What blood tests tell us about living to 100

Iris 100

By our mid-60s our blood test results can predict our likelihood of becoming centenarians.

Not that I’m arguing we should all aspire to that. Plenty of folk who make it to 100 aren’t exactly hale and hearty. They can be anywhere between robust and frail.

And what most of us are interested in is having as many healthy, active, enjoyable years as we can, not hanging around waiting to hear from the King (if that even happens now).

Still, a Swedish study gives us an idea of what blood markers are linked to reaching that milestone.

Researchers collected blood test results from a major lab in Stockholm over 35 years, from 1985 to 2020.

Almost 45,000 people aged 64 to 99 were followed until the youngest, if still alive, would have turned 100.

Twelve markers were examined, reflecting:

  • metabolic function (blood glucose and total cholesterol)
  • inflammation (uric acid, which is also a marker of gout)
  • liver function (there were six markers for this, including albumin and GGT, which stands for gamma-glutamyl transferase, if you care. You’ll find these on your own general blood test.)
  • kidney function (creatinine), and
  • anemia (iron and total iron binding capacity or TIBC).

These were used because they’d been linked with ageing or mortality in previous studies.

By 2020 the researchers could identify that 13.1 percent of the study group had died before they were 80, 47.6 percent lived to between 80 and 90, 36.6 percent survived into their 90s, and 2.7 percent made it to 100.

Women comprised 85 percent of the centenarians.

Those who reached 100 had lower glucose, higher cholesterol (shock, horror), much lower uric acid, lower liver markers, lower creatinine, and better iron levels.

A few takeaways:

  • Blood glucose is a significant marker. As it goes up, the likelihood of living to 100 goes down. We lower glucose by cutting back carbs and not over-eating. (And cutting back carbs helps to not over-eat
  • Total cholesterol was higher in centenarians, a result that echoes what other studies have shown, i.e. that higher cholesterol is associated with a longer life, in spite of the advice we get about it increasing our risk of a heart attack.
  • Lower uric acid was another key marker. Alcohol and fructose (a type of sugar) are linked with higher uric acid. Fruit juices and soft drinks are high in fructose, as is any product containing high fructose corn syrup. (Alcohol-related markers were generally lower in the longer-lived, though another study is probably needed to tease that out.)
  • Iron was also important. Being anemic in old age is linked with organ failure, depression, and poor overall function.
  • Clearly liver function matters too. A good diet, avoiding infection, and not too much booze will help.

There’s plenty this study doesn’t cover. Genes no doubt play a role in longevity. So do lifestyle factors such as smoking and physical activity. We don’t know about any of that.

And maybe these 12 aren’t the definitive markers.

Nonetheless, they probably give us an indication of not only who’s more likely to live to 100, but, more usefully, how to retain our health and vitality for as long as we can.

And they show up from our 60s, which hopefully gives us time to improve them.

How do we do that?

Bottom line: put your dietary efforts into controlling your glucose levels. Eat fewer carbs or learn to manage them better.

Be smart about what you’re drinking.

Skip the processed stuff and eat the best quality real food you can (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, vegies, nuts, legumes, and so forth).

Those steps will take care of most things, including helping your liver.

Oh, and don’t lose sleep over your cholesterol (unless it’s low, then maybe you should worry. 😉)


Photo Source: Harper’s Bazaar

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