Health Screening 101: Blood Testing (Part 1)
Without a better understanding of Health Screening Tests, looking at blood screening paperwork can be both overwhelming as well as invoke attitudes of apathy for borderline healthy / unhealthy numbers. Here is an email from an officer who is 33 years old who admits he needs to lose a few pounds, but is concerned with his recent blood work numbers:
Stew, I know you are not a doctor, but can you give me your opinion on these numbers? The left column is my most recent numbers from last week (Nov 2012) and the numbers on the right are the ranges I should be in to be considered healthy. I know I need to eat better, exercise, and get more sleep, but where do I start? Should I be overly-concerned and start taking medication to deal with this?
Wow, great question. I too get overwhelmed when I look at all the different blood test elements and ranges when some are good, bad, or borderline. And, yes, I am not a doctor, but I know several and have interviewed them to help me write this response to your questions. But to help demonstrate where you need to focus, we are going to use the TRAFFIC LIGHT System created by Specialty Health in Reno NV, to help drive home the importance and understanding of these scores as everyone thoroughly understands the standard traffic light:
(RED = danger, YELLOW = borderline, GREEN = good)
|Blood Test (Nov 2012)||Acceptable Ranges for Blood Tests|
|BMI – Body Mass Index||33.3 (waist 41”)||Greater than 30BMI||Less than 25BMI|
|Blood Pressure||148 / 84||Greater than 140/90||Less than 120/80|
|HDL (good cholesterol)||31||Less than 40||Greater than 60|
|LDL (bad cholesterol)||117||Greater than 131||Less than 100|
|Triglycerides||362||Greater than 200||Less than 150|
|LDL – P (Lipoproteins)– see more info below||2231 — determined from NMR – special test||Greater than 1000||Less than 1000|
Yes, in a nutshell, I would be alarmed with these numbers, BUT the good news is they are all completely reversible. Dr. E. James Greenwald of Specialty Health in Reno Nevada concurs, but also demonstrates another level of understanding and uses a ratio of Triglycerides and HDLs to produce the Insulin Resistance Ratio. Triglycerides divided by HDLs = Insulin Resistance Ratio.
Looking at your TRIGs / HDLs (326 / 31) you get a ratio of = 11.7 Insulin Resistance Ratio:
Why is this number important? Any ratio score of more than 3.5 means you are insulin resistant. Insulin Resistance (IR) is defined by Dr. Greenwald as: “When humans become insulin resistant, the glucose receptors of our liver and muscle cells get clogged. Insulin has a difficult time allowing glucose to get into the cell. Glucose stays in the blood stream and blood glucose levels increase and so does the blood insulin levels as the pancreas keeps pumping more and more insulin to try to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels under control.”
To better understand how insulin works in the body, here is a description definition from
“After a person eats a meal, digestive juices in the small intestine break down starch or complex sugars in the food into glucose, a simple sugar. The glucose then passes into the bloodstream. When the concentration of glucose in the blood reaches a certain point, the pancreas is stimulated to release insulin into the blood. As the insulin reaches cells in muscle and fatty (adipose) tissues, it attaches itself to molecules called insulin receptors on the surface of the cells. The activation of the insulin receptors sets in motion a series of complex biochemical signals within the cells that allow the cells to take in the glucose and convert it to energy. If the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin or the insulin receptors do not function properly, the cells cannot take in the glucose and the level of glucose in the blood remains high.”
Insulin Resistance is a 10–15 year precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney disease, and amputation of extremities. Just in case that does not get you thinking more serious about your present health, other conditions such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s dementia are linked to Insulin Resistance.
You should still seek your personal doctor’s advice before responding to correct these scores with medications. But to quickly answer your question – adding a workout program, low carb diet, laying off the caffeine 4–5 hours prior to sleeping to help with sleep recovery / stress mitigation would help you get better scores in as little as a few months.
The LDL-P (Lipoproteins) Test
Notice the patient’s LDL (bad cholesterol) is only 117. This is not a necessarily healthy number but it is outside of the alarming margins, thus only receiving a YELLOW LIGHT grade. Yes, bad cholesterol is bad, but the way it is transported throughout the body is what makes it dangerous. Dr Greenwald adds: “The real risk lies in the number of particles (Lipoproteins or LDL-P) that carry the cholesterol (LDL). To determine the risk factor requires advanced and sometimes lifesaving testing. The NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) by Liposcience is the test we prefer. An MRI of the blood itself gives us an accurate count of the particles that carry the cholesterol.”
Here is an analogy that will help you bring it home: Dr Greenwald likes to say, “Think of your arteries as a freeway. Think of the LDL P (Lipoproteins) as a car. Now, think of the cholesterol as a passenger in a car. It is the cars on the freeway that cause the problems. When the freeway gets crowded some of the cars exit (into the arterial wall itself) and start the formation of plaque. So it is the not the passengers we should concern ourselves with but the number of cars that are the danger.”
The standard Health Screening does not check for the LDL-P in blood. You have to ask for the LDL-P test using the NMR. Dr Greenwald continues: “In this case a LDL C of 117 is in the acceptable range; HOWEVER the LDL P was 2231 (SKY HIGH) putting this patient at great risk of a heart attack or stroke. Plus he has 4 of the 5 markers (RED LIGHTS) for Metabolic Syndrome and that alone doubles his risk of heart attack and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by a factor of 5. Treatment is clearly critical in this case and we set a goal of an LDL P of right around 1000. To get there he will need medication (Statins or Metformin are 2 possibilities) there are others and follow up testing is needed to be sure we have achieved goal.”
Click Health Screening 101 – part 2 , to see the recommended courses of action that involve foods to eat, foods to avoid, and how to exercise to optimally burn excess fat from the body. Both will have significant changes on the RED LIGHT health scores in this test. You HAVE to do something now. You cannot have these types of scores and do nothing to fix them or you could have a heart attack, stroke, or be diabetic within the next decade. In this case, you could have a heart attack in your early 40s. Besides, get moving just to feel better and look better. It will add a quality to your life you cannot put a price on.
Note: I would like to give a special thanks to Dr Greenwald of Specialty Health in Reno NV, who opened up his busy calendar to answer the many questions I had writing this article. I met Dr Greenwald in Quantico VA lecturing at a Law Enforcement conference recently.