3 Blood Tests To Ask For If You Want To Track Your Longevity, From An MD
We talk about longevity quite a lot here at mbg. (So much, in fact, that our 400th episode of the mbg podcast was dedicated to all the longevity-supporting tips we've learned!) Although, the concept can be a little elusive; after all, it can be pretty difficult to track your longevity progress unless, well, you stop living.
However, according to precision medicine physician Matt Dawson, M.D., co-founder and CEO of Wild Health, a few blood tests can help provide a snapshot—namely, a combination of genetic analysis, lab results, and microbiome tests. On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, Dawson shares which tests he believes can help you craft a specific, personalized plan that best fits your longevity goals. If you're interested in increasing your life span and health span, here's what you should ask for at the doctor:
1. Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C)
"I use hemoglobin A1c just as a proxy for metabolic health in general," says Dawson. As a refresher: An HbA1C test measures the percentage of red blood cells saturated with glucose. The higher your A1C, the higher the estimated average blood glucose over two to three months. And according to many doctors, Dawson included, an HbA1C test is a great way to get a heads-up about blood sugar issues, insulin resistance, and prediabetes before they manifest as serious health problems.
Functional Nutrition Training
A cutting-edge nutrition deep dive taught by the world’s foremost health & wellness experts
"The [diseases] most likely to kill us as Americans are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia," says Dawson, and your metabolic health can affect all three. Gaining an entire snapshot of your metabolic health will likely take more than an HbA1C test (here are six markers doctors say you should look for), but it can help clue you in. In fact, a high HbA1C marker may also increase your risk of Alzheimer's disease and cancer—potentially making the test a good predictor of overall longevity.
In terms of an optimal A1C range, Dawson says you want to stay below 6.0, ideally 5.0, if you can swing it. "If someone comes in with an A1C of 5.5, a regular physician would say that's [fine]," he notes. "We think pushing that down a little lower is probably even better, so we like to keep it under 5.5. Our optimal and perfect place would be 5.0, which for some folks is nearly impossible to get there. But the lower the better, in general."
2. APOB and LDL-P cholesterol tests
"Cholesterol is a hot topic as far as how important it is [for metabolic health], but having really high APOB or LDL-P are going to put you at a higher risk [of cardiovascular disease]," says Dawson. Integrative doctors especially call for more advanced LDL-P tests, which include a breakdown of lipoprotein size (cholesterol particle size) rather than looking at total or LDL cholesterol. Basically, you want your particles to be big and buoyant, not small and heavy, because then they tend to lodge in the walls of arteries more easily, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
APOB, on the other hand, is the main protein found in LDL cholesterol. "We think a cutoff of less than 90 milligrams per deciliter is good," Dawson says. "Less than 70, you're doing great, and less than 50 we think is pretty optimal and close to perfect."
3. APOE4 gene
According to Dawson, we shouldn't forget to put genetic analysis on the table. He says it's incredibly important to identify your genetic advantages, predispositions, and disadvantages when crafting a bird's-eye view of your health and well-being—and when it comes to longevity, he recommends testing for the APOE4 gene, which is associated with an increased risk factor of Alzheimer's and heart disease.
"My mother has ApoE4, so we're going to focus on different things for her than we would if she didn't have that [gene]. We're really going to press in on things that can reduce her dementia risk," he says. Many are hesitant to undergo genetic testing, as they fear what they may find is futile. It's a totally valid concern, but Dawson is a firm believer that your genes do not have to become your destiny: "We have found something out that now we can take action on… We know we can really delay this onset or prevent it," he says.
For example, he mentions lifestyle factors that can help keep your brain sharp over time, like quality sleep, exercise, and nutrition. (You can read more about how to enhance your brain longevity here.) "It's the things that we all know, but they're that much more important to optimize when it comes to brain health," Dawson adds.
There are many more blood tests you can ask for to gain a rundown of your overall health, but these three can specifically shed light on your longevity. These decisions are personal, especially when it comes to genetic testing, but Dawson says it's worth it to gather all the information you can, starting with genomics and metabolic health. "I think if you can get those nailed down, you're going to get a lot of benefits," he says.