Do You Know Your Biomarkers?

Don't be tricked into fixing one health biomarker, only to ruin another!

November 19, 2013

Biomarkers can help you figure out how old you are inside and—for those of us looking to actively intervene in the aging process (that means you and me)—
they can track counterclockwise movement. Biomarkers are objective measurements of the health—and age—of our bodies. I'm betting you know, or can guess, the most common ones: blood pressure, resting heart rate, good-bad cholesterol ratio. Add to that resting metabolic rate, lean body mass, percentage body fat, strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity, bone density, and glucose tolerance, and you've got a pretty good snapshot of your body's health and age. I write about this quite a lot in my book, which you should read…because the number of wonderful books you read each year is also a biomarker. The more you read, the younger you are. Scientifically speaking.

Suppose one of your biomarkers is out of whack. And by out of whack I mean the number is indicating that you are biologically older your chronological years. Let's take cholesterol, because we seem to be obsessed with cholesterol numbers. (Please read this post about confusing and borderline-useless cholesterol numbers.) So, you have "high cholesterol"—either as a total number or because of elevated bad cholesterol (LDL) or because of a lousy HDL-LDL ratio. (Again, read this post.) And your doctor, like 94.1 million other doctors, prescribes a cholesterol-lowering statin. The 94.1 million number is actually the number of prescriptions written last year (a generic statin being the second most prescribed drug in the U.S.), not the number of doctors, but you get the idea. The default for high cholesterol, which we're actually not measuring in the most meaningful ways (did I mention that you'll want to read this post?), is taking a powerful drug that plays with body chemistry.

You're ready for the "oops" now, right?

Oops. New research out of University of Bristol's School of Physiology and Pharmacology (UK) suggests that one commonly prescribed statin may cause cognitive impairment. It was a rat study—but rat studies led zillions of people to buy resveratrol…so why not pay some attention to what happened to these rodents?

What happened is that rats treated with the statin showed "significantly impaired performance in simple learning and memory tasks." The study was undertaken to follow up on mounting anecdotal reports from non-rodents about memory problems while on statins.

And so, the drug that helps improve one biomarker of aging (cholesterol) potentially screws up another (healthy brain function). This drug is the medical establishment's go-to treatment. The class of drugs that one in four Americans is taking. The drug that half of men in the U.S. who are ages to 65 to 74 and 39 percent of women who are 75 and older are taking. Oh wait…isn't that the demographic for, um, cognitive impairment?

Maybe a statin is your only choice for truly out-of-control cholesterol that is resistant to any lifestyle change. But I wonder how many of the recipients of those 94.1 million prescription tried lifestyle changes? Here's some solid advice from the folks at Harvard Medical School about cholesterol-lowering foods.

Let food be your medicine, wrote Hippocrates. Scientifically speaking.

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Tags: cholesterol