Tag Archives: Red Blood Cells

Red Blood Cells Decline During Aging, But Can Be Increased Through Diet

Red blood cells (RBC) are the most abundant cell type in the human body. I’ve tracked my RBC levels in conjunction with diet since 2015, and with the goal of reversing the age-related decline for RBCs, which dietary components have the strongest correlation with RBCs?


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 https://michaellustgarten.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/quantifying-biological-age/). 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.