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Category Archives: Wellness

What Do My Blood Test Results Mean?

So you’ve gotten your blood drawn for your yearly physical or for insurance purposes and the results are back. The blood draw results look like hieroglyphs and you’re not about to call the nurse or wait to get back in with the doctor so he can interpret them for you. This post is meant to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the results of a CBC.

Lipids

Your lipid results include your Triglycerides, your Cholesterol, and your TC/HDL Ratio.

Triglycerides are blood lipids that allow for the transference of adipose tissue and blood glucose from the liver. A desirable range for a fasted individual is <150 mg/dL.

Cholesterol is a sterol (modified steroid) required to build and maintain membranes & allows for proper nerve functioning. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not the enemy; it is produced by your body to ensure the healthy functioning of many systems. Dietary cholesterol, while occasionally a cause for concern, is not necessarily the main driver in undesirable levels.  LDL (the ‘bad’ kind of cholesterol) is driven up by the consumption of refined carbohydrates and trans fats. HDL (the ‘good’ kind of cholesterol)  is driven up by the consumption of mono- & poly-unsaturated fats. Total cholesterol should be no more than 200 mg/dL.

LDL cholesterol should be no more than 70 mg/dL while HDL cholesterol is most desirable when it is above 60 mg/dL.

Your Total Cholesterol to HDL Cholesterol Ratio is a useful number when it comes to predicting a patients risk for heart disease. The amount of HDL Cholesterol to Total Cholesterol is important because it illustrates the amount of protective HDL particles that are present compared to the total number of particles.  A number below 4:1 is desirable. blood-draw

Thyroid Hormones

When testing for the health of your thyroid, most doctors will concentrate primarily on Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) to determine whether there is an issue with your thyroid gland. To learn more about your thyroid (and how to treat it right) read my 2 part article titled ‘Your Best Thyroid‘. Your TSH levels should be between.4-4.2 mU/L. Anything out of this range will be considered cause for considering hypo- (under active) or hyper- (overactive) thyroid.

Vitamin D

The prevalence of testing for Vitamin D has increased by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Vitamin D has gotten a lot of attention due to the fact that deficiency in this fat-soluble vitamin can be responsible for many issues, including weight gain, depression, osteoporosis, and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Check out this table for adequate Vitamin D levels according to several different organizations:

Vitamin D 25(OH)D range guidelines from various organizations:
Vitamin D Council Endocrine Society Food and Nutrition Board Testing Laboratories
Deficient 0-39 ng/ml 0-20 ng/ml 0-11 ng/ml 0-31 ng/ml
Insufficient 21-29 ng/ml 12-20 ng/ml
Sufficient 40-80 ng/ml 30-100 ng/ml >20 ng/ml 32-100 ng/ml
Toxic >150 ng/ml

Most agree, however, that levels around 50 ng/mL is appropriate for most adults. See my previous article on how to take Vitamin D supplements if you feel concerned that you’re not getting enough of this Vitamin either in your diet or by synthesizing it from the sun.

                                                                                        Fasted Blood Glucose

roller coasterThis test is most useful for securing a diagnosis of prediabetes or full-blown diabetes mellitus (type II). This test is always performed after the subject has fasted for 8-12 hours. Proper levels of blood glucose in a fasted patient are between 65-100 mg/dL. Anything higher and you could be looking down the barrel of a devastating metabolic disease.

Homocysteine

Homocysteine levels are a reliable indicator of heart attack risk. Homocysteine is produced as a byproduct of methionine metabolism. Homocysteine levels should stay under 7.2 µmol/L.

Getting a proper blood panel every year at your physical is an important part of staying on top of your health. Many things can be revealed in your CBC that will not be readily apparent in your everyday life. Use your CBC results to guide what (if any) supplements you take and to make adjustments to your lifestyle and diet.

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Your Best Thyroid: Part I

The Thyroid

Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits cozily against your windpipe in the front of your neck.

thyroidThis gland is responsible for generating the thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) & thyroxine (T4), as well as calcitonin, which is responsible for calcium homeostasis. The production of these hormones is controlled by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) which is in turn regulated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). T3 & T4 regulate the body’s metabolism & also control how sensitive the body is to other hormones.

Thyroid Dysfunction

The two most common thyroid disorders are hyperthyroidism & hypothyroidism, hypothyroidism being the more common of the two. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid underproduces T3 and T4, setting off a chain reaction in the body that leaves the sufferer feeling tired, irritable, and unable to lose weight despite their best efforts. Brittle hair, dry skin, constipation, depression, and joint pain can also be symptoms of hypothyroidism. While a blood panel and visit to your doctor is the surefire way to tell if your thyroid hormone production is low, you can also measure your body temperature every morning, which will give you an indication of the state of your thyroid. If you repeatedly measure below 97.8, you may have an underactive thyroid.

Eating for a healthier thyroid gland

There are two key nutrients to talk about when discussing the health of your thyroid: tyrosine and iodine. Tyrosine is a non-essential (meaning it cannot be synthesized by the body and must be included in the diet) amino acid, from which T3 and T4 are synthesised. A deficiency in tyrosine can lead to underproduction of these hormones. Tyrosine can be found in cheese, yogurt, milk, avocados, sesame seeds, and bananas.

Iodine is an essential trace mineral that has the potential to be behind an underperforming thyroid; its potential is greater than tyrosine because iodine is scarcely found in any appreciable amount in the Western diet. Iodine, being a main constituent of T3 & T4, has the ability to make or break your thyroid health. Below is a list of foods that contain iodine:

  1. Seafood                                                                                                                                                                 
  2. Kelp
  3. Iodized salt
Kelp

Kelp

That’s about it. Now you may have some idea of why iodine deficiency is so common. When was the last time you ate kelp? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably ‘never’. While you may use iodized table salt (created for exactly this purpose) in your salt cellar, it is probably not enough to give you the daily intake of iodine that is recommended (150 micrograms). For this reason, you should invest in a multivitamin that includes your daily recommended intake of iodine so that your thyroid has the nutritional support it needs.

This article has already gotten pretty lengthy so I will cut it into 2 parts. Part II will discuss lifestyle factors that could be affecting the health of your thyroid gland.

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5 Books Your Trainer Is Reading

Here are 5 books that I have read that answer questions my clients ask me over and over. If you want good books that provide valuable information on health & lifestyle, here are FIVE books that should get a place on your nightstand. Click on the photo of the cover for the Amazon.com page.

 

1. Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D.

Wheat BellyThis book is number one because I think it should be required reading for anyone even remotely interested in improving their health. Dr. Davis’s book provides VITAL information about the role of industrialized wheat in destroying our health and making us SICK. He explains the biology behind the long and short-term health problems that arise from consuming wheat. It will change the way you look at that supposedly ‘harmless’ slice of whole-wheat bread.

 

 

2. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

good cals bad cals

I see the phrase ‘calories in, calories out’ all the time. It makes me cringe because it is just NOT true. Anyone who tells you 100  calories of candy is the same as 100 calories of spinach is a fool. The quality of the food & the hormone response it elicits is paramount when it comes to differentiating between a ‘good’ calorie and a ‘bad’ calorie. If you want to learn more about what calories are help you get lean and stay lean, read this book!

 

 

3. The New Rules of Lifting by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove

new rules

If you’re looking for an easy to understand, fun to read manual for lifting weights, you’ve found it in The New Rules of Lifting. Whether you are new to lifting or have hit a wall after  months of training, this book is your answer. It breaks the sometimes overwhelming world of weight-lifting down into 6 basic movements and provides you with detailed lifting programs as well as nutrition advice. There are more versions of this book, like The New Rules of Lifting for WomenThe New Rules of Lifting for Abs, but this is your most basic version.

 

 

4. Becoming A Supple Leopard: Movement, Mobility, and Maintenance of the Human Animal by Kelly Starrett

supple leopard

“All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves”. So goes the quotation by Kelly Starrett, author of what promises to be the ULTIMATE guide in keeping one’s body healthy for training. Although Starrett tends to be a bit of controversial figure outside of the Crossfit community, there is no denying that he is mind-blowingly brilliant when it comes to deciphering the mobility needs of today’s athlete. He’s got the magic touch, folks. This book won’t be released until April 23rd but you’re straight up crazy if you’re not ordering right now. If you have any pain during training, can’t reach full range-of-motion, or are even just missing a few degrees  in a single movement, buy this book. It needs to be on everyone’s shelf.

 

5. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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This book may seem daunting but it is a pleasure to read. Not only that, it will most likely change your life. Read this book and you will NEVER look at food the same way again. It is about the food chain, its costs and benefits, its affects on human health and environment, and how you can make responsible food choices. It is not necessarily a health and fitness book, but it is for you if you’ve ever wondered about the origins of your food & if you wish to be a more responsible  ethical, informed consumer (which, deep down, you d0).

 

 

If you’ve ever wondered what your trainer is reading, now you know. Knowledge is power, get informed.

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How Alcohol Affects Your Metabolism

If you like to drink but want to be an educated drinker when it comes to the effect of alcohol on your body’s ability to burn fat, this article is for you. Let’s delve into the physiology behind alcohol consumption and talk about ways to reduce its negative impact on your health.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?

Your body responds to the ingestion of alcohol the way it would respond to your ingesting a poison. Since alcohol itself has no nutritional value & cannot be digested or used for any kind of function, its elimination takes precedence over dozens of other bodily functions, like the maintenance of blood sugar levels, the production and secretion of certain hormones, and the mobilization of fat for fuel.

The alcohol travels into your bloodstream quickly, setting off a series of reactions in the brain that give you that nice relaxed, walking on air feeling. Via the bloodstream, alcohol makes its way to the liver for metabolization. Since your liver can only metabolize so much alcohol at a time, if the rate of consumption outpaces the liver’s ability to metabolize, your blood alcohol level rises & you become increasingly intoxicated. The key issue here is that alcohol metabolism decreases your basal metabolic rate for many hours after alcohol consumption & can also provide the loopy state of mind needed to indulge in ‘drunk food’- unhealthy, high-calorie foods that you would usually avoid when sober.

What types of drinks are best?

Drinking alcohol regularly is going to earn you a belly regardless of what type you drink. For one, alcohol is very estrogenic; it mimics the hormone estrogen & therefore manipulates normal hormone levels in both men & women, providing both sexes with the extra appetite, mood swings, and body fat associated with high levels of this sex hormone. Read my article on estrogen-dominance for more information.

I have snagged a pretty good infographic that illustrates the sugar and alcohol content of some popular drinks:

Get Drunk Not Fat

What grade does your beverage earn?

Drinks that have high sugar content 1)get you drunk more quickly 2)pack a huge calorie punch. The worst culprits would be fruity mixed drinks & beer. The majority of their calorie content comes from sugar; drinking these types of beverages even a few times a week really adds up.

Other Factors to Watch Out For

Since alcohol consumption negatively affects muscle repair, if you are committed to training & to living a healthier lifestyle, alcohol just isn’t in the picture. There’s no way around it. It is extra, useless calories you don‘t need, it raises the level of a hormone that makes lowering your body fat next to impossible(1) & decreases the hormone you need to build muscle(2).

That being said, if you want to drink & want to minimize the affect on your body composition, your best bet is to go with hard liquor on ice or mixed with a diet soda. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks will only make the aftermath worse!

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1. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research Volume 17, Issue 4, pages 786–790, August 1993

2. Gordon GG, Altman K, Southren AL, Rubin E, Lieber CS The New England Journal of Medicine [1976, 295(15):793-797]

The Hormone You’re Missing Out On: Testosterone For Women

The stereotypes surrounding testosterone levels in women are many and varied: too much will give me a beard, high levels will make me angry all the time, I don’t want to get bulky like a man! Let’s put all of those myths to rest by investigating this hormone & what it can do for women searching for ways to look, feel, and move better.

What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a sex hormone produced by men in the testes and by women in the ovaries. Men produce testosterone at about 20x the rate of women; production is controlled by the pituitary gland. Testosterone plays an important role in sex drive, brain function, bone and muscle mass, fat distribution, the vascular system, and energy levels. Low testosterone in women usually strikes around menopause, but can also creep up on young women who are on hormonal birth control for long periods of time. Women with low testosterone usually fall into the category of being estrogen dominant. Let’s lay down some symptoms of low testosterone in women:

  • Low energy
  • Low sex drive
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression

Bringing testosterone levels back up to normal levels can have profound effects on a woman’s energy levels, confidence, her ability to gain muscle mass and lose fat, and increasing her libido. With optimal testosterone levels, you can build more muscle, have more energy and focus, improve your sex drive, and sleep more soundly.

 You can bring your testosterone levels up without any kind of medical intervention like hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It takes steady, sustained attention to alter testosterone levels in women, however, so stick with it!

Here are FIVE ways to raise your testosterone levels.

  1.  Change the way you work out. Studies have found time and again that certain types of training elicit certain hormonal responses. In this case, we want our workout to stimulate testosterone production. The key is high-intensity interval training coupled with resistance training. High-intensity intervals generate a more favorable response than steady-state endurance exercise. [1] Similarly, training with multi-joint, compound exercises like squats and deadlifts (which stimulate a huge number of muscle fibers at once) elevates testosterone.[2] Focus on moving some heavy weights several times a week and step away from the long, low-intensity runs if you want to bring your testosterone levels up.
  2. Sleep well. Losing sleep can drastically throw off your testosterone levels.[3] As sleep research progresses, we are learning that sleep is incredibly important for normal hormone functioning. Testosterone levels tend to dip when we are sleep-deprived so make your sleep a priority. Set a time to go to sleep & stick to it. Make your bedroom as dark as possible, wear ear plugs if you must, but let nothing disturb your sleep or cut into your 8-10 hours a night.
  3. Eat garlic, fat, and protein. Garlic has been shown to increase serum testosterone levels. [4] Eating a diet higher in protein has also been shown to elevate testosterone[5]. Cook up some garlic (you can buy little jars of chopped garlic) in coconut oil and then fry up some eggs– it’s pretty fantastic. Getting some quality saturated fat into your daily diet has also been shown to raise testosterone levels.[6]
  4. Kick out the estrogen. When you are exposed to certain chemicals in your daily diet or environment, they have the ability to act as estrogen in your body, creating an environment of estrogen dominance that practically drowns testosterone. These are known as xeno-estrogens or phytoestrogens. Xeno-estrogens are chemicals found in pesticides and herbicides, plastics, cleaners, makeups, lotions, shampoos, and countless other places. Phytoestrogens are found in foods, such as these common culprits: soy, dairy, flax, potatoes, and wheat. Wheat is the biggest offender here because it is EVERYWHERE in our daily diet. Check out this book, “Wheat Belly” for more information on cutting grains out of your diet.
  5. Reduce stress. This last tip is linked to my previous 2-part article on cortisol, a steroid hormone that rises as stress levels go up. Cortisol has the ability to block testosterone.[7] Read up on my article “Are my cortisol levels too high?” to learn how to better control your cortisol levels.

Those are FIVE ways to bring up your testosterone, a hormone that builds muscle, burns stomach fat, & gives you strength and confidence. Leave a comment below if you have more ideas on how to raise testosterone levels or to share your experience with estrogen dominance.

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[1] Testosterone responses to intensive interval versus steady-state endurance exercise. J Endocrinol Invest. 2012 Dec;35(11):947-50.

[2] Loebel, C.C., and W.J. Kraemer. A brief review: Testosterone and resistance training in men. J.Strength and Cond.Res. 12(1):57-63. 1998

[3] Sleep deprivation lowers reactive aggression and testosterone in men. Biol Psychol. 2012 Oct 6;92(2):249-256

[4] Garlic Supplementation Increases Testicular Testosterone and Decreases Plasma Corticosterone in Rats Fed a High Protein Diet. J. Nutr. August 1, 2001 vol. 131 no. 8 2150-2156.

[5] Diet and Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. January 1, 2000 vol. 85 no. 1 293-296

[6] Dorgan JJF, Judd JJT, Longcope CC, Brown CC, Schatzkin AA, Clevidence BBA, Campbell WWS, Nair PPP, Franz CC, Kahle LL, Taylor PPR. Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study. The American journal of clinical nutrition 1996;64:850-5.

[7] Horm Behav. 2010 Nov;58(5):898-906. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Are My Cortisol Levels Too High? Part 2

In Part 1, we covered the ways in which your cortisol levels can become skewed & the side-effects associated with imbalanced cortisol. In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will look into ways you can fix your cortisol levels and bring them back to normal.  Let’s start with lifestyle fixes for lowering cortisol.

Lifestyle Solutions for High Cortisol

  1. SLEEP. This is placed in the number one spot for a good reason. Sleep is INCREDIBLY important to normal hormone levels, especially normal cortisol levels. The body (correctly) interprets lack of sleep as a high-stress situation and prepares for hard times by releasing cortisol, often triggering cravings for high-calorie foods that will perk you up. Sleeping eight quality hours a night or more is absolutely crucial for bringing cortisol levels back into line.
  2. RELAX. Easier said than done! We live in a hectic, fast-paced world where expectations are high and time is short. Taking the time out to relax and unwind is a must. Meditation, exercising, chatting with friends, laughing, and getting in quality time with people you love are all good ways to dial down the stress pattern that elevates cortisol.
  3. EXERCISE. Exercise (especially resistance training) is key to burning fat and building muscle. Lift heavier weights for fewer reps for a more positive anabolic response.[1] Endurance exercise can have the opposite effect. When you go long (over an hour) cortisol levels tend to go higher and stay that way. [2]

Nutrition Solutions for High Cortisol

  1. CAFFEINE. High caffeine intake has been linked with elevated cortisol levels.[3] If you are downing 4-5 cups (300-400mg of caffeine) of coffee every day, you might be unintentionally spiking your cortisol levels.
  2. LESS PROCESSED FOOD. Cut the junk out of your diet to improve your cortisol response.

“When we eat sugar, white flour and other refined foods, they are absorbed very quickly by the body and bring our blood glucose levels up too quickly to an excessively high level. This sends an emergency signal to the pancreas to bring the blood sugar levels back down, so it releases an excessive amount of insulin to deal with the excessively high levels of blood glucose.

This in turn causes the body to call on the adrenal glands to release cortisol to bring the blood sugar levels back up, because it works in conjunction with insulin to keep blood sugar in balance. Every time you eat sugar and refined foods the pancreas and the adrenals go through this cycle and this puts too much demand on them.”

-holistichelp.net

3. CUT OUT THE ALCOHOL. Drinking alcohol has a profound effect on cortisol levels. Drinkers who consume alcohol on a regular basis have chronically high cortisol levels[4] and tend to store high levels of fat in their abdomen due to high cortisol levels and other factors.

In short, these are pretty easy steps you can take to make sure your cortisol levels are in a good pattern. If you need help tweaking your exercise plan, just contact me and I can set you on the right path.

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[1] Acute Hormonal Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Strength Athletes Versus Nonathletes. Juha P. Ahtiainen, Arto Pakarinen, William J. Kraemer, Keijo Hakkinen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2004, 29(5): 527-543, 10.1139/h04-034

[2] Catecholamines, growth hormone, cortisol, insulin, and sex hormones in anaerobic and aerobic exercise.

European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. September 1982, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 389-399.

[3] Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Psychosom Med. 2005; 67(5): 734–739.

[4]  Alcohol use, urinary cortisol, and heart rate variability in apparently healthy men: Evidence for impaired inhibitory control of the HPA axis in heavy drinkers. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Volume 59, Issue 3, March 2006, Pages 244–250.

Are my cortisol levels too high? PART ONE

The stress of the holiday season effects all of us in different ways. For some, it is a time of family, fun, and bad food that, by January 1st, is already a fond memory. For others, however, the stress of shopping, cleaning, cooking, and eating our way through the holidays can bring us down into a funk that can be hard to climb out of. A common symptom of holiday overload is elevated cortisol levels. A buzzword since the introduction of drugs like Cortislim, cortisol has gotten plenty of attention from the weight-loss community for its negative effects on the body. Cortisol is a survival hormone, however–without it, we would be unable to function. Read on to learn more about this hormone & its role in the stress response.

 

What is cortisol?

Image

The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys

Hormone levels are the end-all indicators of the levels of stress your body may be enduring (physical or mental). Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to a) stress or b) low blood sugar levels. Cortisol is characterized by its diurnal variation pattern; like some other hormones, including the sex hormone testosterone, the levels peak in the morning and drop off toward the evening.

In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting fats and proteins into energy, keeping us alert, balancing electrolytes, calibrating heart beat and pressure, and counteracting inflammation. In the short run, that’s great — even protective and restorative.

However, problems can develop as today’s relentlessly busy lifestyle forces your adrenal glands to be on constant “high alert” resulting in sustained high levels of cortisol.

womentowomen.com

Chronically High Cortisol Levels

How can you tell if your cortisol levels are chronically high & why can this be a potentially destructive pattern? Firstly, your doctor can run a blood test to tell you if your cortisol levels are above normal. Here is a table showing the upper and lower limits of cortisol levels in the blood.

Reference ranges for blood plasma content of free cortisol
Time Lower limit Upper limit Unit
09:00 am 140[46] 700[46] nmol/L
5[47] 25[47] μg/dL
Midnight 80[46] 350[46] nmol/L
2.9[47] 13[47] μg/dL

Here are some observations you can make yourself to get an idea of whether your cortisol levels are up (and staying up):

1. The Wired/Tired Combo

A symptom of chronically high cortisol is the inability to relax. Your brain is often running at high speed with the stress of life while your body is physically not up to the task.

2. Junk Food Cravings

Similar to the reaction the human body generates when deprived of sleep, high cortisol prompts high-fat, high-sugar food cravings in response to perceived stress.

3. Long-Distance Exerciser

Training for a marathon? Or maybe you just like to go out everyday for a 45 minute jog to calm your brain. This type of repetitive, aerobic exercise can contribute to elevated cortisol. You might be able to spot this type next time you’re at the gym–the man or woman who is always on the treadmill, never hitting the weights, yet has a pudgy middle.

Chronically  high cortisol levels can make it next to impossible to lose weight. Cortisol, as a stress hormone, keeps your body on high alert and in a constant state of stress. Your body is not in homeostasis, or biological balance.

In Part Two, we will talk about ways to bring your cortisol back into sync to have you looking and feeling better. Until then,

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How to Get Better Sleep Infographic

How to Get Better Sleep Infographic

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