We receive many inquiries from people asking “What can I do to improve my health and longevity?” or “What kind of supplements do I need?”. Our answer is that we “have no idea” unless we know what your blood looks like under a microscope.
Annual blood testing is the most important step aging adults can take to prevent life-threatening disease. With blood test results in hand, you can catch critical changes in your body before they manifest as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or worse.
Blood tests have benefits that go far beyond disease prevention. For example, by monitoring levels of sex hormones, you can take decisive steps to enhance your quality of life, perhaps by correcting a depressive mental state, erectile dysfunction, abdominal obesity, or by improving your memory and energy levels.
In this article, we discuss the 12 most important blood tests that people over the age of 40 should have each year.
Armed with the results of these tests, aging adults can work together with their healthcare providers to avert serious health problems and achieve optimal health. ByClue Nutrition has partnered with Life Extension specifically on nutritional lab testing (click here).
1.Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A complete blood count, or CBC, is an easy and very common test that screens for certain disorders that can affect your health, ranging from anemia and infection to cancer. It determines if there are any increases or decreases in your blood cell counts, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Normal values vary depending on your age and your gender. Your lab report will tell you the normal value range for your age and gender.
2.Chemistry (Basic Metabolic Panel)
This blood test gives information about your body’s metabolism, or how your body uses food for energy. It gives a snapshot of the health of your kidneys, your blood sugar levels, and the levels of key electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium. This test can help uncover a variety of medical issues, including: kidney, lung, pancreas problems or insulin metabolism. If adding a liver panel, it becomes Comprehensive Metabolic Panel.
An important contributor to blood clotting, fibrinogen levels increase in response to tissue inflammation. Since the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease are essentially inflammatory processes, increased fibrinogen levels can help predict the risk of heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney).
One of the best ways to assess your glucose status is testing for hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c).5 This test measures a person’s blood sugar control over the last two to three months and is an independent predictor of heart disease risk in persons with or without diabetes. Maintaining healthy hemoglobin A1C levels may also help patients with diabetes to prevent some of the complications of the disease.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Blood levels of DHEA peak in one’s twenties and then decline dramatically with age, decreasing to 20-30% of peak youthful levels between the ages of 70 and 80. DHEA is frequently referred to as an “anti-aging” hormone. Healthy levels of DHEA may support immune function, bone density, mood, libido, and healthy body composition.
6.Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) (Men Only)
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein manufactured by the prostate gland in men. Elevated levels may suggest an enlarged prostate, prostate inflammation, or prostate cancer. PSA levels may also be used to monitor the efficacy of therapeutic regimens for prostate conditions.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual PSA testing for men beginning at age 50. Men who are at high risk should begin PSA testing at age 40-45. PSA levels increase with age, even in the absence of prostate abnormalities.1
The amino acid homocysteine is formed in the body during the metabolism of methionine. High homocysteine levels have been associated with increased risk of heart attack, bone fracture, and poor cognitive function.
Natural therapies may help to optimize homocysteine levels. You may wish to discuss with your doctor the use of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folic acid, and trimethylglycine.
8. C-Reactive Protein
Increasingly, medical science is discovering that inflammation within the body can lead to a range of life-threatening degenerative diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and cognitive decline. By measuring your body’s level of inflammation through regular C-reactive protein testing, you can devise a strategy of diet, exercise, and supplementation to halt many of these conditions.
9. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
Secreted by the pituitary gland, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) controls thyroid hormone secretion in the thyroid. Overt hyper- or hypothyroidism is generally easy to diagnose, but subclinical disease can be more elusive. Because the symptoms of thyroid imbalance may be nonspecific or absent and may progress slowly, and since many doctors do not routinely screen for thyroid function, people with mild hyper- or hypothyroidism can go undiagnosed for some time. Undiagnosed mild disease can progress to clinical disease states. This is a dangerous scenario, since people with hypothyroidism and elevated serum cholesterol and LDL have an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
A ferritin test measures the amount of ferritin in your blood. Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron. A ferritin test helps your doctor understand how much iron your body is storing.
A lower than normal ferritin level indicates your body’s iron stores are low and you have iron deficiency, and a higher than normal level could indicate that you have a condition that causes your body to store too much iron. It could also point to liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, other inflammatory conditions or hyperthyroidism. Some types of cancer also may cause your blood ferritin level to be high.
11. Testosterone (Free)
Testosterone is produced in the testes in men, in the ovaries in women, and in the adrenal glands of both men and women. Men and women alike can be dramatically affected by the decline in testosterone levels that occurs with aging.
In the serum of both men and women, less than 2% of testosterone typically is found in the free (uncomplexed) state. Unlike bound testosterone, the free form of the hormone can circulate in the brain and affect nerve cells. Testosterone plays different roles in men and women, including the regulation of fertility, libido, and muscle mass. In men, free testosterone levels may be used to evaluate whether sufficient bioactive testosterone is available to protect against abdominal obesity, mental depression, osteoporosis, and heart disease. In women, low levels of testosterone have been associated with decreased libido and well-being, while high levels of free testosterone may indicate hirsuitism (a condition of excessive hair growth on the face and chest) or polycystic ovarian syndrome. Increased testosterone in women may also indicate low estrogen levels.
Like testosterone, both men and women need estrogen for numerous physiological functions. Estradiol is the primary circulating form of estrogen in men and women, and is an indicator of hypothalamic and pituitary function. Men produce estradiol in much smaller amounts than do women; most estradiol is produced from testosterone and adrenal steroid hormones, and a fraction is produced directly by the testes. In women, estradiol is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and peripheral tissues. Levels of estradiol vary throughout the menstrual cycle, and drop to low but constant levels after menopause.
In women, blood estradiol levels help to evaluate menopausal status and sexual maturity. Increased levels in women may indicate an increased risk for breast or endometrial cancer. Estradiol plays a role in supporting healthy bone density in men and women. Low levels are associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture in men and women as well. Elevated levels of estradiol in men may accompany gynecomastia (breast enlargement), diminished sex drive, and difficulty with urination.
Yearly blood testing is a simple yet powerful strategy to help you proactively take charge of your current and future health. A well-chosen complement of blood tests can thoroughly assess your overall state of health, as well as detect the silent warning signals that precede the development of serious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Many diseases and disorders are treatable when caught early, but can severely impair the quality and length of your life if left unattended. Identifying these hidden risk factors will enable you to implement powerful strategies such as proper nutrition, weight loss, exercise, supplements, and medications in order to prevent progression to full-blown, life-threatening diseases. Blood testing can also detect biochemical changes that threaten well-being and quality of life, such as declining levels of sex hormones.
Armed with information on important health biomarkers, you and your physician can plan and execute a strategy to help you achieve and maintain vibrant health.