7 Surprising Things Doctors Can Tell About You Just By Looking At Your Blood
You probably know that a simple blood test can tell you a few basics about your health, like your cholesterol levels, red and white blood cell counts, and nutritional deficiencies.
But did you know that a blood test can also reveal your “biological age,” or whether you’re depressed?
“Every one of us has between 1,000 and 2,000 measurable proteins in our blood,” says Stefan Enroth, Ph.D., an associate professor of immunology at Sweden’s Uppsala University. Each of those proteins performs several tasks, and the more researchers learn about them, the more they’ll be able to tell you about what’s going on throughout the rest of your body.
These tests are all in development and have huge potential for medical diagnoses and treatment plans. You may be surprised at all the information a doctor can draw out of your arm or the tip of your finger.
1. Your true age.
Compared to your “chronological age,” which is the amount of time that has elapsed since you were born, your “biological age” refers to how old your body and internal systems seem compared to other people in your age group, Enroth explains.
So while you may be 42, your biological age may more closely resemble a healthy 38-year-old’s.
In a 2015 study, Enroth and colleagues found they could identify this biological age by modeling the protein levels and types in 1,000 people’s blood samples. By comparing your blood to this model’s, they can gauge how you stack up, he says.
While smoking, a high BMI, and slurping sugar-sweetened beverages tacks 2 to 6 years onto your biological age, ditching those habits in favor of regular exercise knocks off the same number of years, his research shows.
2. Your risk for Alzheimer’s—10 years from now.
Your blood’s levels of a small group of proteins may indicate whether you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease 10 years before any symptoms appear, according to a 2015 study from U.K. researchers.
The research is still preliminary. But the study authors say identifying at-risk individuals earlier may help lead to more effective treatments.
3. Whether you’ve suffered a concussion.
Doctors have long struggled to come up with a protocol that accurately assesses whether you’ve suffered a concussion—a traumatic brain injury that, for some, may not result in any obvious symptoms in the hours or days following the event.
That’s a big problem—especially for athletes—because suffering a second blow to the head too soon after a concussion can be deadly or result in long-term cognitive problems. Concussions have even been linked to Alzheimer’s later in life. (Boost your memory and age-proof your mind with these natural solutions.)
But a recent study in JAMA Neurology details a simple blood test that—again, using protein markers—could reveal whether you’ve had a concussion for up to 7 days after your bump on the head.
4. The severity of your blues.
It can be tough for some people (and their doctors) to differentiate between healthy, happens-to-all-of-us stretches of the blues and more sinister forms of clinical depression.
And for years, experts believed it really wasn’t possible to identify mood disorders using blood tests or brain scans.
But a recent study from Austria identified a specific kind of brain chemical—also found in your blood—that can indicate whether you’re low on happiness hormones. The blood test may help doctors prescribe more effective drugs to treat clinical depression, the Austrian researchers say.
5. Every cold you’ve ever had.
Like a goopy red medical record coursing through your veins, your blood can reveal to doctors every virus or cold you’ve ever endured.
According to a recent study in the journal Science, your body develops antibodies in response to the illnesses you fend off. And those antibodies continue to kick around in your bloodstream for the remainder of your life.
Apart from helping doctors learn more about how past illnesses affect your immune system, knowing which antibodies are present in your blood may help your M.D. prescribe more effective drugs or remedies, the study authors say.
6. If you’re at risk for alcoholism.
A specific blood chemical called “PEth” may be elevated among people who are biologically prone to alcoholism, finds research from Alcohol and Alcoholism.
The University of Illinois study authors found a jump in blood PEth among college kids who frequently engaged in binge drinking. The blood chemical has been linked to alcoholism among older adults, and may help doctors provide more effective treatment for alcohol abusers, the researchers say.
7. Your out-of-control anxiety.
Anxiety is the physical side of stress or worry—the tension in your shoulders, say, or a racing heart. And researchers from Hebrew University in Jerusalem say they can spot that anxiety in your blood by looking for a specific type of protein your body releases when you’re frazzled.
By checking for this protein, docs may soon be able to determine whether your anxiety is run-of-the-mill, or running out of control.