Life Extension Magazine May 2005
The Lifesaving Benefits of Annual Blood Screening
By Penny Baron
Annual blood screening is the key component for preventing degenerative disease. By providing a comprehensive snapshot of your current state of health, blood screening can catch potential health problems in their early stages when they can be managed most effectively.
Sadly, many physicians request only minimal testing for their patients. As a result, many deadly diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer silently progress undetected until it is too late. Regular blood testing is the single most important tool available to prevent degenerative disease through early intervention. Many of the advanced tests offered by Life Extension are unavailable or unknown to many doctors. It is our goal to provide our members with the latest in blood screening so that they may better control their health.
Screening tests assess the status of numerous systems in the body, monitoring for cardiovascular risk factors, blood sugar levels, liver and kidney function, immune system wellness, and optimal hormone balance. Regular testing also monitors electrolyte levels, mineral balance, and red blood cell size and number.
Careful attention to your laboratory findings can help you reduce your risk for disorders such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, liver conditions, anemia, and diabetes. Regular testing also can help you prevent and treat conditions associated with hormone imbalances, including fatigue, erectile dysfunction, memory impairment, bone loss, weight gain, and depressed mood.
While many doctors routinely prescribe general tests such as total cholesterol, conventional medicine tends to neglect age-related hormone imbalances that develop in both men and women. The result is that many aging people suffer discomforts and diseases that are correctable and preventable by making simple hormone level adjustments. Mainstream medicine accepts these imbalances of life-sustaining hormones as “normal” in aging people. These practitioners almost never test for hormone levels, and largely reject the idea of restoring hormone profiles to youthful ranges. Increasingly, however, aging adults no longer want to be prisoners of poor health due to declining hormone levels.
Because most doctors rarely order advanced screening tests such as CRP (C-reactive protein), DHEA-S (dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate) or estradiol, Life Extension created the Male and Female Life Extension Panels to provide a comprehensive overview of critical risk factors and predictors of future diseases. The panels comprise the most requested tests, which happen to be the best screening tools for identifying many common and not-so-common conditions. A yearly blood test is a relatively inexpensive investment when compared to the cost of disease-related health care and prescription medications, with tremendous potential to protect your health and increase your quality of life.
While many of the tests in the Male and Female Panels overlap, they diverge in measures that are specific to the health concerns of men or women. The men’s panel includes measurement of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a marker of enlarged prostate or prostate cancer, while the women’s panel assesses progesterone levels, an important female hormone related to a host of menopausal and post-menopausal disorders.
Both panels include the CBC/Chemistry Profile, which measures over 40 different blood components, including cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood glucose, iron and mineral levels, kidney and liver function, and blood cell components.
The Male and Female Panels also test for levels of total and free testosterone, DHEA-S (an indicator of adrenal cortical function), estradiol, homocysteine, and C-reactive protein (CRP). Both homocysteine and CRP, along with LDL, are powerful predictors of cardiovascular disease.
Table 1 below summarizes the different components offered in the Male and Female Panels.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
The Complete Blood Count (CBC) measures the number, variety, percentage, concentration, and quality of blood cells. It is useful in screening for infections, anemias, and hematological abnormalities. The CBC includes red blood cells (RBCs), hematocrit, hemoglobin levels, red blood cell indices, platelet count, and white blood cells (WBCs) and their components.
RBC count, hematocrit, hemoglobin, RBC indices, platelets
Red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen from the lungs to body tissues and transfer carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. Hemoglobin, an iron-containing component of red blood cells, serves as the vehicle for transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide through the body. Hematocrit measures the mass of red blood cells as a percentage of the volume of whole blood. Thus, abnormalities in red blood cells, hemoglobin, or hematocrit can affect the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to its tissues. Red blood indices measure the size and hemoglobin concentration of red blood cells, providing clues to nutritional status and oxygen-carrying capacity. Platelets are an essential part of the coagulation (clotting) cascade, and normal levels are necessary to maintain hemostasis.
Abnormally low RBC, hemo-globin, or hematocrit levels may indicate anemia due to deficiencies of iron, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, or folic acid,1 as well as certain chronic diseases. Hematocrit levels can be depressed by dehydration or blood loss, and elevated by a condition that is marked by increased production of red blood cells.
Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is calculated by dividing hematocrit by RBC count. A decreased value indicates small red blood cells, which are often correlated with iron-deficiency anemia. In contrast, an elevated MCV is associated with macrocytic anemia, which can be caused by deficiencies of vitamin B12 or folic acid.2 Abnormal distribution of the RBC width (RDW) may detect such problems as aplastic anemia, thalassemia, anemias, and deficiencies of iron, folate, and vitamin B12. Decreased platelet counts may be seen in patients undergoing chemotherapy or in hemolytic anemia, leukemia, and other disorders characterized by diminished clotting ability.
WBC count and components (lymphocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils)
White blood cells (WBCs) are an important component of the immune system. Increased levels of all types of WBCs in the blood are usually associated with bacterial, viral, parasitic, or protozoal infections. While the total count of WBCs can provide general information about one’s state of health, it is the differential count that provides the most useful information.
When elevated, neutrophils, which are the first WBCs to respond to infection, often indicate bacterial infection. Decreased neutrophil levels may indicate chronic infection or bone marrow depression. Deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folic acid can also cause diminished neutrophil production.3 Monocytes, the body’s second line of defense against infection, can be elevated in conditions such as leukemia and lymphomas. Lymphocytes are the source of serum immunoglobulins and cellular immune responses, and elevated levels can indicate the presence of a viral infection. Increased basophil count is most often associated with leukemias or Hodgkin’s disease. Elevated eosinophil count often indicates allergies or parasitic infection.
The Chemistry Profile is an excellent place to begin your disease-prevention program, as it provides a wide range of diagnostic information to assess cardiovascular, endocrine, hepatobiliary, and kidney function. The following overview and table summarize test indications and problems associated with abnormally high or low test values.
The Chemistry Profile provides up-to-date information on the status of your cardiovascular system. These tests include total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), triglycerides, and total cholesterol/HDL ratio, which is more valuable as a predictor of heart disease than total cholesterol or HDL levels alone.4 When combined with measurements of C-reactive protein and homocysteine, these tests serve as powerful indicators of cardiovascular status, including risk of future heart disease.5
The endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones throughout the body. One of the most critical hormones is insulin, a regulator of glucose uptake and utilization. Measuring your blood glucose may be the single most important step you can take to prevent metabolic syndrome and diabetes. The Chemistry Profile measures fasting glucose levels. Skewed values may indicate problems with glucose metabolism, such as hyperglycemia (an indicator of diabetes mellitus) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, which may preempt hyperglycemia in some individuals), acidosis or ketoacidosis, and other problems with carbohydrate metabolism.