I got to thinking about biomarkers of health the other day. Someone was watching me eat my chocolate EXO cricket protein bar by breaking off chunks, tossing them into a jar of ghee, and eating with a spoon (highly recommended). They asked what the yellow stuff was. I said It's ghee! He asked what that was. I told him It's clarified butter. "So you're just eating butter?!" Yep! "How's your cholesterol level?" Great! Then the conversation pretty much ended. I didn't want to drag it on by explaining how little dietary cholesterol intake has to do with blood levels of cholesterol. I wasn't in the mood. I was eating. (By the way, this was a doctor I was talking to.)
But I got to thinking: A one-time blood cholesterol reading is just a snapshot at a particular time. It doesn't tell you how it fluctuates or even what that cholesterol is doing. It could have been higher or lower a few hours ago. Is it cleaning things up? Helping form new cells? Or is it getting lodged in your arteries and you're one breath away from a heart attack and impending doom?
Then: Cholesterol isn't even a good marker for heart disease. Most of us know that inflammation is a better predictor of heart disease. So if we really want to know how likely we are to get heart disease, we should be looking at inflammatory markers: CRP, ESR, omega 3:6 ratios, blah blah. (None of this is new information. These are thoughts I've had many times; and gathered from many sources over the last few years.)
But who wants to go through and look at all those levels? After all, those would be just other markers in time. You'd need to draw levels every hour or so for a week or two to get a true indication of how much your body is inflamed. And that would get pretty expensive (plus you'd have a lot of holes in your skin).
So no more labs?! I believe that for the average, relatively healthy person (read: no chronic diseases), blood levels of these biomarkers are of little value. Now, I'm not saying never get checked, or that they're useless. Obviously if your cholesterol levels come back crazy high (or low), you need to do some further testing and work with a smart health-care team to help figure out what's going on. But if you're generally healthy, I wouldn't even bother getting most of these labs done (I am NOT a doctor!!).
So what's a better way to tell if you're inflamed? Just live life, MAN! Keep an awareness for the true biomarkers of health and life. I believe they are:
- How are you feeling? Yep. That simple (to start with). At this moment. Do you feel good? Or rundown and tired? If the latter, start thinking about other questions you should be asking.
- Are you generally happy and energized? Many things can cause you not to be happy. It's individualistic. But some issues to consider: Are you passionate about life? Do you have a passion for something? Do you have fun hobbies? Do you play and laugh? How's your social life? Do you have family and friends that inspire you and make you laugh? Or do they make you sad and depressed? (If the latter, avoid them. "Unfriend" them. Whatever. That includes family members. I've had to do that.)
- Do you sleep soundly and wake up refreshed? Prioritize sleep. It's magical. It's invigorating. It's wonderful. If you're not sleeping well, look for info to help, I won't go into all the details here. I just want to emphasize how powerful sleep is for your well-being.
- How do you handle stress? Stress is going to happen. Bad things happen. But it's how you deal with it that will determine your general wellness. Do you let stress meander on for a long time? Or do you acknowledge it and deal with it? Acceptance is what's important here. If something bad happens, accept it and figure out how to handle it. Meditation helps. It has changed my life drastically. Try a daily meditation practice. Read about stoicism and how the stoics handle stress (acceptance).
- Do you eat clean? Now we get to food. That's because those four items above are more important than the food you eat (to an extent). Eating cleanly means not eating junk food. We all know what's junk food and what's not. Again, not going to go into the details here. Just don't kick yourself if you slip up occasionally. Do the best you can the most you can. Stressing about the food you eat will cause heart disease faster than the food you eat (to an extent. I firmly believe this).
- Do you get outside? Do you get sunlight? We're not meant to be cooped up all day. Move! (See #7) You have to get out and get some sunlight and get in nature. Go for a hike. Swim in a lake. Camp out under the stars. Just get out there and enjoy our planet!
- Do you move? That means exercising, for some people. Or just getting off the couch for others. Everyone is different. But you have to MOVE! Walking is magical (like sleep). You don't need to do CrossFit six days a week (actually, that's a terrible idea unless that's what you do for a living and the five items above are in check). Find some activity you enjoy and do it. If it's lifting weights, great! But it shouldn't feel forced. You should genuinely enjoy yourself. If you're ever dreading it, you should think again. Just don't overdo it (because that will cause crazy inflammation).
To paraphrase Robb Wolf: How do you think, look, feel, perform, and sleep?
This is not all-encompassing. My point is that a lab value is not a good indicator of your health.* It doesn't tell you what's really going on. Unfortunately, our Western medicine treats those markers. A great doctor would be asking you the questions above before looking at any lab value. Maybe one day.... I have hope. The message is spreading. It's up to all of you to help spread it and enlighten others. That's the point of this blog (and I hope others) anyway: to spread knowledge, thoughts, and ideas, and help inspire others. I want to form a community of like-minded, healthy, happy people.
What are your thoughts? Did I miss any other important TRUE biomarkers of health?
*Learning about biomarkers and how hormones, vitamins, minerals, etc function in the body is fascinating! I love learning about physiology. But there's a big difference between learning all of that and relying on them too much to indicate your health.