Age is just a number—and one you may be able to change. At least that’s the pitch behind Tally Healtha new startup that’s among a crop of companies selling tests that offer to tell consumers their “biological age.”
You’ve heard of at-home tests like those from 23andMe and Ancestrywhich scan your DNA to provide information about ethnic heritage and health risks. Now, a wave of startups is marketing tests that claim to parse your blood, urine, or a cheek swab to reveal your biological age. The tests measure epigenetic patterns, or changes in the body that affect how genes behave. Unlike a calendar age, which marches along at the same pace for everyone, biological age is the speed at which cells, tissues, and organs appear to decline—and that can vary, depending on a person’s health history.
Tally Health, which launched last week, is one of around a dozen companies that offer these tests. Harvard University biologist David Sinclair, the company’s cofounder, describes its version as something like a credit score for your body. You swab your cheek and drop your sample in the mail, and the company sends you back your biological age. “If you’re younger, that’s great. We want to keep you there and even make you stay younger as you get chronologically older,” Sinclair says. “If you come up with a number that’s older than your cohort, then we’re here to help get you back to not just average, but even below average, biological age.”
Genetics and lifestyle both contribute to aging. Choices like diet, exercise, smoking, and drinking alcohol all cause epigenetic changes in how genes behave. Exposure to stress, trauma, and pollution can also have an effect. Scientists think the accumulation of all these factors affects a person’s biological age, but Sinclair believes that genetics are far less important than factors that are largely within a person’s control. (Sinclair is 53, but he says that, according to Tally Health’s test, his biological age is more like 43.)
Sinclair is an influential and often controversial researcher in the antiaging field thanks to his promotion of resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes, which he once called “as close to a miraculous molecule as you can find.” Other researchers have been more cautious about resveratrol’s possible benefitsgiven its mixed results in animal tests. (Sinclair takes resveratrol supplements dailyand his Harvard lab is still pursuing research on the compound). Sinclair has founded several biotech companies, including ones focused on longevity, and his 2019 book Lifespan: Why We Age–and Why We Don’t Have To, debuted on The New York Times bestseller list.
“What we are trying to do, at the highest level, is to change the way we age,” says Melanie Goldey, CEO of Tally Health. “It’s one number that tells you how your body is really aging versus how many birthdays you’ve had.” (Goldey says her biological age is about six months younger than her chronological one.)
In addition to giving each customer an age reading, the New York City–based company provides an action plan of personalized lifestyle recommendations, such as getting more sleep, spending less time sitting, minimizing stress, or eating more vegetables—arguably things that most people could benefit from. Users can take a one-time test for $229 or get a membership to test every three months so they can monitor their biological age over time. “We think that’s a good amount of time for people to get their action plan, be empowered by the information, choose the adjustments they want to make, and actually implement some change,” Goldey says.
She says the company had amassed a wait list of more than 270,000 people when it launched, although she didn’t say how many people have signed up for a membership, which ranges from $129 to $199 a month.