Heart may not be only organ to defy laws of physics

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The heart age test is back. In case you didn’t catch it first time round, this is an app designed to make the health-conscious middle classes even more anxious.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, took to Twitter to hail the test as a brilliant public health initiative and a very fine app indeed.

As the Today programme on Radio 4 reported, four out of five of the 2 million who have already taken the test have hearts older than the rest of their bodies – ten years older in 14% of cases. This means that 80% could die at any minute, while the rest have an increased risk of dying eventually.

The news will have a stimulating effect on general practice as worried citizens seek a second opinion on the vintage of their tickers, before going home to make a will, get their affairs in order and say their farewells to loved ones.

Why our hearts are ageing at a different rate to the rest of our bodies is a mystery. It could be due to antimicrobial resistance or to stress caused by Brexit. It may have something to do with energy drinks. Public health experts are unable to say for sure.

Whatever the cause, the heart age revelations raise important questions about the age of the rest of our bodies and about the nature of time itself.

If a 35 year old woman can have a 40 year old heart, might she also have a 28 year old pancreas, 56 year old kidneys and 19 year old bowels?  If so, how old would that make her?

We have to face the possibility that the notion of a human being as a single, integrated system comprising parts of the same age may be flawed.

What we like to think of as a “whole person” may actually be a group of autonomous, discrete organs which share the same host but not the same birthday.

There needs to be more research, starting with an in-depth study of the long-term health effects of John Humphrys. We already think we know the answers, but as scientists we need to see the evidence.

Health gimmicks editor: Julian Patterson


Reproduced at TrainingPrimaryCare.com by kind permission of Julian Patterson.