Making Predictions

Epigenetic testing may be one of the hottest things in longevity science right now, but there are still big questions about its effectiveness, especially compared to other health predictors. A new study by the University of Michigan gives deeper insight into just how well it works (

Predicting future health is an imprecise business but an important one. It tells people if they need to change their lifestyle or take other preventative steps, it can help ensure earlier diagnoses of potential issues, and it’s generally a more efficient approach in terms of time and money. The problem is that there are many, many things that can influence how well you age.

Traditionally, when doctors are trying to predict the risk of a person developing certain conditions, they look at specific lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, or smoking and drinking. They may consider your family history or your socioeconomic status. Sometimes they’ll throw in a wide-ranging blood test.

Epigenetic testing is a bit more complicated. It looks at your genes, but also the different ways they may express themselves depending on various external factors. It’s about the complex relationship between biology and environment. This can be used to estimate your biological age, or the rate your body is growing older, independently of your age in years.

The University of Michigan decided to explore the effectiveness of epigenetic testing in greater depth. They looked at three different generations of epigenetic clocks and how well they analyzed a group of 3500 participants.

First was the original clock, as developed by Horvath and Hannum when they first linked DNA methylation (an essential part of this kind of testing) to the aging process. Then there was the second generation, including PhenoAge and GrimAge, which was more detailed and more accurate. The third generation clock was DunedinPace, the most refined model to date.

Each generation of clock did better at predicting cognitive decline and physical deterioration, providing an early warning that your health, and quality of life, may be heading in the wrong direction. In general, they were accurate, particularly with specific types of health outcomes, but they weren’t always as successful as the more traditional markers.

This suggests that if you want the most comprehensive insights into your health and aging, it will take a combination of methods, and epigenetic testing should be one of them.

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