Don't Be So Quick to Trust Companies That Claim to Know Your 'Cellular' Age

iStock
iStock

Coinciding with the popularity of DNA testing kits, companies that claim to be able to tell your “cellular age” from a drop of blood have also attracted quite a few customers.

However, their results can’t always be trusted, according to Science News. Oncologist and Johns Hopkins researcher Mary Armanios told the website that the tests can do more harm than good by sending perfectly healthy customers into a panic. 

“The telomere belongs in the clinic and should not be used as a form of molecular palm reading,” Armanios tells Science News. For instance, Armanios shared the story of one man in his forties who learned he supposedly had the telomeres of an 80-year-old. In hopes of making the most of his remaining time, he quit his job, sold his house, and put off surgery that he believed would further shorten his telomeres.

For a cost of roughly $100, some companies claim to not only be able to tell you your cellular age, but also tell you how to improve your health so that you can live longer. They measure the length of telomeres, the cap at the ends of your chromosomes, in order to determine your biological age. Telomeres shorten with age, but other factors—like diet—can also chip away at them, potentially causing disease and other health-related problems. (On the other hand, telomeres can get longer in outer space, as astronaut Scott Kelly learned.)

However, as Science News notes, this isn’t always the most accurate indicator of health or life span because what’s considered “normal” encompasses a wider range than what those companies would have you believe. Extra-long telomeres may be associated with a higher cancer risk, and on the flip side, shorter telomeres don’t necessarily mean you’ll keel over tomorrow.

Indeed, the tests used by these companies have a 20 percent variability rate, meaning they can produce different results on different days, and not all scientists agree that telomere length can be used as a “biomarker” of age. The National Institute of Aging reached the conclusion that biomarkers for aging could not be scientifically validated, according to WIRED.

Research on telomere length can do a lot of good, though, when done correctly in a lab. These tests can be used to diagnose rare disorders and help patients get the care they need.

[h/t Science News]

No Venom, No Problem: This Spider Uses a Slingshot to Catch Prey

Courtesy of Sarah Han
Courtesy of Sarah Han

There are thousands of ways nature can kill, and spider species often come up with the most creative methods of execution. Hyptiotes cavatus, otherwise known as the triangle weaver spider, is one such example. Lacking venom, the spider manages to weaponize its silk, using it to hurl itself forward like a terrifying slingshot to trap its prey.

This unusual method was studied up close for a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio. They say it's the only known instance of an animal using an external device—its web—for power amplification.

Hyptiotes cavatus's technique is simple. After constructing a web, the spider takes one of the main strands and breaks it in half, pulling it taut by moving backwards. Then, it anchors itself to a spot with more webbing in the rear. When the spider releases that webbing, it surges forward, propelled by the sudden release of stored energy. In the slingshot analogy, the webbing is the strap and the spider is the projectile.

This jerking motion causes the web to oscillate, tangling the spider's prey further in silk. The spider can repeat this until the web has completely immobilized its prey, a low-risk entrapment that doesn’t require the spider to get too close and risk injury from larger victims.

The triangle weaver spider doesn’t have venom, and it needs to be proactive in attacking and stifling prey. Once a potential meal lands in its web, it’s able to clear distances much more quickly using this slingshot technique than if it crawled over. In the lab, scientists clocked the spider’s acceleration at 2535 feet per second squared.

Spiders are notoriously nimble and devious. Cebrennus rechenbergi, or the flic-flac spider, can do cartwheels to spin out of danger; Myrmarachne resemble ants and even wiggle their front legs like ant antennae. It helps them avoid predators, but if they see a meal, they’ll drop the act and pounce. With H. cavatus, it now appears they’re learning to use tools, too.

[h/t Live Science]

Bad News: The Best Time of the Day to Drink Coffee Isn’t as Soon as You Wake Up

iStock.com/ThomasVogel
iStock.com/ThomasVogel

If you depend on coffee to help get you through the day, you can rest assured that you’re not the world's only caffeine fiend. Far from it. According to a 2018 survey, 64 percent of Americans said they had consumed coffee the previous day—the highest percentage seen since 2012.

While we’re collectively grinding more beans, brewing more pots, and patronizing our local coffee shops with increased frequency, we might not be maximizing the health and energy-boosting benefits of our daily cup of joe. According to Inc., an analysis of 127 scientific studies highlighted the many benefits of drinking coffee, from a longer average life span to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

Sounds great, right? The only problem is that the benefits of coffee might be diminished depending on the time of day that you drink it. Essentially, science tells us that it’s best to drink coffee when your body’s cortisol levels are low. That’s because both caffeine and cortisol cause a stress response in your body, and too much stress is bad for your health for obvious reasons. In addition, it might end up making you more tired in the long run.

Cortisol, a stress hormone, is released in accordance with your circadian rhythms. This varies from person to person, but in general, someone who wakes up at 6:30 a.m. would see their cortisol levels peak in different windows, including 8 to 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m., and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Someone who rises at 10 a.m. would experience cortisol spikes roughly three hours later, and ultra-early risers can expect to push this schedule three hours forward.

However, these cortisol levels start to rise as soon as you start moving in the morning, so it isn’t an ideal time to drink coffee. Neither is the afternoon, because doing so could make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. This means that people who wake up at 6:30 a.m. should drink coffee after that first cortisol window closes—roughly between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.—if they want to benefit for a little caffeine jolt.

To put it simply: "I would say that mid-morning or early afternoon is probably the best time," certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Lisiewski told CNBC. "That's when your cortisol levels are at their lowest and you actually benefit from the stimulant itself."

[h/t Inc.]

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