With advances in medicine along with improved safety, the life expectancy for individuals in the US has increased from about 45 years in 1900 to 79.11 years as of 2023. Much research is dedicated to identifying the factors that contribute to longevity. The results of the largest study on longevity were recently released, offering further insight into what health markers predict survival to the age of 100 years.
It is difficult to define factors contributing to longevity due to the complex relationships among genetics, lifestyle, etc. Also, although more meaningful, it is difficult to research longevity in humans as compared to animal models with shorter lifespans.
Swedish study of centenarians vs non-centenarians
This large study coming out of Sweden followed 44,636 individuals from the time of their first blood measurements until their death.
This study cohort had their blood-based biomarkers measured during the span of the years 1985-1996. Of the 44,636 individuals in the study, 1,224 participants (84.6% female) lived to their 100th birthday.
When comparing centenarians vs. non-centenarians, there were fewer comorbid medical conditions in those reaching age 100. For example, dementia was present in only 0.2% of centenarians vs. 1.1% in non-centenarians, diabetes in 0.5% vs. 3.2%, and COPD in 0.2% vs. 1.6%.
Next, specific biomarkers were examined in detail to identify which trends were associated with reaching the age of 100. Lower levels of the following biomarkers appeared to be favorable:
- Uric acid
- Aspartate Transferase (AST)
- Gamma Glutamyl Transferase (GGT)
- Alkaline Phosphatase
- Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH)
- Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC)
Note: The most significant difference between centenarians and non-centenarians was found among creatinine and uric acid.
Higher levels of the following factors were associated with reaching age 100:
- Total Cholesterol
High cholesterol is good?!? Really?!?
The authors stated, “We found that a higher total cholesterol level was associated with a higher chance of becoming centenarian.” In fact, the data from this study indicate that a total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL makes one ~20% less likely to reach the age of 100.
I know . . . I know . . . you’ve heard countless experts rallying against cholesterol ever since President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955 drew national attention. Modern-day cardiology is still obsessed with blaming cholesterol for cardiovascular disease, but it’s just not that simple.
Eisenhower’s condition was used by the medical community to promote low-fat diets and by pharmaceutical manufacturers to peddle cholesterol-lowering medication. What you weren’t told was that Eisenhower’s total cholesterol at the time of his heart attack was only 165 mg/dL . . . and that his cholesterol kept increasing despite the “heart-healthy” diet . . . and that he suffered at least 6 more heart attacks and a stroke before dying in 1969.
That higher total cholesterol is associated with longevity certainly stands out as a surprise to the general public, given what we’ve been taught for the past 40 years about the association of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. However, this finding is consistent with prior studies, showing a protective effect of higher cholesterol in older populations.
Limitations of non-interventional trials
With any non-interventional trial, caution needs to apply to the interpretation of the results, as one cannot draw any firm conclusions and certainly no cause-effect relationships.
While longevity is a target for many and seems like a noble pursuit, what we’re really looking for is health span – the length of time during which we maintain an appropriate functional status. It’s not enough just to live a long time, but rather more important to remain functional for as long as possible – capable of physical function, of sound mind, free from pain, and resilient to stress.