Know Your 5 Important Biomarkers to Stay Alive
What if you could predict or see your future health history, or for that matter, your future illnesses and diseases and what ultimately will claim your life? What if, like a crystal ball, you could see the road you were on and where it was headed? Would you want to know? If you could then alter that path in a positive, healthier direction, I think the answer for most of us would be, “Yes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that is available to you right now. They say that the best way to predict the future is to create it and I agree. However, on any journey, you must first know your starting point and destination. When it comes to your health right now, do you know where you are precisely? In my 28 years of practice, I find that most people truly don’t have an accurate picture of their health. Many people think they are healthy, and most people have a “positive illusion” of health. RESEEARCH HERE Meaning, they think they are a lot healthier than they really are because they feel ok. However, most people don’t know that health has very little to do with how a person feels. Feeling good or not feeling good can be an illusion and gets us into big trouble sometimes. Let me give you a recent example. About 2 months ago, my wife got a call from a good friend that her husband was being rushed to the hospital because he was having intense chest pain. By the time he got to the hospital, he had coded several times meaning his heart stopped, and he had to be resuscitated. It turns out that he had a ruptured aortic aneurysm and thank God, the surgeons were able to repair it and save his life. He felt fine one moment and then felt what he called “shattering glass” in his chest the moment before he started not feeling well. I want you to think about that situation and ask yourself a question, “When do think his health started to deteriorate and were their clues in his body and in his blood that could have predicted that he was on a collision course with a major life-threatening event?” The answer is a resounding yes. Did he develop the heart disease that led to his life-threatening event the day of, or the day before he was rushed to the hospital? The obvious answer is NO. We must stop judging our health based on the way we feel and start basing it on real-time data.
Let’s discuss this further by using an example that we all can relate to, our cars. What if you never had a gas gauge in your car, or a temperature gauge, or a check-engine light that told you that indicated a problem? What if you had to “guess” if you were going to run out of gas? Would you want to take that chance? “I think I have enough gas today?” I bet many more cars would be on the side of the road waiting for AAA to come rescue them. What if your car was beginning to overheat? Would you want to wait until it started smoking or would you like to see the needle on the gauge climbing towards the red, so you knew to stop before it overheated? Of course, you want to know if your car is overheating, and for that matter, any other looming problems in your car. It just makes good sense if you want to have a car that last long and performs well. Well then, why are our bodies any different? We have systems in our bodies just like a car has systems (electrical system, fuel system, steering system, etc.). We have an electrical system and it’s called our nervous system. We also have a fuel system called our digestive system and a steering system called our muscular system. We have to understand how those systems work best to manage them and the best way to do that is to measure the data that is coming from that system.
Unfortunately, we don’t have gauges on our body that warn us when there are problems in its systems, such as the circulatory system (heart disease), nervous system (MS or Alzheimer’s), digestive system (ulcerative colitis or colon cancer), etc.
In the human body, we call the data that we measure to express function physiological markers or “biomarkers.” These indicate our biological makeup at any given point in time. We like to say that “physiology never lies but sometime people do”.
The more complex a system, the more “gauges” it requires to manage. Think about a plane vs. a car. A plane requires the pilot to be aware of many systems and lots of data needs to be managed for the plane to operate effectively and safely. Our cars require less data for us to operate them efficiently. However, there are a few critical systems that you are always paying attention to in your car such as the gas gauge.
Likewise, our bodies may be complex, but having a working knowledge of the critical gauges and data to pay attention to is vitally important. We can look at a lot of data in the human body to assess its performance, but “know your 5 to stay alive” looks at 5 of the most important pieces of information and data that will determine your performance and longevity now and in the future.
These 5 important Biomarkers are:
- Body Composition: Muscle vs. Fat and where you are carrying your fat.
- Blood Pressure and Resting Pulse: An indicator of how your cardiovascular system is functioning.
- Anterior Head Carriage: A measurement of how far forward you head is in relationship to your hips.
- HbA1C: Hemoglobin A1C, a biomarker of aging and sugar metabolism
- Triglyceride/HDL ratio: The strongest predictor of our #1 killer, heart disease.
# 1. Body Composition Biomarkers (muscle vs. fat ratio). Body composition is much different than weight. We seem to have a fascination (especially women) with weight and Body Mass Index (BMI). However, body composition is not BMI, and BMI doesn’t tell us much unless the number gets over 30, in which a person is considered obese. At this point chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. start to become much more prevalent. Other than that, weight doesn’t tell us much about how healthy you are.
Body composition is more about the quality of your weight, not the quantity of your weight. It tells us how much muscle (in pounds and as a percentage of your overall weight) you have compared to the amount of fat on your body (in pounds and as a percentage of your overall weight). Muscle takes about 1/3 less volume than fat and burns 5 times more calories at rest. It’s SO important to our health and proper function! It maintains our balance and strength and I believe is one of the most important tissues in our bodies to maintain and not lose as we age. In fact, most people lose about 3-5% of our muscle each decade after the age of 50. But we can absolutely do something about this.
In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did resistance training and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-pound increase in muscle mass.
Now let’s talk fat. Even saying the word “fat” doesn’t sound good but we have to confront the brutal reality of our situation. If you are carrying too much fat, especially centrally on your body, you are in trouble. The fat that accumulates in your belly (centripetal obesity) is a hormone producing machine. In fact, belly fat produces 17 hormones and many of them are interfering with our health. For example, estrogen and inflammatory chemicals are produced by adipose tissue that is carried in the belly and mid-section. This is why we now see young boys who are being “feminized” by having breasts because their obesity and estrogen-producing belly fat. Estrogen produced by belly fat causes little boys to develop little boobies. However, this isn’t normal and it is due to the belly fat these boys are carrying.
To measure this important biomarker, we use a diagnostic piece of equipment called an In-Body and it measures your muscle mass in pounds and as a percentage of your overall weight. It also measures your fat mass in pounds and as a percentage of your overall weight. Also, it can measure WHERE you are carrying your muscle and fat and it gives you a “visceral fat index” which is a number that goes from 1-20 and represents the square centimeters of fat you have in your midsection or belly, which is the worst place to carry fat for your health.
# 2. Blood Pressure and Resting Pulse make up the next key biomarker. Combined, these numbers will tell you a lot about your cardiovascular health. Let’s talk about blood pressure first. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm hg. Blood pressure represent the pressure being applied to the inside wall of the artery. Think of water flowing through your pipes, you need some pressure to keep the water going but too much pressure isn’t good because it can cause damage to the pipe. There are many things that can raise our blood pressure such as arteriolosclerosis, increased stress which can cause the blood vessels to constrict. Unlike the pipes in our kitchen, the blood vessels dilate and constrict based on the amount of blood needed in an area. Blood pressure is associated with longevity. If it is low, your chances of living a long life are good and if it is high, your chances of dying go up significantly. A Norwegian study of 16,000 men revealed that high blood pressure was associated with a five-year reduction in life expectancy. The participants with the highest blood pressure had an average lifespan 7.2 years shorter than the participants at the other end of the spectrum. Having a blood pressure of 140/90 or greater for an extended period of time can really increase your risk of dying so know your blood pressure. Know the common causes of hypertension and address them if necessary. These include lack of sleep, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, magnesium deficiency, and chronic stress.
Resting pulse is also linked with longevity. A study, published in Heart, suggests that a higher resting heart rate is an independent predictor of mortality — even in healthy people in good physical condition.
A Danish study of 5,249 healthy middle-aged and elderly men found that the higher the resting heart rate, the greater the risk for death. Compared with men with rates of 50 beats a minute or less, those at 71 to 80 beats had a 51 percent greater risk of death. At 81 to 90 beats, the rate of death was doubled, and over 90 the risk of death it was tripled.
Staying hydrated, exercise (especially high-intensity interval training), limiting stimulants such as coffee, reducing and managing stress, eating more fish, getting more sleep, and practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation and yoga will all have a positive impact on your resting heart rate.
# 3. Anterior Head Carriage Biomarkers:
Anterior is the descriptive term that describes the front of your body, and posterior is the back of your body which is why your rear-end is sometimes referred to as your “posterior”. So, anterior head carriage is when the head shifts forward out in front of the body. It what you would refer to as “bad posture” or “hunch-back”. Research shows that for every inch the head moves forward out in front of the hips, it adds 10 pounds of force on the body. The human head weighs about 7.5% of its total body weight so in a 150 pound person, the head would weigh about 11 lbs. If you take an 11 pound mass and start moving it away from center of gravity, it gets heavier and becomes harder to carry. Think about how we carry a bag of groceries into the house. We hug it into our body or carry it alongside our body. What we don’t do is hold it and carry it out in front of our body with our arms extended away from us. It would make no sense because it would become much harder to carry. The term in physics is called “torque”. Anterior head carriage puts torque on the back of our spine because the weight is pulling us forward and putting a strain on our body. Structurally speaking, a building should not be out of alignment like the leaning tower of Pisa. It should be perfectly straight up and down, so the loads are distributed properly. In your body, the head should be right over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, hips over the knees and knees over the ankles. From the front, the head, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis, hip and knees should all be level. Take a look at yourself from the side and from the front. Better yet, have someone take a picture from the side and the front. We take digital pictures of patients and evaluate them using a computer program that analyzes alignment and posture and give specific details on where alignment problems exist.
A study by Kamitani et al of 804 participants done in 2013 showed that anterior head posture or “spinal inclination” as they called it was a significant predictor of decreased life span and disability. In other words, the more forward the posture, the greater the chance of disability and death.
I’ve seen this in my 27 years of practice. One of my favorite quotes is that “Posture follows movement like a shadow”. People with poor posture, whether that is in the frontal plane or side plane, don’t move well and if you don’t move well, you won’t age well. Movement is the foundation of life and good posture is the foundation of movement.
Good posture is not a matter of just standing up straight. It’s so much more than that. Good alignment of the spine, pelvis and hips, a strong core, a flexible core and some work is what it takes to develop good alignment and posture. It’s not good luck, its hard work.
# 4. Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that is an indicator of how much “glycation” is happening in the body. Glycation occurs when sugars combine with certain amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) or fats causing advanced glycation end-products (AGE’s) to form. This process of glycation changes the proteins and fats in your body by “stiffening” them rendering them less useful in the body and aging the body. Flexibility, even at the cellular level, is critical.
Glycation and elevated A1C is more likely to occur when blood sugar is elevated, which explains the higher levels of AGEs in people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. One danger of AGEs is that they can clog the very small blood vessels (microvascular system) throughout the body, especially in the kidneys, eyes, heart, and brain, which may contribute to the risk of various diabetic complications. According to the British Medical Journal, the predictive value of HbA1C for total mortality is stronger than that documented for cholesterol concentration, body mass index and blood pressure.
This test is easy to run and should be a part of your normal yearly physical in your doctor’s office. We run this test routinely in our 8 Weeks to Wellness patients and see a significant positive change when patients finish the program. This demonstrates the positive impact of dietary changes on HbA1C levels. See the chart below for normal, pre-diabetic and diabetic ranges.
# 5 Triglyceride/HDL Ratio is one of the most important blood ratios you should know. Traditionally, cholesterol was the “gold standard” for predicting heart disease, the number one killer of men and women in the U.S. However, research in the past 30 years has shown that it’s not your total cholesterol that matters but your ratio of good cholesterol particles (big, fluffy particles) to bad cholesterol particles (small, dense particles). We now know that it is not the cholesterol that causes arteriosclerosis but the protein that carries the cholesterol that is the culprit. Cholesterol can’t float freely in our blood; it has to be transported by proteins and these proteins are called “lipoproteins”. A study found that Triglyceride/HDL ratio above 4 was the most powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease independent of total cholesterol. Other studies have shown that 50% of the people who die of cardiovascular disease has normal cholesterol levels.
Interestingly, it has been found that the Triglyceride/HDL-C ratio can predict cholesterol particle size and particle size is the key to understanding who will develop cardiovascular disease and who won’t. One study found that 79% of individuals with a Triglyceride/HDL ratio above 3.8 had a preponderance of small dense LDL particles, whereas 81% of those with a ratio below 3.8 had a preponderance of large buoyant particles. Bottom line is you want your cholesterol to be large and fluffy like tumbleweeds not small and dense like golf balls and Trig/HDL can predict this.
Triglyceride/HDL ratio can also be a marker of insulin resistance. A study in which most of the participants were Caucasian and overweight identified TG/HDL-C ratio of 3 or greater as a reliable predictor of insulin resistance. See the chart below for what is considered low risk vs. high risk for Trig/HDL ratio.
If you want to live a long, healthy life, it is important to know the key biomarkers that can accurately predict how well you are doing, not just on the outside but on the inside of your body. We put lots of time and money on “looking good” on the outside but truthfully our insides are just as important if not more. We would do well to understand and take care of the inside of our bodies, those parts we can’t see with the naked eye. These “know your 5 to survive” numbers can let you know how beautiful you look on the inside, and how long and how well you will live into the future.