Dr Tom Vulliamy: I was assessed and the news was not good – but I'll live

It's not difficult to believe that regular exercise and a low-fat diet would be good for most of us, whatever our telomere lengths

Share
Related Topics

Many factors can affect how long our telomeres are, some of them inherited and some due to our lifestyle and environment. Across the population there is a considerable range of normal telomere length – but one thing that will happen to all of us is that our telomeres will shorten as we age.

There is now compelling evidence that the shorter one's telomeres are, the greater the chances that we will suffer from some of the more serious age-related problems such as heart disease and pulmonary fibrosis.

So how helpful will it be for us to know our individual telomere length? I've measured my telomeres and know that they're a bit short for my age. Does that bother me? Not at all, because I'm happy to sit within the normal range and do not appear to be aging prematurely. Although it has been suggested that people who have shorter telomeres and are at risk of heart disease might benefit the most from taking cholesterol-reducing statins. One thing that might interest me more would be to know how fast my telomeres are shortening. If they're rapidly decreasing, then perhaps I might be a bit concerned. And that could be good news for the companies who hope to make money by measuring our telomeres, as they could say that repeat testing is the way to go.

Some people have exceptionally short telomeres due to a rare inherited condition resulting in bone marrow failure. In this situation, we are measuring telomere lengths as they can be helpful in diagnosis and making sure that these patients get the right treatment.

But in the normal population, what would we do with the knowledge that our telomeres are short, or shortening more rapidly than normal? Give up smoking? Cut back on the amount of alcohol we drink? It's not difficult to believe that regular exercise and a low-fat diet would be good for most of us, whatever our telomere lengths.

As scientists uncover more about the things that influence the rate at which we age there will be a multitude of predictive tests that could become available. The problem is that each one is likely to contribute one piece of the jigsaw in the complex process of disease-susceptibility.

So when all is said and done, I still believe that a good knowledge of our extended family's recent medical history might be as good as any current laboratory test in predicting how well we're going to live on into our old age.

The writer is a senior lecturer at The Blizard Institute, Queen Mary, University of London

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect