Have you ever wondered how healthy you really are? You know, is the environment inside of you in good shape, or are you dealing with some internal problems that could be the cause of some symptoms that you’ve not been able to piece together yet? Well, my curiosity piqued in summer 2017, and since then I’ve done a few interesting tests…
In The Pursuit of Optimal Health – First You Must Measure
It was in 2017 where my enthusiasm and passion for the space of strength and wellness got ignited. I lost a bunch of weight, got expert programming for my strength training efforts, dialled in my diet for weight control and muscle growth, and started to see the benefits of addressing my sleep deprivation issues. But there were a few issues niggling at me that I was keen to better understand:
- Strength & Muscle gains were slow
- I would struggle to muster the aggression and fury needed to lift real heavy
- Energy Levels were low, and I’d have to sleep after eating at night – always!
- I had a bunch of skin issues – psoriasis-esque, flaky scalp & a touch of vitiligo
- I would get hotter & sweatier than everyone else – and seemed to worsen when under any level of emotional discomfort publicly
I had done enough research to hypothesise the following:
- Testosterone & Oestrogen – Perhaps these were out of whack. I’m definitely a lover not a fighter, and when I was a teenager I had a very mild form of gynecomastia (aka moobs).
- Overactive Thyroid – Were my sweating and overheating issues related to an overactive Thyroid, which is the master controller for heat and metabolism?
- Adrenal Issues – Or, was I producing too much adrenaline and cortisol for some reason, that had the cascading effect of being too stressed and body reacting accordingly
- Skin Issues – Could this be hormonal imbalances, a lack of good nutrition or the cause of too much inflammation from ‘bad’ foods throughout my whole life?
In the spirit of better understanding my body in the hope I can make nutritional and lifestyle changes, I went about getting the following. These were privately funded, as the NHS or Private Healthcare doesn’t cover curiosity – only specific tests to diagnose specific symptoms.
#1 – A Full Sports Hormone Blood Panel – Involved having my bloods taken and 51 separate tests taken. Cost of approx £200.
#2 – A Full Microbiome Mapping – Involved shipping a fecal sample over to the US in addition to a metabolic test and involved questionnaire. Looks to identify all microorganisms living in your gut: bacteria, viruses, archaea, yeast, fungi, parasites and bacteriophages, and then give you personalised nutritional guidance for optimal health. Cost of approx £350.
#3 – Blood Glucose Testing – Involved purchasing a blood glucose monitor and finger pricking periodically to see how blood sugars rise/fall in relation to eating certain foods . Cost of approx £50.
Number two (excuse the pun) is incredibly eye opening! The science and understanding of the microbiome is relatively immature, but it’s quickly becoming an area of huge interest and investment, as we may just be able to correct many modern chronic diseases and issues by better understanding, respecting and nurturing the bacteria that live within our gut. The amount of genes in our microbiome outnumber our genes in our genome by a staggering 100 to 1! To a degree, you get to choose which bacteria (and therefore gene expression) that live in your gut. Mind-blowing! Within the next couple months, I will look to share my Microbiome test results on AdapNation Articles and also have a detailed discussion on the AdapNation Podcast.
My Blood Panel Results
To help best understand what you get, the attached image shows a summarised dashboard of all the test results. By itself, it misses lots of context, so you need to peer into each of the results and look at the technical report.
Important to note – Green means you are in the ‘normal range’. All that really means is that based on the lab performing the analysis, they look to benchmark you against the normal healthy range for a given measurement, based on the patients they have worked with. That’s all well and good, but what about if the majority of their patients are not particularly healthy? Or what about if you are borderline low/high on a specific test – could that corroborate with the symptoms you are experiencing? For this reason, it’s advisable to get some expert opinion or do your own research from reputable medical sources.
Looks Pretty Good Right?
To be fair, I was hoping and expecting a good result. Through 2017 I had cleaned up my diet and habits a fair degree, and was hopeful we would say that in the results. And by and large the blood work confirmed I’m mostly healthy. As stated above though, it’s not taking into account the state of my microbiome, so this absolutely is not the full picture.
THE GOOD RESULTS
- Healthy White Blood Cells – There are many tests, but in essence White Blood cells are key to your immune and defence systems. They fight infections and protect your body from foreign invaders such as harmful germs and bacteria. These tests can indicate whether you are dealing with chronic infection or inflammation, have certain autoimmune issues or generally low defences.
- No Inflammation Markers – Chronic inflammation is caused by longer term conditions such as arthiritis, inflammatory bowel disease or asthma.
- Healthy Clotting Status – If platelet levels are raised there is an increased risk of blood clots forming in blood vessels. If platelet levels are too low there is a risk of easy bruising and uncontrolled bleeding.
- No Signs of Diabetes – HBA1C and Insulin levels were at healthy low levels. HBA1C is a longer term measure of glucose levels in your blood. If we eat too much sugar and starchy foods, our bodies are flooded with insulin and over time our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, leaving high levels of sugar and insulin in our bloodstreams. Raised insulin means that you are becoming insulin resistant which is a pre-diabetic condition.
- Total Protein Levels at Healthy Midpoint – Abnormal levels can indicate malnutrition as well as a liver or kidney disorder. Low albumin levels can indicate liver disease and can also be a marker for chronic ill-health, malnutrition and inflammation. Raised levels are usually caused by dehydration.
- Low Risk of Heart Disease – Whilst there are many factors at play, testing for certain lipids (fats) in the bloodstream can indicate an increased risk. It turns out that Cholesterol has been inappropriately villainised, and is actually good for us – or at least certain types are. For example, Cholesterol is critical for hormone production. All measures were healthy, with excellent levels of Cholesterol and protective HDL as a % of total.
- Healthy Cortisol Levels – Raised Cortisol levels can lead to rapid weight gain, especially around the waist, excessive body hair (in women) and loss of libido and erectile dysfunction (in men). Low levels of Cortisol can lead to fatigue, nausea, skin discolouration and low blood pressure. I was within the lower quartile of the healthy range – but could explain the skin, low blood pressure and fatigue issues…
- Healthy Kidney Function – Your kidneys are responsible for removing waste products and excess fluid from your blood. Markers were good, in the context of my diet. I had raised levels of Urea and borderline high levels of Creatinine. Raised levels of Urea and Creatinine may indicate that the kidneys are not working properly. However, if you eat a lot of animal protein, take Creatine and exercise vigorously, high levels are expected. I do all three!
- Healthy Liver Function – Your liver is one of your body’s most important organs and has many functions including breaking down food and converting it to energy, getting rid of waste and toxins and manufacturing and regulating some hormones. Your liver can become inflamed and progressively damaged through excessive food intake and alcohol consumption. I had elevated ALT, but this can also be caused by recent vigorous exercise. I had very high CK (Creatine Kinase) which signifies muscle cell damage and death. CK levels tend to be higher in people with greater muscle mass – it can rise rapidly after muscle trauma, but will subside as the damage repairs. If you have been to the gym the day before your blood test you may well exhibit raised levels of CK. I had!
- Healthy Thyroid Function – Surprisingly, all my markers suggest a healthy Thyroid – hormones and antibodies. There were slightly higher levels of Free T4, the primary hormone produced by the Thyroid to stimulate metabolic activity, but it was way within normal range.
- Good Vitamin Profile – Two key vitamins – B12 and Folate are within healthy ranges, important for DNA replication and protection, production of red blood cells and the nervous system. Also, the mineral Magnesium (more info here) is in a healthy range.
SOME AREAS FOR CONCERN / IMPROVEMENT
I Have a Form of Thalassaemia
This is interesting, as I only realised this in 2016. My mother has beta thalassaemia (minor) which is a red blood disorder that is quite common in people of Greek origin. This condition reduces the production of hemoglobin, which is the iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. In people with beta thalassemia, low levels of hemoglobin lead to a lack of oxygen in many parts of the body. Persons with thalassemia minor have (at most) mild anemia that can closely resemble that with mild iron-deficiency anemia. However, they in actual fact have a normal blood iron level.
Importantly, I only have one of the thalassaemia genes – otherwise I would have thalassaemia major that would be a big chronic issue. What this does mean is that I can pass this trait onto my children, and should two parents both carrying the gene have children, that child could have thalassaemia major.
As a result of this condition, I have abnormalities in Red Cell Count, Red Cell Size, Hemoglobin Volume and Red Cell Width Uniformity. My iron levels actually show a little high, which could cause a little fatigue, muscle weakness, moodiness and difficulty concentrating. I do experience all of these from time to time, but not in a big way. So, this condition seems to have little impact – that said I wouldn’t know if I would have more energy if my red blood cells were more normal.
Testosterone is Below the Normal Range
Aha – that explains things! Lower than normal Testosterone is linked to low libido, erectile dysfunction, difficulty in gaining/maintaining muscle mass and lack of energy. Testosterone is highest in your teens and drops continuously as you age. Think about it, Testosterone is produced to make you horny and energised, with natures’ goal to seek a mate and procreate. Once in your thirties, nature assumes your job is done, and this hormone goes on the decline. It’s also worth noting that Testosterone is highest first thing in the morning – it helps you awaken (and explains the morning glory phenomenon), and drops to it’s lowest at bedtime.
I don’t suffer with erectile dysfunction at all, but I must admit my libido seems lower than average. It heightens when I don’t have other things to do – however, I’m always doing other stuff! Where I had some concerns was the rate of muscle growth, low(ish) energy and lack of aggressiveness that comes from being a ‘bloke’. Muscle takes a loooong time to build on my frame, and I can’t tap into my inner beast like some guys can when they train heavy.
I re-tested on recommendation, and this time tested my Free Testosterone too, which is the unbound testosterone that your body can actually use. It was just out of range – i.e. clinically classed as worthy of Testosterone Replacement Therapy.
Instead of going for TRT, which has some downsides (plus I don’t want to be on anabolic steroids, no matter how low a dose), I decided to go about transforming my lifestyle and nutrition, to see if I can improve my natural levels. I must admit, the energy levels seem better, e.g no falling asleep after dinner, but mood and libido is still a bit sketchy. My training can still feel a little lacklustre at times, but not sure if that’s sleep or Testosterone levels. I’m definitely building muscle, so the hormone deficiency is not having a material impact on my life.
That said, I’m curious if things have improved. I’ll order another test and will let you know the results, plus any decisions I make about TRT.
P.S. Women have Testosterone too, but 10-25 times lower amounts than guys. It absolutely has benefits to women, but as you know, Oestrogen is the more dominant sex hormone in women.
Side note on Oestrogen – My levels were normal. Actually quite low within the normal range. Studies are now confirming that plastic food packaging and the big culprit being Soybeans have an Oestrogen-like affect on your body by binding to your Oestrogen receptors. This, combined with perhaps inheriting more Oestrogen than normal from my mother, may have explained the mild gynecomastia as a teenager. I do not have any soy products directly these days, and we do our best to avoid farmed meats that have been farmed on soy. However, most regular meat, chicken and fish are unfortunately fed soy, even though it is not their natural diet.
Borderline Low Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, that is synthesised primarily through the skin being exposed to sunlight. It is a critical hormone, as nearly every type of tissue and cell in the body has vitamin D receptors, meaning that it has significant influence over a large number of physiological processes. Vitamin D regulates genes that control immune function, metabolism, and even cell growth and development. You can read more on our Wellness Micro Blog on Vitamin D.
It turns out some one billion people are assumed to be deficient in this vital hormone, and my results back in August suggested I was borderline low, but still within the normal range.
Considering Vitamin D helps with immune health, brain health, insulin sensitivity, heart health and guarding against cancer, it’s clear I should be doing more to have sufficient levels coursing through my body. That was the recommendation from the doctor.
As such, I am supplementing with 4,000 IU a day, when the RNI is claimed by scientists to be far too low at 400UI.
In Summary – A Full Blood Panel is a Great Investment in Your Wellbeing
As you can see, this information is so interesting and insightful. It could just help explain some symptoms that you have been dealing with your whole life or have more recently surfaced. Understanding your body, and how to best look after it is invaluable in my opinion, and 100% worth the investment.
From this blood work, it has triggered me to supplement, change my lifestyle and nutrition, and look to make measurable improvements that will result in less negative symptoms and greater vitality. Now, some of my questions at the top of this article are still not fully answered, but I’m getting closer to understanding the potential cause and effects within my body. Furthermore, it has motivated me to go to the next level of awareness, which is to test my Microbiome. I promise to share the finding of this work in due course.
If you want to get some blood work done and cannot get a full panel commissioned by your NHS GP (unlikely), then search online for a reputable firm. For example, Michelle and I used www.medichecks.com which I cannot fault in terms of service, speed, ease and quality of reporting.
Follow this and other topic areas in our longer-form Articles series as they unfold. Comment if you have questions or ideas.