Hormone identified that could predict men’s long-term health

A hormone in the blood has been identified that could help to predict a person’s long-term health, according to scientists. Researchers from the University of Nottingham believe the insulin-like peptide 3 (INSL3) to be especially good at establishing the likelihood of men developing age-related illnesses in the future.

Understanding a person’s risk of conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weak bones and cognitive decline while they’re still healthy can help to prevent them. It could inform lifestyle decisions that lead to fewer people with these diseases in later life.

Using the data of 3,369 men between the ages of 40 and 79 collected as part of the European Male Ageing Study, the researchers analysed INSL3 levels in stored blood samples. These were taken at the beginning and end of the study and correlated with self-reported illnesses.

A new testing method was developed specifically to look at INSL3 in this way. Levels of the hormone can vary significantly between people, but those with a large amount in their bloodstream were found to have a lower chance of becoming ill.

Comparing the samples over time demonstrated how the relationship predicted cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, loss of sexual function and bone weakness years in advance. INSL3 is made in the testes alongside testosterone, but while levels of the latter fluctuate regularly, amounts of INSL3 remain fairly consistent for long periods of time.

This makes it an effective predictor of future health, but now scientists need to determine what factors influence the production of INSL3. Genetics, early-life nutrition and environmental elements could all play a part. A study of men over a longer period could help to clarify this question.

Professor Ravinder Anand-Ivell, who led the study, said: "Understanding why some people are more likely to develop disability and disease as they age is vital so that interventions can be found to ensure people not only live a long life, but also a healthy life as they age.

"Our hormone discovery is an important step in understanding this and will pave the way for not only helping people individually but also helping to ease the care crisis we face as a society."