By Anastasia Stephens MailOnline Daily Mail, UK
The latest UK Transplant campaign highlights that age is no barrier when it comes to organ donation, as chronological age has little to do with organ function.
'Our birth age and biological age can be quite different, with people remaining much younger than their birth age if they look after themselves,' says Dr Graham Lipkin, an organ-transplant specialist.
'We recently had a woman in her 80s who was biologically exceptionally young and she donated a kidney to her son. Equally, you can develop age-related disease far younger than you otherwise would if you smoke, drink alcohol and eat unhealthy food,' says Dr Lipkin, who works at BMI The Priory Hospital in Birmingham.
I put this theory to the test with a series of medical screenings to determine the biological age of my insides. At 38, I have what I consider a healthy lifestyle. I drink a few glasses of wine a week and counter my fondness for salty popcorn and cakes with plenty of fruit and veg, wholefoods and some meat. Plus I exercise at least three times a week combining yoga with running and swimming.
But until my mid-20s I smoked at least 20 a day. What bearing will that have on my lungs?
EYESIGHT: Biological age 33
THE TEST: During routine eyesight checks at an optician, a photograph can be taken of the back of the eye, or retina. This shows the optic nerve, the blood supply to the eyes and the macula, a pigmented area that can degenerate in old age. People gradually lose the ability to focus close-up which is why those over 45 may need to wear reading glasses. An average 20-year-old can focus on objects held three inches from their eyes. A 45-year-old can focus only on those eight inches away. Eye tests at most High Street opticians cost £20.
Carolyn Zweig, Boots optometrist, says: 'Anastasia's macular and retina appeared a healthy pinky orange and her intraocular pressure, which is raised in those with glaucoma, was in the normal range. While 20:20 vision is considered to be ideal vision, Anastasia has 20:15 vision which is even better and means her vision is sharper than the average. Whereas most people her age can only focus at six inches, Anastasia's eyes were able to focus at five, the average for a 33-year-old.'
HEARING: Biological age 38
THE TEST: The standard is an audiometric test in which the patient sits in a soundproof booth and is asked to identify different sound frequencies and volumes in each ear through a headset. With age, cells in the inner ear that enable us to hear high-pitched sounds die. The result is hearing loss. This usually begins around the age of 55, but excessive exposure to loud noises for long periods can significantly speed up the process.
To find out about free hearing assessments, see www.rnid.org.uk.
RNID audiologist Crystal Rolfe says: 'An individual with healthy hearing should easily be able to hear sounds of 20 decibels - the equivalent to the noise of rustling leaves - and above, in both ears.
'Anastasia was worried she may have had some hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise in nightclubs in her early 20s.
'In fact, her hearing was in the normal, healthy range. I would say the biological age of her ears matches her age in years.'
LIVER: Biological age 35
THE TEST: A blood test can assess levels of chemicals in the blood produced by the liver. Healthy levels of these indicate good liver function , whereas low levels or overproduction may indicate something is wrong.
Unlike organs such as the lungs, the tissue of the liver can regenerate, meaning it can hold up well with age, even if you drink alcohol. It is when you really abuse it with excessive and long-term drinking that fibrosis and inflammation set in.
Viral infections can have the same effect. If you consider this damage to be 'ageing', you could say these factors advance biological age.
A new specialist test called a fibroscan uses ultrasound waves to assess liver fibrosis, or the build-up of tough, hardened scar tissue within the organ that may indicate disease.
A fibroscan at The London Clinic Liver Centre (www.thelondon clinic.co.uk) costs £230. Blood tests for basic liver function are available through your GP.
Rajiv Jalan, professor of hepatology at University College London, says: 'When the liver is damaged, it heals by scarring and it stiffens and that is what we measure in the fibroscan. If the scarring is not too advanced, the liver can regenerate and recover. But after a certain stage, that damage is permanent.
'The fibroscan shows the levels of fibrous tissue in Anastasia's liver are low. The blood test confirmed her liver cells are healthy. Anastasia's liver is functioning as well as we'd expect for a woman of 35.'
HEART: Biological age 33
THE TESTS: A heart health check may consist of a blood test and an ultrasound assessment of arteries in the neck. The blood test checks for cholesterol levels, blood sugar and inflammation, while the ultrasound will look for calcified deposits, a contributing factor in high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
With age, factors such as inflammation, high blood sugar and higher levels of bad LDL-cholesterol will raise your risk of cardiovascular disease.
On the other hand, lower levels of bad cholesterol and blood sugar when you are younger will help keep your heart and arteries young as they are less likely to fur up. If you have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes or being overweight, you can request an assessment at your local GP surgery.
A Heart Health Check at London Medical Chambers (www.londonmedicalchambers.com) costs £100.
Consultant cardiologist Dr Ferruccio de Lorenzo says: 'By looking at her blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as her age and weight and comparing them against statistics, Anastasia has a one per cent risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next ten years.
'This is what I would expect for someone of her age unless they were overweight or had diabetes or high blood pressure.
'Her levels of HDL-cholesterol are above average, at 1.7, compared to 1.4 which is the usual reading for a woman of her age. This is good because HDL-cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that actively prevents arteries from furring up.'
LUNGS: Biological age 52
THE TEST: A spirometry test - which measures lung capacity - can assess lung age, or the level of lung function, taking into account weight and height. The test involves inhaling and exhaling completely through a tube into a meter. It can be requested at your GP surgery. To find out more, visit www.lunguk.org.
Professor Stephen Spiro, vice-chairman of the British Lung Foundation, says: 'The spirometer measures how much air your lungs can expel in the first second. This tells us how elastic and springy the lungs are - something you lose with age. Smoking dramatically speeds up this process. Once you lose lung elasticity, you cannot get it back. She took the test several times and her lung age averaged at around 52. Anastasia cannot reduce this, but she can look after her lungs by keeping fit and not smoking.'
KIDNEYS: Biological age 38
THE TEST: Kidney function can be assessed with a standard blood test that measures the glomerular filtration rate (GFR). That is the rate that the kidneys filter waste products from the blood. Smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure can all damage the kidneys, so speed up their ageing process. The sooner kidney dysfunction is diagnosed and treated, the greater the odds of preserving whatever function is left, preventing the need for medical treatment.
Blood tests to assess kidney function are available through your GP.
London GP Dr Jane Fleming says: 'Anastasia's GFR gave a reading of over 90ml per minute which indicates her kidneys are healthy and functioning well. All healthy kidneys will filter blood at a rate of more than 90ml per minute.
'Anything under this is a sign of kidney disease - a filtration rate of under 60ml per minute indicates your kidney disease is moderate or severe. Anastasia does not have kidney disease in her family, is now a non-smoker, does not have diabetes and her blood pressure is normal so her kidneys reflect those of a healthy person of her age.'
OVARIES: Biological age 39
THE TEST: With age, the number of eggs a woman has decline in quantity and quality until menopause, when fertility ceases. The quality of eggs also declines as the genetic material in them may become damaged. Ovary size can also diminish with age, while the risk of other problems, such as fibroids, endometriosis and ovarian cysts, increases.
A 3D scan can reveal the health of the uterus and ovaries as well as the blood supplying them, while blood tests can measure levels of AMH, a hormone that indicates ovarian reserve, or how many eggs a woman has left. If you are having problems conceiving, speak to your GP about testing.
A Fertility MOT at the Centre for Reproduction & Advanced Technology (www.createhealth.org) costs £200.
Consultant gynaecologist Geeta Nargun, says: 'All women are born with one to two million eggs, but most of these will waste away, and by puberty women have about 300,000 left. By the time a woman reaches her late 30s, she may have just a few thousand left.
'Anastasia has a healthy-looking uterus with a good blood supply. In some women, ovaries can become smaller with age, but Anastasia's ovaries are an inch which is a good size. However, the AMH blood test shows that her number of eggs is lower than I would expect for her age.
'Her fertility clock is more like that of a woman of 39, which means she has a year less of fertile life. Smoking, stress and alcohol all significantly speed up your fertility clock, but particularly smoking.'
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