Are you feeling great and on top of the world?
Or is being tired by the afternoon normal for you? Have you noticed how common it is to have some unwanted aspect of health, such as pimples, oily skin, dry skin, thinning hair or nails that easily break flake or split?
Is it normal for most women to have some Pre Menstrual Tension (PMT), period pain and / or menopause symptoms? Are we resigned to thinking that as we age or because of family history we may well develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer? And is getting forgetful just part of getting older?
Many people feel a bit ‘under par’ most days and after some time they accept this is normal. And perhaps if it’s been a long time since you’ve been in ‘optimal health’ can you remember how it felt? Have people accepted that surviving rather than thriving is the norm?
Is it possible to really feel energetic the moment we wake up until well into the evening? And have a more even mood throughout the day, lovely skin, nails and hair with great memory and concentration into old age? Can we achieve a life of few infections, coughs and colds, remain free of heart disease and high blood pressure, have no diabetes or cancer and need no medications?
Simply put, can we live a long life of energy, vitality and health and then die of ‘old age’?
And if this is possible how do we know we are on the right track for optimal health?
What can we measure for true health?
How you feel
Start with being aware of your mood– is it relatively good and even throughout the day or do you easily snap and feel irritable or feel low?
Notice your memory– is it still sharp?
How about concentration and energy and vitality? Do you wake up feeling refreshed and have good steady energy throughout the day?
If these are less than ideal: measure blood tests for iron, B12. Folic acid, Vitamin D, blood glucose levels, plus salivary cortisol* taken at 4 different times of day.
How is your sleep? Do you have trouble getting to sleep or find you wake up in the middle of the night?
For everyone sleep is challenging when you drink caffeine after midday, alcohol at all and stay watching the TV or computer screens in the evening before going to bed along with the persistently busy mind that won’t switch off.
For women sleep can become an issue as they transition to menopause with hot flushes and sometimes sweats at night plus loss of libido and weight gain. Over history menopause never was associated with symptoms and in some countries such as Japan there are still very low numbers of women troubled by this. Measurements in hormones can be done. A GP has access to blood tests but my suggestion is ideally to also have salivary hormone testing* done which is not funded but can be requested by a health practitioner including dietitian or nutritionist.
Talking of women’s health, period pain and Pre-menstrual tension (PMT) or Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is not natural though so many suffer with symptoms of low mood, anxiety, bloating, breast tenderness and weight gain in the week or two before their period and pain all too often. Tests a doctor commonly does can include red blood cell magnesium and sex/ reproductive hormones. Again salivary hormone testing* can be very useful to complement this.
If you suffer dizziness on standing then blood pressure can be regularly checked by the GP.
How is your body composition? A healthy body is well hydrated with adequate muscle mass, strong bones and some fat.
It can be healthier to be heavier with a higher muscle mass rather than very light in weight, look slim but have a high proportion of body fat which sits deep in the abdomen. This fat is called visceral fat and wraps around your vital organs. As visceral fat increases so do our risks of insulin resistance and diabetes, gallstones, heart disease and cancer.
You might have heard a term ‘skinny fat’ which is saying a person looks slim but has high levels of fat in their body, which is not considered healthy.
If you just look at an All Black Rugby player you might be surprised that most of them would be classified overweight or even obese, based on their BMI measurements (weight to height).
But if you were to measure how much fat they have and where it is in the body, they’re likely to have healthy levels.
Measures of body composition can be done using Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
BIA actually determines the electrical impedance, or opposition to the flow of an electric current through body tissues.
Ideal levels of body fat are18 – 24% for men and 25-31% for women.(Bosy-Westphal.A. 2008)
Not got access to BIA? Here are two simple measures to do at home, which can give you an idea of whether you have too much fat in your abdomen.
Firstly measure your waist size. Men should not be greater than 94 cm and women no more than 80 cm. By the way, this means the widest part of your waist, not underneath the tummy, where the belt sits!
The waist should be smaller than hips for optimal health. Measure your waist (usually just above the navel) and hips (the widest part) then divide the waist measure by the hips measure. Ideally it should be less than 0.8.
Here are 2 links to waist hip ratio http://www.mydr.com.au/tools/waist-to-hip-calculator
Movement and Flexibility
Can you move in all the ways you want to? Can you twist your torso and look behind you? Can you, reach down and touch your toes or tie your shoelaces? Can you get back up easily when gardening or picking something up off the floor? And can you pick up bags of shopping and carry them to the car? It’s good to incorporate moves into your daily life to maintain flexible. Yoga is wonderful as a practice and has several poses which are great for flexibility.
Outer body signs
Nails, eyes, skin, hair and mouth check
Do you know your body signs can tell you a lot about your state of health?
You only have to take a look at your nails, skin, eyes and hair to get some great feedback on your wellbeing. They can indicate signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and sometimes reflect poor organ health such as liver.
Here are a few pointers to look for:
Take a look at your fingernails. Notice if there are variations in the texture or colour. Are there white flecks, which can indicate a zinc deficiency? Or are the nails pale in colour, or have a concave look to them, which can be a possible iron deficiency. A blue colour can show your lungs may need attention, as there can be less oxygen getting to the tissues, or yellow thickening can show a fungal infection.
Here is a link to a slideshow for some signs of poor health indicated by nails http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-nails-and-health
Nails should be slightly pink and the nails strong without any obvious grooves lengthways or horizontally across the nail.
Ideally the whites of your eyes are that, not yellow or bloodshot. Sometimes getting twitchy eyelids can show magnesium deficiency or seeing ‘floaters’ in front of the eyes can reflect your liver needing attention. Small fatty deposits in the skin under the eyes can show high cholesterol and dark shadows in the same area can show food intolerances or anaemia.
Did you know that if your skin is dry or you notice on the backs of your arms you have bumpy skin, it can indicate a lack of essential fats in the diet? Cracks at the corner of the mouth can reflect low iron or B2 and excessive bruising can be a sign of low vitamin C. Keep an eye for any changes in moles and be sure to get these checked by your doctor.
Thinning hair on the head and also of the outer eyebrows can indicate thyroid function is not optimal.
Keep an eye on any changes in your lips as cracking and peeling of the lips can indicate a low vitamin B2 level ( of course it can also mean you’ve been out in the cold or windy weather). And cracking at the corners of the mouth can be related to low iron or B2 or other B vitamins.
For more information and references on signs of nutrient changes in the body do visit http://www.stewartnutrition.co.uk/nutritional_assesment/deficiency_symptoms_and_signs.html
Ideally the bowels move daily and easily with little troublesome wind and no bloating, nausea or reflux. If suffering from constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, reflux, bloating or wind, it does indicate your bowel, liver and /or gallbladder may not be functioning at their best. And with these symptoms, it’s very common for people to feel more tired than usual. There are functional tests for liver and gut function which a health practitioner can recommend.
Did you know we are 75% water? And staying hydrated helps us think straight, feel energized and keep our organs working properly, including the kidneys to excrete necessary waste. Avoid signs of dehydration which are: dry mouth, thirst, headaches and dark or concentrated urine. Urine should be the colour of champagne rather than apple juice!
Hearing and Vision
In New Zealand babies and children have their hearing checked regularly by their doctors and early childhood nurses. Naturally if you notice failing hearing or vision do check this with your health practitioner.
Tests your doctor can do
Some tests your doctor can do to check health and wellbeing include:
- Blood pressure
- Blood tests for Cholesterol. Aim for HDL cholesterol over 1.0 mmol and Triglycerides less than 1.5 mmol.
- Bone mineral density scans to show how strong your bones are.
- Blood glucose levels including HbA1C- important for checking you are free of pre-Diabetes or Diabetes
- Liver function tests- to show your major organ of detoxification is working well.
- Homocysteine on blood test- elevated homocysteine can be linked with a higher risk of heart disease. If this is high, it can be due to low vitamins of B6, Folic acid and B12. So it’s worthwhile checking these and if low, then boost with dietary sources and supplements until in the normal range again.
- C-Reactive Protein (crp) is elevated if there is inflammation in the body, including that related to heart disease and cancer. This is good to check every so often for optimal health.
- Thyroid function on blood test- important for our metabolism, generating heat, helping our bowels move and keeping our body at a healthy weight. Thyroid hormones depend on you eating enough iron, iodine and zinc. Aim for TSH of 1-2 mmol.
- Blood tests for some vitamins and minerals: B1, B12, D, folate, iron, red blood cell (RBC) magnesium, RBC zinc, RBC selenium. Aim for the top end of normal range.
Do note a doctor may only be able to request certain tests based on assessment and presence of symptoms.
*Other non funded tests your health practitioner can request to measure your health
There are a number of what we call ‘Functional tests’ which are better measures of what is going on in the body. Many of these are not funded so paid for by yourself. The tests are ordered by a health practitioner (e.g. GP, naturopath, dietitian) using testing kits from 2 clinics in New Zealand https://www.pharmaceutical.co.nz/ and www.fxmed.co.nz. Many of these functional tests are sent overseas.
Tests can include hair analysis for heavy metal toxicity and mineral status. Ideally for heavy metals and minerals an Oligoscan is done but this is only available in certain centres (Auckland and Timaru).
Saliva and urinary tests can be done for reproductive hormones for men and women.
Comprehensive stool analysis is very good for identifying harmful bacteria, parasites and over growth of yeasts. This analysis also takes the DNA of the harmful pathogens found and identifies which pharmaceuticals and herbals will be most effective on eradicating them.
Saliva tests can be done for the levels of cortisol and DHEA which relate to adrenal function and influenced by stress levels. Cortisol is a hormone which is normally at its highest in the morning and reduces over the course of the day. It helps us feel awake and regulates our blood pressure and metabolism. It also rises when feeling under stress. Short bursts of cortisol in response to stress are normal but cortisol can remain elevated for too long and over time this can increase inflammation in the body. If under prolonged stress, do activities that ‘de stress’ regularly such as enjoyable exercise or other practices that include diaphragmatic deep breathing such as meditation, Tai Chi or gentle Yoga poses.
Taking ownership of our own health
I do encourage you to start noticing your own signs of wellness as a means of becoming more empowered over your own health. Being more aware of your body at any moment of the day also helps you notice which foods and meals help your energy between meals, your mood, digestive symptoms such as bloating, wind and bowel movements and sleep. You can notice how situations, your work, people you are with, how you sit and move impact on how you feel. I do believe this truly helps you become the best expert over your own health and wellbeing.
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