With knowledge comes awareness. Awareness is the beacon of hope for change.
Now that you feel empowered to take back control of your own health, let’s move past the limitations of the current healthcare system and focus on the steps you can take in order to obtain an optimal level of health and wellbeing.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post, your physical exam and symptoms are often poor assessment indicators of your health, especially in regard to prevention, since at that point it may already be too late in the game. As with heart attacks for instance, it’s sadly true that oftentimes the first symptom may be someone’s last. That’s why prevention should be your priority. So let’s get you there shall we?
3 Key Steps to Improve Your Health
3 Key Steps to Improve Your Health
Step 1 – Navigating the state of your physical wellbeing may seem quite daunting, but you’re not alone. Find a doctor or a team of healthcare practitioners you can trust and feel comfortable with that emphasize prevention, diet and other lifestyle interventions.
Look for healthcare practitioners certified and/or licensed in integrative medicine, preventive medicine, lifestyle medicine and/or functional medicine. Other practitioners you may want to consider are Naturopathic doctors, licensed acupuncturists, Ayurvedic doctors, holistic medicine doctors, etc. In conjunction with these certified and/or licensed practitioners, please make sure that you always communicate any and all lifestyle changes with your primary care physician (PCP) including, but not limited to dietary changes, alterations in medications and the use of supplements or herbs.
Step 2 – A critical analysis of your body’s current state of being and daily habits is imperative in the inception of healing, but moreover, to prevent from getting ill in the first place. Throughout your journey to health it is important to be honest with yourself and re-examine the state of all 5 pillars of YOUR lifestyle: psychological/emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing, dietary habits, environmental impacts on your health and the extent and quality of your social support. Become curious. Stick around as we explore each of these aspects of lifestyle as medicine and how you can personalize and apply the knowledge you gain into your own life and health regimen. For now, let’s focus on your physical wellbeing.
Step 3 – Insist on getting comprehensive labs, ones that could aid in your adherence to or alteration of various lifestyle habits.
In no particular order, below is a list of tests that are not typically ordered during your annual physical exam unless symptoms persuade a doctor to order them. In my research, I have found these to be extremely useful to further assess one’s lifestyle habits.
Lab Tests to Consider Ordering
Lab Tests to Consider Ordering
- Comprehensive Vitamin Test
- Comprehensive Mineral Test
- Omega 3:6 ratio
- Comprehensive Fatty Acids
- Heavy Metals Screening
- Non-Metal Toxin Screening Test: VOC, phthalates, vinyl chloride, benzene, BPA, pyrethrins, xylenes, styrene, organophosphates, acrylamide, percholorate, glyphosate, etc.
- Comprehensive Cholesterol Work-up: NMR LipoProfile Test or Cardio IQ Test
- Comprehensive Stool Work-up: FOBT (fecal occult blood test), parasites, candida, clostridia, other harmful yeasts or species of bacteria
- Thyroid Function Test (TSH, free T4)
- Comprehensive Hormone Analysis
- Quantitative CRP
- Liver Function Test
- Iron Panel
- Amino Acid Analysis
- Food Sensitivity/Allergy Test
- Comprehensive Gluten Sensitivity Test
- Coenzyme Q10
- SNP Testing: DNA methylation, oxalate metabolism, etc.
- Genetic Testing: 23 and Me
The information obtained from these labs can provide you and your doctor with a more in-depth look into your daily lifestyle habits. In turn, knowing this information can then guide you to make appropriate adjustments, which in the end may have the potential to completely change the trajectory of your current and future state of health.
You may be thinking, is this really necessary? Well, as mentioned in Part 1 of “How Clean is Your Bill of Health?” everyone has different definitions of what being healthy means to them. Some people may consider this approach unnecessary and overboard, but for others who place tremendous value on the prevention of disease, this proactive approach will most likely be appreciated.
Consider this. What if you have low levels of certain key vitamins or minerals (perhaps even in the low range of normal) or high levels of certain toxins and metals, etc. that are symptomatically undetected until years later in which time you develop a medical condition that this may have attributed to and may now be irreversible. What if there was a chance for this condition to have never have happened in the first place? For example, let’s say you are low in a particular vitamin such as vitamin A or vitamin E, both of which are potent anti-oxidants, but you don’t present with any symptoms. The assumption is that there is nothing wrong with your levels of these vitamins since you don’t have any physical signs of having a deficiency, therefore the levels of these vitamins are never tested in your annual lab work. The anti-oxidant role of these vitamins are well understood and documented in various medical textbooks. Low to low-normal levels of these vitamins over time can actually be quite detrimental to one’s health. Why increase your risk of developing more free-radical damage to your cells and total body inflammation and decrease your body’s healing potential due to oxidative stress, which may lead to cancer, as well as other lifestyle related illnesses? Conversely, it is important to note that having high levels of a particular vitamin can also be extremely dangerous, especially when considering fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A. That’s why knowing YOUR level is key!
How can you maximize prevention in your life if you are unaware that what you’re doing is either detrimental to your health or falls short of what your particular body composition needs?
How are you supposed to know that you need to eat or incorporate more of a certain vitamin or mineral if you don’t even know you’re low in it? Should you just take the advice from someone on an advertisement or simply because someone tells you to? How do “they” know if you nor your doctor know for sure. There are standards for a reason. Dietary recommendations that are derived from credible sources are based on these standards, however due to human diversity, people’s dietary needs vary greatly. It’s important to note that being on whole food plant-based lifestyle usually requires supplementation of vitamin B12 and possibly vitamin D and iodine, however this too may vary depending on your current lifestyle habits and is therefore advantageous if these are measured in your blood test.
Since our healthcare system is designed without placing an emphasis on prevention, many of the lab tests mentioned above will most likely not be covered by your insurance or healthcare plan. Until the priorities of our healthcare system change, unfortunately you will most likely have to pay out-of-pocket for these tests. Fortunately, you do have a choice. Invest in your health and make it a priority; spend money where it counts the most.
Consider the valuation of your health.
Okay, so you got some extra lab work, what now? Working with your doctor or team of healthcare practitioners, let’s say they find that you are low in a certain vitamin or mineral or high in a toxin. If you don’t have any symptoms and are slightly low to low-normal in a particular mineral or vitamin, and your PCP deems it’s safe to do so, use whole foods as your “supplement.” Incorporate more of the foods that contain the highest source of these vitamins or minerals that you’re missing and eat them on a daily basis. Next, according to the recommendation of your PCP, get re-tested after a determined period of time to see if your level has normalized.
Assess your lifestyle habits to stay on track of your health.
For instance, if you’re low in vitamin A but aren’t deficient, eat more of the foods that contain the highest source of vitamin A, like sweet potatoes. Do not take a supplement in this case unless under the direct supervision of your primary care doctor since it may pose serious health risks. Due to the fact that Vitamin A is fat soluble, it can be highly toxic to your brain if you supplement beyond the levels at which your body can handle it. Use food instead as the probability of “overdosing” is highly unlikely. Alter your dietary intake by incorporating whole plant-based food that is high in Vitamin A and then get re-tested. If however, your follow-up test has not changed, perhaps at this point your PCP will want to re-evaluate other underlying factors that may be causing your level to be lower, such as absorption problems.
If no one has ever performed a comprehensive annual lab test on you how do you know you’re getting all of the nutrients and vitamins you need?
Think about it. For example, you may be eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds or walnuts, but are you absorbing them? Are your enzymes working as they should and breaking them down into usable sources? How do you know, if you’re never tested? How does your doctor know for sure? Do we wait until you develop something like dementia or cancer, etc.? I say no way! Your health is priceless. It’s the best gift you can give yourself or a loved one. Instead of buying that big ticket item for your birthday or Christmas, how about you invest in getting answers to what’s happening inside your body.
Perhaps it’s time for all of us to reconsider what it means to be healthy.