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

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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]

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?

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iStock

It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2012.

One Good Reason Not to Hold in a Fart: It Could Leak Out of Your Mouth

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iStock/grinvalds

The next time you hold in a fart for fear of being heard by polite company, just remember this: It could leak out of your mouth instead of your butt. Writing on The Conversation, University of Newcastle nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins explains that pent-up gas can pass through your gut wall and get reabsorbed into your circulation. It's then released when you exhale, whether you like it or not.

“Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” Collins writes. In this case, the fart comes out of the wrong end. Talk about potty mouth.

A few brave scientists have investigated the phenomenon of flatulence. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were fed half a can of baked beans in addition to their regular diets and given a rectal catheter to measure their farts over a 24-hour period. Although it was a small sample, the results were still telling. Men and women let loose the same amount of gas, and the average number of “flatus episodes” (a single fart, or series of farts) during that period was eight. Another study of 10 people found that high-fiber diets led to fewer but bigger farts, and a third study found that gases containing sulphur are the culprit of the world’s stinkiest farts. Two judges were tapped to rate the odor intensity of each toot, and we can only hope that they made it out alive.

Scientific literature also seems to support Collins’s advice to “let it go.” A 2010 paper on “Methane and the gastrointestinal tract” says methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that are produced in the intestinal tract are mostly eliminated from the body via the anus or “expelled from the lungs.” Holding it in can lead to belching, flatulence, bloating, and pain. And in some severe cases, pouches can form along the wall of the colon and get infected, causing diverticulitis.

So go ahead and let it rip, just like nature intended—but maybe try to find an empty room first.

[h/t CBS Philadelphia]

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