Our bodies undergo many changes as we age. Some of these changes are noticeable, such as aches and pains, longer recovery from workouts, and stubborn body fat that you just can’t get rid of. Other changes may go unnoticed if you’re not regularly getting the right lab tests done. As you grow older, many blood markers move in the wrong direction, putting you at an increased risk for some chronic diseases. Read on to find out which blood markers are most affected by the aging process and what you can do to slow and possibly prevent some of these changes.
What are Blood Markers?
Blood markers refer to certain blood tests that are used to check certain aspects of your health.
For example, cholesterol is a blood marker that doctors used to evaluate your heart health.
Blood Markers and Aging
While researchers don’t know exactly what causes aging, they have observed consistent changes in many blood markers with age. Every system in the body is negatively affected by aging, with the most prominent being the hormone, immune, and cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) systems. Changes in specific blood markers clearly reflect this.
While some degree of change is inevitable (currently), there are ways to minimize the impact aging has on your lab markers. Keeping an eye on specific blood markers and taking the appropriate steps to keep them as close to youthful levels as possible will help you live healthier, for longer.
Markers That Decrease With Age
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) is a steroid hormone produced primarily by the adrenal glands. It is also produced to a lesser extent by the brain and skin, as well as by the testes (in men) and ovaries (in women) .
Together with regular DHEA, DHEA-S is the most abundant steroid hormone circulating in the blood and is the precursor (building-block) to the more powerful sex hormones testosterone and estradiol, the main estrogen .
DHEA-S is important for:
- Physical and psychological well-being 
- Immune system function 
- Muscle strength 
- Insulin sensitivity 
- Bone density 
- Cognitive function 
- Reducing body fat 
- Preventing age-related skin damage, by stimulating collagen production 
DHEA-S levels peak around 20 years of age and begin to decline rapidly in the mid-’20s, with levels decreasing by as much as 80% at 75 years of age .
Lower DHEA-S levels have been linked to depression, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and heart disease [7, 8, 9, 10, 11].
There are a couple of options to help counteract this age-related decline:
- Cut out the sugar. Sugar spikes insulin and high insulin levels decrease DHEA-S .
- You can also take DHEA in supplement form to boost your DHEA-S levels. One study in 19 middle-aged men and women found 100 mg of DHEA for six months increased DHEA-S levels to those seen in young adults. If you have low DHEA-S levels and decide to go this route, make sure to routinely test your levels during supplementation and do so under the guidance of your doctor . This supplement is great for some people, but there is evidence that supplementing with DHEA may promote the growth of prostate cancer [14, 15].
2) Testosterone (Total, Bioavailable, and Free)
Testosterone is a hormone mainly produced by the testes in men and the ovaries in women. Less than 10% is produced by the adrenal glands and brain in both sexes .
Testosterone has a diverse range of beneficial effects throughout the body. It [17, 18, 19]:
- Improves bone health
- Helps to build and maintain muscle mass (lean body mass) and strength
- Increases red blood cell production
- Improves libido and sexual function
- Increases sperm production
- Plays a role in mood and brain function
After the age of 30, total testosterone levels decrease by 1-2% a year in both men and women [20, 21, 22]. Free testosterone, the type that is not bound to anything and able to affect your cells and tissues, decreases at an even faster rate than total testosterone !
Fortunately, there are ways to optimize your testosterone levels and minimize this decline:
- If you are overweight, research suggests that the best thing you can do to increase your testosterone levels is to lose weight. Obesity decreases testosterone levels, and low testosterone, in turn, increases fat accumulation, resulting in a vicious cycle. Implement a healthy diet and exercise regime to reach your weight goals [24, 25, 26].
- Another important factor in testosterone production is sleep. Make sure you are getting enough uninterrupted sleep. This means avoiding blue light before bed or wearing blue-light blocking glasses, not drinking caffeine too late in the day [27, 28, 29, 30].
- Another great way to boost your testosterone levels is to exercise. Engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise several times a week [31, 32, 33, 34, 35].
- Check your zinc and vitamin D levels, and increase them if you’re deficient [36, 37, 38]. Zinc is a crucial mineral for testosterone production. You can boost your zinc levels by eating oysters, beef, crab, cashews, and pumpkin seeds [36, 37]. You can boost your vitamin D levels by spending more time in the sun.
- Discuss the following supplements with your doctor. Studies suggest they may help increase testosterone levels
- Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) [39, 40, 41]
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) [39, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46]
- Fenugreek [39, 47, 48, 49]
- Mucuna pruriens [39, 50]
Remember, always speak to your doctor before taking any supplements, because they may interfere with your health condition or your treatment/medications!
HDL-C, also known as the “good cholesterol”, is cholesterol that is being carried away from the cells and blood vessels back to the liver to be removed from circulation .
Higher HDL-C levels are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. As we age, our HDL-C levels decrease gradually and our risk of heart disease increases [51, 52, 53, 54].
You can help slow this decline by:
- Exercising regularly. People who are less physically active have lower HDL-cholesterol levels .
- Losing weight if you are overweight [56, 57, 58, 59].
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Studies suggest that fiber, found in fruits and vegetables, is beneficial in general, while eating processed carbs can have a negative effect on HDL-cholesterol [60, 61].
- Adding nuts to the diet. Hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and macadamia nuts can have a beneficial effect on HDL-cholesterol levels [62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70].
- Drinking alcohol in moderation (1 drink per day) can increase HDL-cholesterol, but it’s controversial as to whether this is beneficial. Discuss your alcohol consumption with your doctor [71, 72, 73].
Markers That Increase With Age
4) C-reactive Protein
As we age, inflammatory markers increase, a phenomenon known as “inflammaging”.
One of the most important inflammatory markers that increase with age is C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a protein that rises in response to inflammation and infection in the body. High levels have been linked to heart disease and cancer [74, 75, 76].
Besides aging, many things can increase CRP levels – including smoking, heavy alcohol use, poor sleep, obesity, and infections [77, 78, 79, 80, 81].
To reduce your CRP:
- Keep your stress in check [82, 83]. Stress-reducing activities such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation all reduce CRP levels [84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89].
- Make sure your diet is healthy, well balanced, and contains all the necessary nutrients. Increase the amount of fiber and fruits and vegetables in your diet. Studies show that high-fiber, fruit- and vegetable-rich diets are associated with lower CRP levels [90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96].
- Exercising regularly also reduces CRP levels .
Find more advice on lowering CRP here.
Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) is a measure of your average blood sugar (glucose) levels over the past three months.
As we grow older the cells that release insulin (beta cells) don’t work as well as they used to, and our ability to control our blood sugar levels gets worse. This means that sugar hangs around in our bloodstream longer than it should and starts to stick to proteins on our red blood cells (hemoglobin). This causes a gradual increase in HbA1c as we age [98, 99, 100].
High HbA1c increases the risk of diabetes, and has been associated with cancer, heart disease, and mortality [101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107].
There are several things you can do to decrease HbA1c:
- Avoid sugary foods and processed carbs [108, 109]
- Increase your fiber intake. Fruits and vegetables are generally rich in fiber, and studies show they can help keep your blood sugar levels under control. Beans, chickpeas, broccoli, berries, pears, avocado, and nuts are all great fiber sources [110, 111, 112, 113].
- Moderate to vigorous exercise will help keep your HbA1c from rising. Exercise improves the way our body uses glucose and lowers HbA1c levels [114, 115].
- Interestingly, gum issues such as inflammation can increase HbA1c, so make sure you are brushing and flossing regularly and visiting your dentist [116, 117].
Read about other steps you can take to decrease HbA1c here.
Triglycerides are fats that circulate in the blood and are used as an alternative fuel source to glucose. High levels are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease .
For whatever reason, our triglyceride levels increase as we age. In men, levels peak between 40 and 50 years of age, and then decline slightly after, while in women, triglycerides increase throughout their lifetime [119, 120, 121, 122].
Tweaking your diet and lifestyle can help decrease your triglyceride levels:
- One of the most important things is to avoid overeating in general. Eat smaller portions. Also, eat less sugary and processed foods and minimize your intake of saturated and trans fats. When there’s an excess of calories, the body turns them into triglycerides and stores them as fat [123, 124].
- Aerobic exercise such as running, swimming, or cycling can help lower your triglyceride levels .
Omega-3 (DHA) is a beneficial supplement that can help decrease triglyceride levels [123, 126, 127, 128, 129]. Find more supplements that studies showed to work here.
Homocysteine is an amino acid your body produces from another amino acid called methionine. It is usually found in very small amounts in your body. That’s because your body converts it efficiently into other products with the help of vitamins B6, B12, and folate (B9) .
Homocysteine increases with age, possibly due to deficiencies in one or more of these vitamins [131, 132, 133, 134].
This is concerning because high levels of homocysteine contribute to the narrowing and hardening of the arteries, and may increase the risk of heart disease and cognitive decline [135, 136].
If your homocysteine is high, you should check your vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate levels. Correcting deficiencies in these will bring your homocysteine levels down. These deficiencies are sometimes due to low dietary intake, but are more often caused by underlying health issues, such as gut issues that impair nutrient absorption. Work with your doctor to address low levels of these vitamins!