Just because you are a certain age, does not mean your body and immune system respond and act that way. Have you ever met someone for the first time who appears to be much younger or older than their stated age? Life has proven to us that while some people seem to age very rapidly, others experience aging at a much more gradual pace.
What’s The Difference Between Chronological and Biological age?
Chronological age is the number of years a person has been alive while biological age refers to how old your cells are which in turn reflects your functional capacity, immune resilience, overall health, and potential lifespan. How fast your chronological clock is ticking is beyond your control; however, your body or biological clock is more vulnerable to your actions and can be positively or negatively influenced by your lifestyle. Genetics also plays an important role in determining your biological age and life expectancy potential. However, mounting research indicates that certain environmental factors can profoundly impact your biological age and can significantly change your inherited aging pace and longevity fate.
Today, we know that stress alone can add up to 10 years to your biological age. We have also learned over the last few years that diets rich in healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables, intermittent fasting, calorie restriction, regular exercise, high-intensity interval training, moderate alcohol consumption, non-smoking, being socially connected, and having a positive outlook on life have all been linked to lengthening life expectancy and slowing down the aging pace. Genomics has helped us to better understand that the benefits of these simple lifestyle interventions do not only manifest themselves in the appearance of your skin, but they also literally change the way your genes express and the pace at which your cells age. These genetic changes have been proven to add not only years to your lifespan but also to impact positively on the quality of health you enjoy throughout those years gained.
Healthspan, defined as all those years of life that are associated with great health, is a relatively new concept, but a common desire for all aging beings. After all, aging is inevitable, but aging well is up to us, especially once we understand the science and apply countermeasures wisely.
What is your Immunity Age?
The current pandemic came to reinforce two things. First, the important role the immune system plays in protecting our body against infections. And second, the fact that the protective capacity of our immune system commonly wanes with aging, especially for those who are aging unhealthily. We all recognize today that aging seems to be associated with decreased immune resilience. However, we also learn that those who are aging healthily, looking, acting, and feeling younger than their actual age, seem to have better immune resilience than those who suffer from multiple chronic aging-related diseases and frailty.
How old your immune system acts, is in fact more important than your actual age when you are fighting a virus, such as a coronavirus. Although there is advanced and sophisticated testing that allows us to quantify in numbers how strong your innate immune system might be, these tests are not yet available for the collective, as they are not easy to interpret and outside standard testing covered by insurance and Medicare. Yet, there are also ways to predict how resilient your immune system might be by analyzing your lifestyle, especially if the system focuses on those lifestyle and environmental factors that really matter and impact your immune system and cellular aging pace.
At ONOGEN, we decided to translate the complex concept of immunity resilience to an easy-to-understand number, your Immunity Age. Understanding your immunity age is the first step to take control over your immunity health and its aging pace. In an era where it has become increasingly more important to be healthy and preserve a strong immune system, tools developed to promote and encourage healthy habits are essential to age well.
Helping people be aware of how their own immune system works and what meaningful interventions are available that may improve the immune system while helping them to feel younger, stronger and healthier, is a logical first step.
ONOGEN is a Miami-based, biotech startup, which I have founded and led for the last 4 years. We have made it our mission to build the first and only Immunity Age Calculator, based on proprietary algorithms founded on the Nobel prize research of telomeres. While the prototype has already been launched for testing, I have been blessed with an amazing and inspiring team that is constantly working to simplify and enhance the questionnaire experience and expand the database, with a long term goal of building an AI platform that allows patients to receive personalized recommendations to help improve their Immunity Age.
We are currently looking for Investors to support the growth of our platform which has thus far, been self-funded. We plan to invest in expediting the research and development of the platform, which in turn would allow us to validate the algorithms and become the first evidence-based medical AI platform to assist people in slowing down aging from the inside out.
I am hopeful that as we become even more aware of how important healthy aging is for all of us, no matter our age, more resources will be dedicated to promote and encourage our project focus on healthy longevity.
My objective is that we finally learn this lesson and that we never again underestimate the power of our daily choice over our immune function. Quoting Dr. Dean Ornish, whose tireless work, efforts, and enthusiasm have been an inspiration for me throughout all these years of hard work: “Many people tend to think of breakthroughs in medicine as new drugs, lasers or high-tech surgical procedures. They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lifestyles – what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our relationships and social support- can be as powerful as drugs and surgery, but they often are. Sometimes even better.”(5)
While I have been using hashtags as #wearemany #weareone #weareonthistogether on my Instagram account @ChiefBiohacker, I think the pandemic has come to remind us that the health of others matters to all of us. Whereas, the pandemic made us more aware of how unhealthily we all were. Perhaps, it has also exposed how unempathetic some of us were towards our elderlies and their aging process. My goal is that ONOGEN’s Immunity Age Calculator becomes a tool to help us better prepare for potential future pandemics. We were caught off guard because we had not been putting enough meaningful efforts to promote and support people aging healthfully. This does not need to happen again.
Take The Immunity Age Quiz Here: Immunity Age Quiz | ONOGEN.
What Other Markers for Biological Age are Out There?
Extensive effort has been made, during the past decades, to identify reliable aging biomarkers that clearly measure individual Immunity and Functional Age, however, these efforts have been insufficient. The ultimate goal is to be able to predict an individual’s immune resilience, lifespan, and healthspan with a simple, friendly, scalable, affordable, replicable, and scientifically founded system.
Immunity Age is just the first step of a larger project to create a database that monitors not only your Immunity Age but also your Functional and Telomere Age. This quest has led me to research and develop multiple formulas and algorithms to calculate biological age based on different factors, including medical history, family history, quality of the relationship, degree of stress perception, lifestyle, functional capacity, body composition, and other personal and environmental factors that have been proven to influence significantly our chance of enjoying healthy longevity.
There are currently various state-of-the-art technologies in development as potential types of biological age predictors, including but not limited to the epigenetic clocks, telomere length, transcriptomic predictors, proteomic predictors, metabolomics-based predictors, and composite biomarker predictors. Of all of them, telomere length – the end protective cap of your chromosomes that determine the lifespan of your cells- and DNA methylation – the degree of chemical bond key for your DNA to express in a certain way duplicate correctly – seems to be the most validated and promising so far. I have chosen telomere length as my marker of choice because the evidence supports that it is a better marker to predict lifespan and health span. While, on the other hand, DNA methylation seems to be better at determining cellular age, its predictive power as to how good your aging process will be, seems to not have been validated yet. DNA methylation, although accurate, appears to be too static to have any empowering value in clinical practice. I found in my clinical practice that telomere length instead, is a more dynamic market. A marker that can reflect the impact of your efforts on your chance to live longer, younger, happier, and sexier. A dynamic marker means that it changes over time and therefore allows you to track and ultimately use it to derive whether an action should be validated or corrected. A marker that reflects which choices and behaviors you have taken are meant to promote your healthy longevity. Without a doubt, telomeres are the best available marker to help us create and design a personalized plan. I am also excited at the prospect that it also acts as a holistic marker, reflecting our emotions, outlook on life, mental health, and their impact on our genes and biology.
With the rapid aging of society in more developed and industrialized countries, research and biotech development in the field of immunity and aging become increasingly important. This realization, together with the recent and ongoing pandemic, hopefully, will facilitate rapid progress towards a better understanding of immunity and aging and the resulting anticipated improved application of this knowledge to develop meaningful therapeutic interventions in the years ahead.
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- Epel, E.S. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101(49): 17312-17315
- Blackburn EH. Telomeres and telomerase: their mechanisms of action and the effects of altering their functions. FEBS Lett. 2005;579:859–62
- Akbar, A, Gilroy D. Aging immunity may exacerbate COVID-19. Science 17 Jul 2020. VOl 369. Issue 6501, pp. 256-57
- Ornish, D. Mostly plants. Am J Cardiol. 2009 Oct 1;104(7):957-8
- Tina Woods. “Healthy Longevity For All” Wins the Vote For the Global Health Reset. Forbes,com Nov 18, 2020
- Blackburn EH. Epel, E.S.The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer. Grand Central Publishing. 2017
- Sinclair, D. A. & LaPlante, M. D. Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To 13–23, 158–175 (Simon & Schuster, 2019)
- Lu, Y., Brommer, B., Tian, X. et al. Reprogramming to recover youthful epigenetic information and restore vision. Nature 588, 124–129 (2020)
- Weng NP, Pawelec G. Research on immunity and aging comes of age. Immun Ageing. 2019;16:8. Published 2019 Apr 29.