Am I Truly Healthy?

physiciansI’ve been getting annual check-ups with my doctor for as long as I remember. They weigh me, check a few vital signs, and (perhaps) do some lab work to see if everything seems normal. With rare exception, I’m pronounced healthy and sent on my way.

I take my health seriously. I try to do my part to maintain my body in good working order. I wish I could take comfort in the send-off from my conventional doctor and assume that I really am AOK. But after watching Wondrium’s Hacking Your Healthcare with Dr. Mark Hyman, I’d call to question whether tradition medicine sets the “normal bar” too low. A leading expert in functional medicine, Dr. Hyman argues for a bit of discernment re: standard healthcare metrics.

According to Dr. Hyman, reference ranges for laboratory tests represent two standard deviations from the mean and capture ~95% of the population. With a generally healthy population, this approach rightly flags folks whose results fall outside the norms. However, when the population as a whole experiences declining health – as is the case in the United States – the ever-changing references ranges provide a false sense of security for those whose results seem normative. They simply tell you that you’re no more or less sick than most folks. We should be interested in markers for optimal health.

Here are some of the standards to which Dr. Hyman and his associates adhere:

  • Resting heart rate between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Too high and the patient may be a risk for heart disease; too low and he or she may have a thyroid issue. That being said, a preferred metric is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) – i.e., a measurement of the time intervals between heartbeats – as it is highly correlated with longevity.
  • Blood pressure between 100/60 and 120/80. Too high and the patient is at risk for heart disease or stroke; too low and he or she may experience fatigue, brain fog, and/or dizziness.
  • Body temperature between 97.7–98.6°F. If too low, it might suggest a thyroid malfunction.
  • Waist-to-Hip measurement no greater than .9 for men and .8 for women. [Body Mass Index (BMI) isn’t useful for muscular athletes!]
  • Fasting Glucose between 70 and 80, not just <100 and Hemoglobin A1C <5.5 (i.e., average sugar over past 6 weeks) to assess risk for diabetes. [Note: Food fixes it!]
  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) between 1 and 2, although the complete picture of thyroid function calls for examination of Free T3, Free T4, Anti-TPO antibodies, Anti-Thyroglobulin antibodies, and Reverse T3.
  • hsCRP (a marker of inflammation) should be <1.0 (ideally <0.7).

Dr. Hyman asserts that that there is no better drug than nutrition. Unfortunately, Americans have become overfed and undernourished due to a disproportionate consumption of process foods in lieu of whole foods. As a result, 90% of us are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals as defined by Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs). A comprehensive micronutrient test tells us where we stand and provides guideposts for the necessary dietary adjustments.

With heart disease a major risk factor for long-term illness and death, Dr. Hyman takes a keen interest in cholesterol. Traditional panels set target ranges for HDL, LDL, and triglycerides; however, they provide zero insight regarding particle size or oxidation. It’s the tiny and/or damaged (rancid) particles that cause all the grief. These insights can be obtained via the NMR Test from LabCorp or the Cardio IQ test from Quest. If problems surface, lifestyle changes can be a good course of action. Per Dr. Hyman, commonly-prescribed statins have unpleasant side effects and confer little benefit for most people over 5 years.

Our bodies accumulate toxins through environmental exposure (e.g., paints, solvents, petrochemicals, pesticides, etc.), food sources (e.g., mercury-contaminated fish), dental repairs (e.g., mercury filings), and others. Fat tissues store toxins and may leech them out to excess during weight loss. High toxicity can manifest as fatigue, muscle/joint pain, troubled sleep, skin issues, and malodorous stools. An Organic Acids Test can provide insights into the body’s toxic load, among other things. A heathy diet, vigorous (sweaty!) exercise, saunas, and hot baths can prove effective for detoxification. The Environmental Working Group website provides lots of free resources to help minimize toxic exposure.

The class concludes with an 8-point prescription for optimal health:

  1. Eat wholesome foods
  2. Maintain a positive outlook
  3. Be proactive in the face of change
  4. Detox your mind to sustain emotional health
  5. Be in contribution to the world around you
  6. Take time to experience joy
  7. Make movement a daily routine
  8. Spend time with friends and loved ones