Life Extension Magazine November 2003
|A Comprehensive Guide to Preventative Blood Testing|
By Penny Baron
As a public service, Life Extension Magazine has produced this essential guide to the most important blood tests now available. Keep this article as a reference to order future blood tests that can provide you with important personal health information. This guide will also serve as a basis for discussion with your personal physician.
Too often, aging people fall victim to a disease that could have been prevented had the proper blood tests been done on a regular basis. Since 1983, the Life Extension Foundation has advocated regular blood testing to maintain optimal health. It was not until 1996, however, that members could order their own blood tests directly.
Before 1996, members had to plead with their doctors to prescribe blood tests. In many cases, these requests were rejected because physicians did not understand the importance of screening for high sensitivity C-reactive protein, homocysteine, DHEA, or even PSA (prostate specific antigen). The cost of blood tests through physicians’ offices was also prohibitively expensive.
The reason most people consider blood testing is to ascertain their cardiovascular risk factors. The scientific literature clearly establishes that elevated insulin, glucose, homocysteine, fibrinogen, high sensitivity C-reactive protein, triglycerides, and LDL dramatically increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other arterial diseases. What most people fail to realize is that significant changes can occur over the course of one year, meaning that previous tests may not accurately reflect current cardiovascular risk status.
Now that more Foundation members than ever are ordering their own blood tests, Life Extension has been able to negotiate significantly lower prices. Starting October 1, 2003, it has become much more affordable for members to help guard their precious health by having regular blood tests.
The printed results of these blood tests are mailed directly to member, who can then take them to their doctors if abnormalities are revealed. If members want to discuss the blood results by telephone, they have toll-free phone access to licensed Life Extension medical doctors at no charge.
In addition to identifying proven cardiovascular disease risk factors, blood tests can detect numerous other medical abnormalities that are often easy to correct if caught in time.
For instance, a growing number of Americans are taking prescription drugs to treat chronic medical conditions. Many of these drugs have toxic side effects that result in the deaths of more than 100,000 Americans each year. In fact, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), adverse reactions to prescription drugs are between the fourth and sixth leading causes of death in the U.S.
The AMA emphasizes that these deaths are occurring, even though doctors who are supposed to closely monitor their patients are prescribing the drugs. The problem is that cost-conscious HMOs and hurried physicians are not ordering blood tests that would detect drug-induced liver and kidney impairment in time to prevent these side effects from occurring. If you are taking certain prescription medications, regular blood testing is mandatory according to the drug labeling, yet doctors routinely fail to prescribe the recommended blood tests and their patients succumb to a drug-induced hospitalization, disability, or death.
It’s not just prescription drugs that can cause liver or kidney damage. Many factors (alcohol, over-the-counter drugs, excess niacin, hepatitis C) can make a person susceptible to liver or kidney damage. For most people, these conditions smolder for years until a life-threatening medical crisis occurs. Some people are especially vulnerable to liver and kidney damage; yet a simple blood chemistry test can detect an underlying problem in time to take corrective actions.
An example of a preventable disorder that can be detected by a yearly blood test is calcium overload. This condition is caused when too much calcium is removed from the bone and deposited into the vascular system. Unless discovered by a blood test, people don’t find out about calcium imbalance until after they have a crippling bone fracture, a painful kidney stone (renal calculi), or heart valve failure (due to excess valvular calcification). These diseases often manifest years after the calcium imbalance first begins, yet an inexpensive blood chemistry test could detect this problem early and enable the person to take relatively simple steps to correct the calcium imbalance before it causes irreversible damage.
Excess amounts of serum iron generate free radicals that increase the risk of cancer and atherosclerosis, and probably neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. If a blood test shows high iron levels, there are many ways to bring it down. A blood chemistry test can detect high iron levels before an iron-induced disease manifests.
The Importance of Maintaining Youthful Blood Readings
When physicians review a patient’s blood test results, their only concern is when a particular result is outside the normal laboratory “reference range.” The problem is that standard reference ranges usually represent “average” populations, rather than the optimal level required to maintain good health. It now appears that most standard reference ranges are too broad to adequately detect health problems or prescribe appropriate therapy on an individual basis.
In the 1960s for instance, the upper reference range for cholesterol extended up to 300 mg/dL. This number was based on a statistical calculation indicating that it was “normal” to have total cholesterol levels as high as 300 mg/dL. At that time, it was also “normal” for men to have fatal heart attacks at a relatively young age. As greater knowledge accumulated about the risk of heart attack and high cholesterol, the upper limit reference range gradually dropped to the point where it is now 200 mg/dL.1
The same situation occurred with homocysteine reference ranges. Until recently, it was considered normal to have a homocysteine blood reading as high as 15 mm/L.2 Most reference ranges now provide a chart showing that homocysteine levels above 7 indicate an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.3
Antiquated Hormone “Reference Ranges”
Conventional medicine tends to neglect the hormone imbalances that develop in both men and women as part of growing older. The result is that aging people suffer a variety of discomforts and lethal diseases that are correctable and preventable if simple hormone adjustments are made.
Aging men, for instance, often suffer from excess production of insulin and estrogen, with simultaneous deficiencies of free testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). If a physician were to test blood levels of all four of these hormones, the standard “reference ranges” are so wide that most men would fall into the so-called “normal” category. Standard reference ranges indicate that dangerously high insulin and estrogen levels are “normal” in elderly men (but so are heart attack, stroke, cancer, benign prostate enlargement, weight gain, type II diabetes, kidney impairment, and a host of other diseases that are associated with excess insulin and estrogen).
The standard reference ranges for free testosterone and DHEA show that very low levels are perfectly “normal” for aging men. It is no coincidence that these same aging men (with low levels of testosterone/DHEA) have high rates of depression, memory loss, atherosclerosis, senility, impotency, high cholesterol, abdominal obesity, fatigue, and a host of other diseases related to low blood levels of testosterone and DHEA.4-15