Monthly Archives: September 2019

Optimizing Biological Age: RDW%

Can biological age be optimized? The red blood cell (RBC) distribution width (RDW%) is one of the variables included in the PhenoAge biological age calculator (see Although the RDW% reference range is 11.5% – 14.5%, what values are optimal in terms a youthful biological age, and minimized disease risk?

First, let’s define RDW%. RDW% is calculated by dividing the standard deviation of the average mean corpuscular volume (i.e. the average volume inside red blood cells, defined as MCV, upper right panel; image via Danese et al. 2015). When the volume inside red blood cells is approximately the same across all RBCs (upper left panel), the RDW% will be narrow, as shown by the dashed line in the upper right panel.  Conversely, during aging and in many diseases, the size and volume of RBCs are altered, resulting in a more broad RDW% (bottom left and right panels):


In terms of RDW%, what’s optimal for health and longevity? In the the largest study  (3,156,863 subjects) that investigated the association for risk of death for all causes with RDW%, maximally reduced risk of death was observed for RDW% between 11.4 – 12.5% (percentiles 1-5, 5-25), with mortality risk increasing for values < 11.3%, and > 12.6% (Tonelli et al. 2019):

rdw 2

This has been confirmed in other relatively large studies (240,477 subjects), as RDW% values < 12.5% were associated with maximally reduced all-cause mortality risk, with values > 12.5 associated with an increasing all-cause mortality risk (Pilling et al. 2018):

rdw 3

How does RDW% change during aging? For the 1,907 subjects of Lippi et al. (2014), RDW% increased during aging:

rdw 4

In support of this finding, RDW% also increased during aging in a larger study that included 8,089 subjects (Hoffmann et al. 2015).

Collectively, when considering the all-cause mortality and aging data, RDW% values ~ 12.5% may be optimal for health and longevity. What are my RDW% values? Plotted below are 18 RDW% measurements since 2015 (blue circles). First, note my average RDW% during that time (black line) is 12.8%, which isn’t far from the 12.5% that may be optimal for health and longevity. However, note the trend line (red), which indicates that my RDW% values are increasing during aging!

rdw 5

How do I plan on reducing my RDW%? A moderate strength correlation exists between my calorie intake with RDW% (r = 0.53), with a higher daily average calorie intake being associated with a higher RDW%:
my rdw
My plan is to shoot for a daily calorie intake ~2600 over the next month, and then retest my RDW% (and the rest of the CBC). Hopefully that brings my RDW% down to 12.5% or less. If that doesn’t work, I’ll re-calibrate, and try something else!

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!


Danese E, Lippi G, Montagnana M. Red blood cell distribution width and cardiovascular diseasesJ Thorac Dis. 2015 Oct;7(10):E402-11. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2015.10.04.

Hoffmann JJ, Nabbe KC, van den Broek NM. Red cell distribution width and mortality in older adults: a meta-analysis. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2015 Nov;53(12):2015-9. doi: 10.1515/cclm-2015-0155.

Lippi G, Salvagno GL, Guidi GC. Red blood cell distribution width is significantly associated with aging and gender. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2014 Sep;52(9):e197-9. doi: 10.1515/cclm-2014-0353.

Pilling LC, Atkins JL, Kuchel GA, Ferrucci L, Melzer D. Red cell distribution width and common disease onsets in 240,477 healthy volunteers followed for up to 9 years. PLoS One. 2018 Sep 13;13(9):e0203504. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203504.

Tonelli M, Wiebe N, James MT, Naugler C, Manns BJ, Klarenbach SW, Hemmelgarn BR. Red cell distribution width associations with clinical outcomes: A population-based cohort studyPLoS One. 2019 Mar 13;14(3):e0212374. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212374.


Optimizing Biological Age: Albumin

In an earlier post, I showed published data that albumin levels decrease with aging, and that lower levels are associated with an increased all-cause mortality risk ( I also showed my own blood test data (n=11), which included a strong correlation for albumin with my dietary intake of beta-carotene (= 0.75). Since then, I’ve measured my albumin levels an additional 9 times, with 20 total measurements that correspond to my tracked dietary intake. With more data, did the strength of this association get better, stay the same, or get worse?

The correlation for albumin with my dietary beta-carotene intake weakened slightly (r = 0.66), but the p-value strengthened (p = 0.0015 vs. p = 0.007):

alb update

Albumin is an important variable for predicting biological age, as demonstrated by its inclusion on the and PhenoAge ( calculators. If your albumin levels aren’t close to 5 or greater than 4.5 g/dL if you’re a man or woman, respectively, you may want to consider increasing your beta-carotene intake, especially if you’re interested in optimizing biological youth. Each day, I get most of my beta-carotene  from about a pound of carrots, but also from a few ounces of spinach.

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!

Drink Green Tea, Reduce All-Cause Mortality Risk?

Is green tea consumption associated with reduced risk of death risk from all causes? To investigate this question, Tang et al. (2015) performed a meta-analysis of 5 studies, including 200,884 subjects. As shown below, drinking 2-3 cups (16-24 oz.) of green tea per day was associated with maximally decreased all-cause mortality risk, ~10%.

green tea

Post update (9/15/2019): Is there new data since this post was first published (2015) for the association between green tea with all-cause mortality risk? Two relatively large studies have been published since then. First, in a study of 164,681 men (average age, ~53y), consuming green tea (~15g/day) was associated with a maximally reduced risk of death from all causes (black lines; Liu et al. 2016). However, note that this data included both smokers and non-smokers. For non-smokers (green lines), all-cause mortality risk was maximally reduced even further at smaller doses, including ~ 6-10g of green tea/day:

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 9.15.09 AM

In support of these data, never-smoking men and women (average age, ~52y) that drank more than  8.2g, and 3.3g, respectively, of green tea had an 11% reduced risk of all-cause mortality in Zhao et al. (2017).

The data is clear, drink green tea!

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!


Liu J, Liu S, Zhou H, Hanson T, Yang L, Chen Z, Zhou M. Association of green tea consumption with mortality from all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer in a Chinese cohort of 165,000 adult men. Eur J Epidemiol. 2016 Sep;31(9):853-65.

Tang J, Zheng JS, Fang L, Jin Y, Cai W, Li D. Tea consumption and mortality of all cancers, CVD and all causes: a meta-analysis of eighteen prospective cohort studies. Br J Nutr. 2015 Jul 23:1-11.

Zhao LG, Li HL, Sun JW, Yang Y, Ma X, Shu XO, Zheng W, Xiang YB. Green tea consumption and cause-specific mortalityResults from two prospective cohort studies in ChinaJ Epidemiol. 2017 Jan;27(1):36-41.

Quantifying Biological Age

In an earlier post, I wrote about quantifying my biological age with ( The importance of that post is illustrated by the finding that based on data from 13 blood tests between 2016 – 2019, my average biological age is 29.2y, which is ~33% younger than my chronological age.

On my quest for optimal health, I’m striving to get as accurate as possible when it comes to quantifying biological age. While the biomarker set is strongly correlated with biologic age (r = 0.80), in 2018 two papers were published (Liu et al., Levine et al.) that introduced “Phenotypic Age”, which includes a combination of 9 circulating biomarkers + chronological age that is better at predicting biological age (r = 0.94) than It includes analytes that are found on the standard blood chemistry screen, including albumin, creatinine, glucose, lymphocyte %, mean corpuscular volume (MCV), red blood cell distribution width (RDW), alkaline phosphatase, white blood cells, and an analyte that is not found on that panel, C-reactive protein (CRP). In addition, chronological age is included as a covariate.

So what’s my biological age based on the Phenotypic Age calculator? When I input my data from my latest blood test measurement on 6/4/2019, I get a biological age of 35.39y, which is 23% lower than my chronological age of 46. Not bad!


To quantify your biological age with the Phenotypic Age calculator, input your data in the Excel file that is embedded within the first paragraph of the following link:


If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!


Liu Z, Kuo PL, Horvath S, Crimmins E, Ferrucci L, Levine M. A new aging measure captures morbidity and mortality riskacross diverse subpopulations from NHANES IV: A cohort studyPLoS Med. 2018 Dec 31;15(12):e1002718. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002718.

Levine ME, Lu AT, Quach A, Chen BH, Assimes TL, Bandinelli S, Hou L, Baccarelli AA, Stewart JD, Li Y, Whitsel EA, Wilson JG, Reiner AP, Aviv A, Lohman K, Liu Y, Ferrucci L, Horvath S. An epigenetic biomarker of aging for lifespan and healthspanAging (Albany NY). 2018 Apr 18;10(4):573-591. doi: 10.18632/aging.101414.

Higher Magnesium Intake, Less Arterial Calcification?

Circulating levels of calcium can deposit in the coronary arteries (and in other arterial sites), a process that is known as coronary artery calcification (CAC). Arterial calcification is associated with arterial stiffness, which increases risk for adverse cardiovascular events, including cardiovascular disease-related mortality (Allison et al. 2012).

Can CAC accumulation be slowed/minimized/prevented? One possible factor may involve the dietary intake of magnesium (Mg). As shown below, adults (average age, ~53y) that had a median dietary Mg intake of 425 mg/day had ~50% reduced odds of having any CAC, when compared with lower Mg intakes (Hruby et al. 2014):

cac mg

Getting at least 425 mg of dietary Mg is relatively easy for me. Plotted below is my dietary magnesium intake for the 365 day period from August 31, 2018 until September 2, 2019. All of that comes from food, as I don’t supplement with Mg. In addition, my average daily Mg intake during that period is 786 mg/day (red line):

mg intake

Based on my average Mg intake, my odds for having any CAC should be minimized. However, the best approach would be to actually measure CAC. Stay tuned for that data, sometime later this year!

Which foods contribute to my 786 mg Mg intake/day? ~14% of that comes from spinach, as over that same time period, I averaged 4.82 oz. of spinach/day, which supplies 107 mg of Mg. Other moderate sources of Magnesium (for me) come from carrots and bananas (~59 mg/day each), strawberries (43 mg/day), red bell peppers (37 mg/day), broccoli (26 mg/day), cacao beans (23 mg/day), and others.

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!


Allison MA, Hsi S, Wassel CL, Morgan C, Ix JH, Wright CM, Criqui MH. Calcified atherosclerosis in different vascular beds and the risk of mortality. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2012 Jan;32(1):140-6.

Hruby A, O’Donnell CJ, Jacques PF, Meigs JB, Hoffmann U, McKeown NM. Magnesium intake is inversely associated with coronary artery calcification: the Framingham Heart Study. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2014 Jan;7(1):59-69.

LP(a), cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: What’s optimal?

Very low, low, and high-density lipoproteins (VLDL, LDL, HDL, respectively) are commonly measured on the standard blood chemistry panel as measures of cardiovascular disease risk. Not included on that panel is another lipoprotein, Lp(a), which is a modified form of LDL. What’s the relationship between Lp(a) with disease risk?

A meta-analysis of 36 studies that included 126,634 subjects reported that Lp(a) > 30 mg/dL (65 nmol/L) was significantly associated with an increased risk for heart attacks, coronary heart disease-related deaths, and ischemic strokes (Erqou et al.  2009):

Screen Shot 2019-08-31 at 8.32.04 PM

Investigating further, of 2,100 candidate genes that were evaluated for predicting heart disease risk, genetic variation in the LPA gene was the strongest genetic risk factor (Clarke et al. 2009). Of the Lp(a)-related genes, SNPs for rs3798220 (increased risk allele = C) and rs10455872 (increased risk allele = G) were associated with a 92% and a 70% increased risk for coronary heart disease, respectively.

Based on these data, Lp(a) values less than 50 mg/dL (108 nmol/L) have been recommended, with 1-3 grams/day of niacin, which reduces Lp(a) levels, as the primary treatment for minimizing cardiovascular disease risk (Nordestgaard et al. 2010).

However, cardiovascular disease is only 1 outcome. What’s the data for Lp(a) and risk of death from all causes, not just cardiovascular disease-related deaths? In a study of 10,413 adults (average age, 55y), the lowest risk of death from all causes was reported for Lp(a) values of 270 mg/L (equivalent to 27 mg/dL, and 58 nmol/L). The log of 270 is 2.43, which corresponds to the lowest mortality risk on the chart below (Sawabe et al. 2012):

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 11.54.55 AM

Interestingly, all-cause mortality risk was significantly increased only for Lp(a) values < 80 mg/L (log 80 = 1.90; equivalent to 17 nmol/L), when compared with intermediate (80 – 550 mg/L; log values from 1.9 – 2.7 on the chart; equivalent to 17 – 118 nmol/L) and high Lp(a) (> 550 mg/L; log values > 2.7 on the chart; equivalent to > 118 nmol/L).

In addition to low Lp(a) values, an increased risk of death from all causes (and a shorter lifespan) have also been reported for high Lp(a). When compared with Lp(a) < 21 nmol/L, Lp(a) > 199 nmol/L was associated with a 20% increased all-cause mortality risk (Langsted et al. 2019). In addition, median lifespan was 1.4 years shorter for subjects that had  Lp(a) values > 199 nmol/L, when compared with < 21 nmol/L.

Based on the studies of Sawabe and Langsted, both low and high Lp(a) values may be bad for disease risk. What are my Lp(a) values?

I’ve been tracking Lp(a) for the past 14 years, first, approximately 1x/year until I was 40, and second, 9 times since 2015, when I started daily nutrition tracking. In addition, I’ve measured it 4x in 2019, with the goal of getting it closer to the 58 nmol/L value of the Sawabe study. When I first started measuring Lp(a) in 2005, it was ~150 nmol/L, which is way higher than the < 65 nmol/L that was reported for reduced cardiovascular disease risk in the Erqou meta-analysis, and the 58 nmol/L value that was reported for maximally reduced all-cause mortality risk in the Sawabe study:


Fortunately, I was able to reduce my Lp(a) levels from those first values to levels closer to ~100 nmol/L, which is still too high. For the first 8 Lp(a) measurements, I didn’t track my nutrition, so I can’t say which factors helped me to reduce it. Also, note that I didn’t include the blood test measurement where I tried high dose niacin (3 g/day), which reduced my Lp(a) to 84 nmol/L, but also worsened my liver function,. My liver enzymes, AST and ALT doubled on high-dose niacin! What good is a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease if my risk for liver disease simultaneously goes up? Obviously, I quickly discontinued use of niacin to reduce Lp(a).

Also note the data on the chart since 2015, when I started daily nutritional tracking. Over that period, my average value over 9 Lp(a) measurements is 95.3 nmol/L. Although my average Lp(a) is still higher than it should be, it’s better than my pre-tracking Lp(a) average value of 115.6 nmol/L (p-value = 0.03 for the between-group comparison). In addition, on my last 3 measurements, my Lp(a) values were 75, 82, and 79 nmol/L. How have I been reducing it?

As I’ve mentioned in many blog posts, I’ve been weighing, logging, and tracking my nutrient intake since 2015. When I blood test, I can use the average dietary intake that corresponds to the blood test result, and with enough blood test results, I can look at correlations between my diet with blood test variables. Based on this approach, one possibility is my daily sodium intake. Shown below is a moderately strong correlation (r = 0.61, R^2 = 0.366) between my daily sodium intake with Lp(a). The higher my sodium intake, the lower my Lp(a) values.

lpa vs na.png

Can the strength of this approach be improved? Interestingly, I identified another moderately strong correlation (r = 0.69) between my lycopene intake with Lp(a): the higher my lycopene intake, the higher my Lp(a)! I then decided to include both sodium and lycopene in a linear regression model, and the correlation for both of these nutrients with Lp(a) is 0.90! So what will I do with this info?

The highest that my average dietary sodium intake has been in any blood testing period is ~2500 mg. Sodium levels higher than that seem to negatively affect my sleep, so I’m not interested in going higher than 2500 mg/day. Also, there may be a plateau effect for sodium, as values ~2500 mg/day didn’t associate with significantly lower Lp(a) values when compared with 2300 mg/day. I can, in contrast, reduce my lycopene intake, which comes almost exclusively from my daily watermelon intake. I usually eat ~7 oz/day, and for my next blood test I’ll reduce this to 5 oz/day. Based on the regression equation that includes sodium and lycopene, with a 2300 mg sodium intake and the amount of lycopene that corresponds to 5 oz. of daily watermelon (~6700 micrograms, down from ~9000 micrograms), I should expect to see a Lp(a) value ~67 nmol/L on my next blood test. If not, I’ll repeat this approach, looking for strong correlations between my diet with Lp(a), followed by tweaking my diet to obtain biomarker results that are close to optimal. Stay tuned my my next blood test data, coming in about 2 weeks!

If you’re interested, please have a look at my book!



Clarke, R., J. F. Peden, J. C. Hopewell, T. Kyriakou, A. Goel, S. C. Heath, S. Parish, S. Barlera, M. G. Franzosi, S. Rust, et al. 2009. Genetic variants associated with Lp(a) lipoprotein level and coronary disease. N. Engl. J. Med. 361: 2518–2528.

Erqou, S., S. Kaptoge, P. L. Perry, A. E. Di, A. Thompson, I. R. White, S. M. Marcovina, R. Collins, S. G. Thompson, and J. Danesh. 2009. Lipoprotein(a) concentration and the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and nonvascular mortality. JAMA. 302: 412–423.

Langsted A, Kamstrup PR, Nordestgaard BG. High lipoprotein(a) and high risk of mortalityEur Heart J. 2019 Jan 4. [Epub ahead of print].

Sawabe M, Tanaka N, Mieno MN, Ishikawa S, Kayaba K, Nakahara K, Matsushita S; JMS Cohort Study Group. Low Lipoprotein(a) Concentration Is Associated with Cancer and All-Cause Deaths: A Population-Based Cohort Study (The JMS Cohort Study). PLoS One. 2012; 7(4): e31954. PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e31954.

Nordestgaard BG, Chapman MJ, Ray K, Borén J, Andreotti F, Watts GF, Ginsberg H, Amarenco P, Catapano A, Descamps OS, Fisher E, Kovanen PT, Kuivenhoven JA, Lesnik P, Masana L, Reiner Z, Taskinen MR, Tokgözoglu L, Tybjærg-Hansen A; European Atherosclerosis Society Consensus Panel. Lipoprotein(a) as a cardiovascular risk factor: current status. Eur Heart J. 2010 Dec;31(23):2844-53.