sure you’re getting a scientifically tested product.”

This latest anti-aging test isn’t about keeping fine lines at bay. The focus here is on improving your health and how you feel from the inside out — which will only enhance your glow-from-within beauty.

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