Friday, September 14, 2012

What My Blood Lab Results Told Me

I went to my primary care physician last week and said, "I'd like to have my levels tested."

"For what?" She asked.


I realized that, just weeks away from my 28th birthday, that I had no idea what my cholesterol levels were, if I had normal blood sugar, if my kidneys and thyroid were functioning normally, or if I was getting enough vitamin D (most people--- unless they live near the equator--- have a vitamin D deficiency, regardless of how much time they spend in the sun. Did you know that?).

Nothing felt or seemed particularly wrong, but I figured if I was on a quest to really be healthy (and not just skinny or buff or whatever), I should know if there's anything going on in my body that I can't see. I made a lab appointment a few days later, was called back to have my blood drawn, and I was out the door in sixty seconds flat. That's all the time it took, so there really is no excuse for me waiting this long.

I knew this much going in: based on my height, weight, and measurements, I had a BMI of 28.0 (above the normal range of 18.5-24.9) and a body fat percentage of 36.61% (above the normal range of 21-33%). These put me in an overweight" and "at risk" category. Those I knew needed to change.

Since taking my initial measurements one week ago, I have lost two pounds, one inch off my waistline, and I've gone down to a BMI of 27.88 and a body fat percentage of 34.86%. It's only been a week, but I'm on my way! (For the record, one month ago my BMI was 28.7 and my body fat percentage was 36.32%.)

(Here are links to an online Body Mass Index Calculator and a Body Fat Percentage Calculator.)

Today, I received the results from my blood lab in the mail. Quite frankly, I was very surprised:

Blood Pressure
Healthy Range: 100-130 Systolic/65-85 Diastolic
My Level: 124 Systolic/64 Diastolic 

Total Cholesterol
Healthy Range: < 200
My Level: 158 

HDL (Good) Cholesterol
Healthy Range: 40-60 mg/dL
My Level: 42 

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
Healthy Range: < 100
My Level: 95 

Blood Glucose
Healthy Range: 65-99 mg/dL
My Level: 77 

Healthy Range: 8.6-10.2 mg/dL
My Level: 9.6 

Vitamin D
Healthy Range: 32-100 ng/mL
My Level: 45.6 

Healthy Range: 136-145 mmol/L
My Level: 139 

Healthy Range: 0.50-1.10 mg/dL
My Level: 0.89

Healthy Range: 3.4-5.1 mmol/L
My Level: 4.8 

Healthy Range: 98-107 mmol/L
My Level: 104 

Healthy Range: 22-32 mmol/L
My Level: 23 

Anion Gap
Healthy Range: 7-14My Level: 12 

Blood Urea Nitrogen 
Healthy Range: 6-23 mg/dL 
My Level: 12 

TSH Reflex 
Healthy Range: 0.450-4.500 ulU/mL  
My Level: 1.010 

Electrolytes/Kidney Function: Normal
Hemoglobin/White Blood Cell Count/Platelet Count: Normal
Thyroid Function: Normal
Diabetic Testing: Normal

Wow. I am completely normal. I am within the healthy range in every single area I was tested. That is a wonderful feeling!

I didn't even know what most of these levels represented, so I looked them up. For example, the "anion gap" is a way to measure kidney function, to see if the kidneys are removing enough acid from the body. Many of these other tests (bicarbonate, potassium, sodium, creatinine, chloride) measure various electrolyte levels in the blood, which are a measure of organ function and healthy blood flow.

IMPORTANT: Having been privy to the mass deficiency of vitamin D in the United States (especially in the region where I live), I had been taking vitamin D supplements for about two months prior to this test. I was taking 6000 IU--- six times the daily requirement--- because I knew if I was low I would need to overcompensate until I reached a healthy range. Now I take 2000 IU each day, and while my vitamin D levels were considered normal, they are still on the low end. If you've never had your vitamin D tested, it is vital that you look into it soon. Too little of it can impact so many areas of your health.

My cholesterol levels could also be more balanced, but I know a big part of that is in losing excess weight and being more active, along with eating healthy fats like fish, olive oil, and nuts (and not processed foodstuffs).

It has taken me several years to reach the point where I don't eat fast food, instant meals, heavily processed products, deep-fried foods (most of the time), meat-centric meals, soda, or additives like high fructose corn syrup and aspartame. I had to learn how to look for what was the healthiest option for me, and it took one baby step at a time, starting in 2007 with I began giving up foods containing aspartame.

Now I eat fresh, organic, mostly locally-grown produce with meat as a smaller portion, more of a side dish. I drink water, tea, milk (almond milk, mostly), lemonade, and the occasional glass of wine. I don't keep snacks or treats in the house. I don't think doughnuts sound appealing, so I don't rush to grab one in the office break room on someone's birthday. I think soda tastes too sweet and gross, whereas this time last year I could knock back several cans in a day without thinking. My biggest weakness--- peanut butter cups--- still tempt me, but I can no longer eat a whole bag. Not even close. Four or five mini cups are all I can handle before my tummy objects.

Point being, over several years I have actually changed my body's opinion of what tastes good, of what I crave to eat. Since I'm not feeding it a bunch of fake, processed, fried, modified, unhealthy foods, I can actually feel and understand the signs it gives me. I can only imagine what my blood lab results would have looked like before I started this journey five years ago... what it may have looked like just one year ago.  All I know is that the path I have taken has led me to a very healthy place. The results speak for themselves.

Still to come: how to read "signs" that your body is healthy and happy or angry and lacking. It is possible to be overweight and underfed.

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