Not too long ago, a paper published in the journal Current Biology identified a unique somatic mutation that essentially widens the gap between our chronological and epigenetic age. Our chronological age refers to the number of years we’ve been alive, while our epigenetic age is a molecular assessment of the state of our biology. While this biological count doesn’t encompass every aspect of aging, it’s the most accurate risk predictor for most age-related diseases.
It’s not only possible for your epigenetic clock to surpass the number on your birthday cake, but some researchers believe the biochemical test might be the key to reversing the aging process. According to a new study published in the journal Aging Cell, after being administered a three-drug combo, participants successfully restored their thymus gland, thus reversing some important health factors associated with aging. From the report: “Using a protocol intended to regenerate the thymus, we observed protective immunological changes, improved risk indices for many age‐related diseases, and a mean epigenetic age approximately one and a half years less than baseline after one year of treatment.”
The role of the thymus gland
The thymus gland, located behind the sternum, is only active until we’re done with puberty, protecting us from diseases by producing important white blood cells. Once puberty is complete, the gland begins to slowly shrink over the course of our lifetime, getting clogged up with fat withal.
Employing a crop of otherwise healthy young men, the researchers behind the latest study derived their conclusion from three different drugs: Recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH), which has been previously studied in anti-aging research, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and metformin. The last two were primary to mitigate the diabetes risk increase associated with rhGH, but neither have any effect on the thymus directly.
While none of them experienced any health setback from the regimen, 77% of the participants evidenced reverse aging in their thymus. More dramatically, after nine months of adhering to the three-drug regimen, the participants involved in the study were epigenetically two and a half years younger. The authors of the study wrote, “PSA, percent free PSA, and the ratio of PSA to percent free PSA, an overall index of prostate cancer risk, improved significantly by day 15 of treatment and remained favorably altered to the end of 12 months. A brief spike in PSA at six months in two volunteers was rapidly reversed and, after volunteer consultation, was interpreted as reflecting sexual activity close to the time of PSA testing. No change in testosterone levels was observed.”
These results certainly suggest a bright future for epigenetic research down the pike, but the study had limitations, including the small size of the participant group. The authors intend to further their research in the very near future.