Why abnormal numbers and missing tests could put you at great risk
Audio intro by Dr. Phil Maffetone:
Today, it’s much easier to rule out a variety of diseases, once they start showing themselves. But why wait for them to progress this far when we have the means to prevent them? You may already have some of this information hidden away in your medical record and not know it.
With few exceptions, most illnesses come with clues long before the problem gets serious, a time when it’s relatively easy to make lifestyle changes that can reverse or significantly slow the progression. The sooner we identify these risk factors, the faster and easier it is to find and fix the cause. Whether health conditions, physical injuries or other issues, this is one key goal behind the MAF method — helping you personalize—manage?– your health and fitness.
Unfortunately, too many people do not get adequately tested or are unaware of abnormal results already in their medical record. As a result, people may be unaware of simple, conservative, natural remedies that could prevent impending problems. This is the first line of proactive treatment, and before medication or other remedies are considered. What’s worse, many practitioners wait for the problem to get more serious before addressing it, or don’t know how to treat it conservatively. Moreover, many people don’t heed the warning from their doctors who make appropriate recommendations.
A common example of this is the ongoing suggestions that metabolic syndrome —a group of disease risk factors — be diagnosed only after waiting for the disease to worsen. This syndrome is indicated by three or more abnormal tests listed below. The International Diabetes Federation task force, U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Heart Association and most other professional groups recommend this approach. Here are the key risk factors:
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Elevated fasting triglyceride.
- Elevated fasting blood glucose.
- Elevated waist circumference.
- Reduced HDL cholesterol.
But the problem with this approach is obvious: Any one abnormal level is a red flag and a risk. These are actually five of the best tests everyone should monitor regularly. Do you know your numbers?
Gone are the days of knowing your total cholesterol number, allowing blood pressure to be just a bit higher than it should be, or accepting an expanding waistline as a benign part of aging. The fact is, as research has long shown, each one of these abnormalities is a serious risk factor for impending disease, rapid aging, reduced quality of life and increased healthcare costs. Waiting until we accumulate three or more of these abnormal signs, and not acting on a single abnormality, actually may be unethical.
Moreover, the vast majority of people in the world have at least one of these abnormal red flags. Even worse, these abnormalities are no longer just found in adults, but have become common in children too.
The risks of these tests are for the most common chronic diseases: hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, including stroke, Alzheimer’s, cancer and many others. True prevention means we can postpone the development of these conditions, sometimes for decades, and maintain independence well into our later years.
While your healthcare practitioners are responsible for evaluating these and other related signs and symptoms, you can also manage the process yourself by making certain these tests are performed, which ones already exist in your record, what are normal levels, and, most importantly, what to do when one or more is abnormal.
In an ideal world — which includes managing our own health and fitness — we may not even allow these red flags to develop. That’s because a variety of other signs and symptoms usually precede them. Here are some examples:
- Carbohydrate intolerance (insulin resistance) is a significant feature of and precedes the metabolic syndrome. It is associated with excess carbohydrate consumption (especially refined foods), which contribute to increased body fat, especially around the waist. Measuring the waist-to-height ratio is easy and accurate — your waist should be less than half your height. A larger waist also indicates excess body fat, which promotes chronic inflammation.
- Chronic inflammation is a common sign, and a cause of most chronic diseases and physical impairments. It can be measured with another simple blood test (c-reactive protein), although it may not appear elevated in its early stages, so symptoms can help guide the process.
- Early in the development of carbohydrate intolerance a variety of abnormal symptoms appear. They include loss of concentration or sleepiness after meals, excess hunger, mental or physical fatigue, intestinal bloating or excess gas, food cravings, especially for sugar and carbohydrates, sleep disorders and others. You can take the online survey here.
- Chronic inflammation develops from carbohydrate intolerance, with various “-itis” conditions like physical injuries (tendinitis, fasciitis, etc.) or systemic problems (arthritis, colitis, and others).
What is Normal?
It’s important to note the normal ranges of the tests noted above, and the fact that these norms change over time as research demonstrates modifications:
- Elevated blood pressure: performed sitting, above 120/80. This includes both pre-hypertension and hypertension.
- Elevated fasting triglyceride: Some laboratories may still list above 150 (mg/dL, or less than 1.7 mmol/L) as abnormal, but 100 is the newer proactive upper limit, reflective of better carbohydrate metabolism.
- Elevated fasting blood glucose: 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or above. (A1C, glycated hemoglobin, is also an important test, and should be around 5.5 percent or less.). This includes pre-diabetes and diabetes.
- Elevated waist circumference: The waist-to-height ratio should be below 0.5 — your waist should be less than half your height.
- Reduced HDL cholesterol: While 60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above is desirable, around 80 may be a better goal. (A large study published in the European Heart Journal showed optimal numbers of 73 mg/dL for men and 93 mg/dL for women.)
In addition, if you’re on medication(s) to control these risk factors, even if your levels now appear normal, you still have an elevated risk. (The cause of the problem remains as meds don’t treat that.)
You own your medical records, and I have always suggested keeping copies — now it’s easier than ever online. Contact your health practitioners. Using this information to make positive changes is the first-line defense in managing your health and fitness.
Bintoro B, et al. Metabolic Unhealthiness Increases the Likelihood of Having Metabolic Syndrome Components in Normoweight Young Adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019; 16(18): 3258. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16183258
Maffetone PB, Laursen PB. The Prevalence of Overfat Adults and Children in the US. Front Public Health. 2017; 5: 290. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00290