The number of centenarians, individuals who live to be 100 years old or more, has been steadily increasing over the years. In fact, they are now considered the fastest-growing demographic group in the world’s population. The rate of centenarians has roughly doubled every ten years since the 1970s. The interest in understanding the factors behind a long and healthy life has been present for centuries, with Plato and Aristotle discussing the aging process over 2,300 years ago.
Unraveling the secrets behind exceptional longevity is a challenging task that involves investigating the interplay between genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors throughout a person’s life. A recent study, published in GeroScience, has made significant progress in this area by identifying common biomarkers in people who live past 90.
The Largest Study of Its Kind
Previous studies of centenarians have often been small-scale and limited to select groups of individuals, excluding those living in care homes, for example. However, this study stands out as the largest of its kind, comparing biomarker profiles of exceptionally long-lived individuals and their shorter-lived peers. The research analyzed data from 44,000 Swedes who underwent health assessments between the ages of 64 and 99. These individuals were followed for up to 35 years using Swedish register data.
The Importance of Biomarkers
The study focused on twelve blood-based biomarkers related to various aspects of health, including inflammation, metabolism, liver and kidney function, and potential malnutrition and anemia. These biomarkers have been previously associated with aging and mortality. Some of the key biomarkers examined in the study were uric acid, total cholesterol, glucose, alanine aminotransferase (Alat), aspartate aminotransferase (Asat), albumin, gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), alkaline phosphatase (Alp), lactate dehydrogenase (LD), creatinine, iron, and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC).
The Biomarkers of Longevity
The findings of the study revealed that individuals who lived to be centenarians generally had lower levels of glucose, creatinine, and uric acid from their sixties onwards. Although the median values for most biomarkers did not significantly differ between centenarians and non-centenarians, centenarians rarely displayed extremely high or low values. For example, very few centenarians had glucose levels above 6.5 or creatinine levels above 125 throughout their lives.
The Influence of Biomarkers on Longevity
When examining the connection between biomarkers and the likelihood of reaching 100 years old, the study found that all but two biomarkers (Alat and albumin) showed a correlation with exceptional longevity. Even after accounting for age, sex, and disease burden, the biomarkers of total cholesterol, glucose, creatinine, uric acid, and markers for liver function were found to impact the chance of becoming a centenarian. The differences in biomarker levels between groups were sometimes small but still suggestive of a link between metabolic health, nutrition, and exceptional longevity.
While the study did not determine the specific lifestyle factors or genes responsible for the biomarker values, it is reasonable to assume that factors such as nutrition and alcohol intake play a role. The findings also suggest that monitoring kidney and liver values, as well as glucose and uric acid levels as individuals age, may be beneficial. However, chance likely plays a role in achieving exceptional age as well. The fact that differences in biomarkers were noticeable long before death highlights the potential influence of genes and lifestyle on longevity.
Understanding the biomarkers associated with living past 90 and achieving exceptional longevity is an ongoing pursuit. This study has shed light on the importance of biomarkers such as glucose, creatinine, and uric acid in predicting long and healthy lives. While further research is needed to determine the specific lifestyle factors and genes contributing to these biomarker values, the findings suggest that maintaining metabolic health and balanced nutrition may be key factors in aging well. As the demographic of centenarians continues to grow, studying biomarkers and their associations will undoubtedly provide valuable insights into the secrets of long and healthy lives.