The epigenetic clock measures our biological age

by | Jan 2024 | Uncategorized

We all look at our watches in everyday life, whether we’re waiting for our flight or impatiently waiting for the evening to begin. It may therefore come as no surprise that doctors and health researchers do the same. What may surprise you, however, is what kind of watch these experts are looking at to recognize your true ageThe epigenetic clock shows our true biological age.

The experts are not observing just any clock, but the body’s internal clock, also known as the epigenetic or biological clock – or bioclock for short. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of the epigenetic clock and explain what it is, how it works and, most importantly, what questions it can answer.

So what are epigenetic – or biological – clocks?
It sounds strange, but people can have a different age to someone who is the same age as them. In short, their chronological age differs from their biological age. For example, someone can be chronologically 46 years old (i.e. they have been alive for 46 years) and have a biological age of, say, 54. How can this happen? Well – some people age faster than others, which is mainly due to their lifestyle. This is because factors such as our daily stress levels, the amount of sleep we get, our diet and exercise patterns all affect the way our bodies function. Epigenetic clocks are therefore indicators that have been developed by longevity researchers over the last ten years to measure a person’s biological age (“bioage”) or inner age.

Horvath Clock

The first and best-known biological clock was developed by Dr. Steve Horvath, a German-born researcher at UCLA, in 2013. In 2011, he and his twin brother took part in a study in which epigenetic markers in saliva were examined. When analyzing the data, he found that DNA methylation (more on this later) can predict a person’s age in years, with an average deviation of around five years. Of course, Dr. Horvath recognized that this has massive implications for measuring the body’s own biological age.

There are now ten biological clocks that measure human age, from the Horvath clock to DNAm PhenoAge, and there are hundreds more clocks used for other purposes. For example, the DNAm PhenoAge clock determines phenotypic age, which essentially states that the likelihood of developing a serious disease increases by 9% for every year older than your chronological age.
In short, epigenetic clocks are medical benchmarks that have recently been developed to measure our biological age and our overall mortality risk.

So how do bioclocks work?
The exact methodology and measurements behind each watch may vary, but the principle remains largely the same. Some of them have even been developed using DNA datasets to develop a neural network that is then fed with a deep learning program to determine which sets of methylated DNA contribute to biological aging. Very innovative!

Methylation – The activity control of our genes

As mentioned earlier, methylated DNA is the cause of biological aging, despite the methodology behind the development of the clock, but why is that? Methylation in the chemical sense is the addition of a methyl group to a molecule, in other words: a regulatory process to control the activity of genes. This changes the way the molecule’s proteins interact with other proteins, which in turn affects how the molecule interacts with other molecules. Our DNA is controlled by an epigenome – essentially a biological control over how our genes “express” themselves.

The only difference between a liver cell and a nerve cell in the brain is that this epigenome tells the genes what task they have to perform by “switching off” certain pre-programmed functions. As already mentioned, our DNA becomes increasingly methylated over the course of our lives and these genes begin to change in their interaction with the genes around them – and this contributes to ageing and also to an increased risk of disease.

Methylation is a natural process of ageing, but can also depend heavily on our lifestyle. For example, if you smoke heavily, some of your genes will be heavily methylated and others less so. Stress, heavy alcohol consumption, poor nutrition and lack of sleep also have an effect on the level of methylation in our DNA.

What can biological clocks be used for in the future?
A lot of research still needs to be done in this area, because there are still more questions than answers. However, there are already a number of studies that indicate that DNA methylation can be actively controlled. The good news is that the time on the biological clock – unlike the chronological clock – can be turned back. In a clinical study with randomly selected people, it was found that the study participants who led a healthy lifestyle were 3.23 years younger after the Horvath watch than the participants in the control group. This study is the first to show that we can reverse biological ageing through a healthy lifestyle (in the study, participants who were not in the control group were assigned moderate physical activity, breathing exercises to manage stress and a diet rich in methyl donors and polyphenols).

Another study found that there is a correlation between a high body mass index BMI and a higher biological age. Another study found that a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil and nuts reverses methylation of the body’s intermediary metabolism, diabetes, inflammation and signal transduction. Definitely a reason to move to this part of the world!

You don’t look your age at all!

Epigenetic clocks are already increasingly being used to assess disease risk (e.g. DNAm Phenoage), as well as a measure of how we can mitigate that risk by using hard data to show the benefits of a healthy lifestyle (see the 3.23 age gain mentioned above). When people are made aware of the fact that they are demonstrably getting younger, they should be more motivated to make healthier lifestyle choices because the benefits of these choices are clearly demonstrated with the Bioclock.

As science continues to advance in the development of epigenetic clocks, they are becoming more accurate and easier to use. Imagine a world where cigarette packs tell you exactly how many days or weeks you age on average per pack – that might not be so far away!

The epigenetic clock shows our true biological age

The development of epigenetic clocks is a promising development in the biomedical field that solves a decades-old problem – namely the question of how to measure biological ageing. The organic watches are also useful for the general public as they can illustrate how beneficial a healthy lifestyle is and how harmful less healthy choices can be.

If you are interested in an app with bio-clock functionality that allows you to measure the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in terms of years of life gained or your personal rejuvenation, then sign up for the BIOCOACH BC1 pilot phase!