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Did you know that centenarians, people who live to 100 years of age, are the fastest-growing demographic group of the world’s population?
It’s true! Their numbers have been roughly doubling every 10 years since the 1970s.
According to a 2022 estimate by the United Nations (UN), there are 593,000 centenarians living in the world. And the UN projects there will be 3.7 million centenarians alive by 2050.
You may be wondering what their secret is. And you wouldn’t be the only one. However, understanding what it takes to make it to 100 involves studying the complicated interaction between genetics and lifestyle factors.
One team of Swedish researchers has come closer to grasping this interplay by examining the blood of people who live past 90. This is what they found…
Biomarkers varied for centenarians
The researchers looked at data from 44,000 Swedes in the Amoris cohort who were given health assessments at ages 64 to 99. These participants were then followed through Swedish register data for up to 35 years.
Of these participants, 1,224, or 2.7 percent lived to be 100 years old. And 85 percent of those centenarians were female.
The researchers compared the biomarker profiles of people who went on to live past the age of 100 and their shorter-lived peers, then investigated the link between the profiles and the chance of becoming a centenarian.
The study included 12 blood-based biomarkers related to inflammation, metabolism, liver and kidney function, as well as potential malnutrition and anemia. All of these have been linked with aging or mortality in previous studies.
- The biomarker related to inflammation was uric acid, a waste product caused by the digestion of certain foods, which is also an indicator of gout and cardio risk.
- Markers linked to metabolic function and status included total cholesterol and glucose.
- Liver function biomarkers included alanine aminotransferase (Alat), aspartate aminotransferase (Asat), gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and lactate dehydrogenase (LD).
- The researchers also looked at creatinine, which is linked to kidney function, and iron and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC), which is linked to anemia.
- They investigated a biomarker associated with nutrition known as albumin.
For many of the biomarkers, both centenarians and non-centenarians had values outside the range considered normal by clinical standards. This is likely because the guidelines are set based on a younger and healthier population.
But there were definite differences…
What the blood work revealed
The authors concluded that “from age 65 onwards, a difference in commonly available biomarkers was observed between individuals who eventually became centenarians and those who did not.
“Higher levels of total cholesterol and iron and lower levels of glucose, creatinine, uric acid, ASAT, GGT, ALP, TIBC, and LD were associated with a greater likelihood of becoming a centenarian.
“While chance likely plays a role for reaching age 100, the differences in biomarker values more than one decade prior to death suggest that genetic and/or lifestyle factors, reflected in these biomarker levels may also play a role for exceptional longevity.
“Our work — to date the largest study on this topic — also shows that centenarians had homogeneous biomarker profiles which underscores the importance of specific biomarker characteristics in research on exceptional longevity.”
In absolute terms, the differences for some of the biomarkers were rather small, while for others they were somewhat more substantial…
For instance, for uric acid, the absolute difference was 2.5 percentage points. This means that people in the group with the lowest uric acid had a 4 percent chance of reaching 100, while only 1.5 percent of the group with the highest uric acid levels made it to age 100.
For most biomarkers, the median values didn’t differ significantly between centenarians and non-centenarians; however, centenarians rarely displayed extremely high or low values.
For example, very few of the centenarians had a glucose level above 6.5 earlier in life, or a creatinine level above 125. For comparison, a healthy blood glucose level is somewhere between 3.9 and 5.5, and a healthy creatinine level is 61.9 to 114.9 for men and 53 to 97.2 for women.
Managing these biomarkers
Though overall rather small, the differences suggest a potential link between metabolic health, nutrition and exceptional longevity.
This study doesn’t allow for any conclusions as to which lifestyle factors or genes are responsible for the biomarker values. However, it’s reasonable to think that factors such as nutrition and alcohol intake play a part.
The researchers say as you get older, keeping track of your kidney and liver values, as well as glucose and uric acid, is probably a good idea.
Even better, you could take steps toward keeping these values low in the first place. For example, to lower uric acid levels, try reducing the amount of red meat, seafood, alcohol and sugary sodas you consume. Some foods help reduce uric acid, such as almonds, as well as the DASH diet, which can lower blood uric acid levels by as much as 1.3 milligrams per deciliter.
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Want to live to be 100? Here’s what experts recommend. — The Washington Post
Blood Glucose (Sugar) Test — Cleveland Clinic
Creatinine blood test — Mount Sinai