This update shares my results from a complete health assessment I had the pleasure of having done at the Nutrilite Sports Nutrition Blogger Event.
On November 14, 2009, I attended the Nutrilite Sports Nutrition Blogger Event in Long Beach, California, with a select group of health bloggers. The event included a complete personal health assessment, which was composed of a fitness test, various blood tests, blood pressure test, bone density test, and an overall health score index. The whole point of this test was to assess our current health, and use the results as an index to assess any current or future risk factors for possible chronic diseases.
Although it may seem like Nutrilite is all about supplements, it was nice to see their dedication to education of the public with their 8 pillars of optimal health that help people decrease disease risk factors via lifestyle habits. I greatly enjoyed this experience as it allowed me to learn lots about the company itself and their approach to health, but also offered me a comprehensive health analysis. I was eager to learn the results, especially given the major dietary changes I made in my life over the past 3 years.
So in this evolving wellness in action update, I am going to bare it all and share with you my results from this health assessment.
Health & Wellness Background
First, let’s start with a little health history to provide some context for these results. Up to this point in my life I have enjoyed excellent health – no allergies, no skin conditions, no broken bones, no hospital visits, and no major illnesses. Up until about 2007, the only things that afflicted me would be the odd tension headache and one to two colds per year. Fast forward three years and I am happy to say that I never experience tension headaches anymore and maybe get one cold, every two years. But this isn’t by chance and it is not a fluke. I took accountability for my health, body, and lifestyle and learned how to optimize it. Tension headaches alone, are usually so easy to prevent by simply drinking enough water, breathing exercises, and being mindful of our mental patterns. Our immune system, likewise, can function optimally and ward off all infections given the right physical, mental, and emotional support.
With respect to my age, this past year I turned 30, though you won’t find me announcing my age usually or my birthday as I aim to live life as detached from time and the calendar as possible from a practical perspective. Life is now, and what I find is that people obsess about dates and their age all too often, being limited by a number that may technically mean nothing. Our calendar age and our biological age can be very different, and it all depends on how we take care of ourselves, the lifestyle choices we make, and the type of life we choose to lead.
With respect to my weight, it has been steady and within the same range for about the past 15 years. I am of a smaller build, being 5 feet, 3 and a half inches, and weigh around 110 to 115 pounds. The most I ever weighed was 120 pounds, and that was my first year of university…that darn stress. What I have noticed change throughout the years is my body composition. Although I still feel great and look really healthy, I definitely used to have a little more definition around the abdominal area. So I would not mind working on that a bit and making sure that I am mindful of this area always staying trim and fit.
With respect to my diet, up until October 2007, I ate an omnivore diet that consisted of meat, dairy, and eggs. I ritually drank milk every morning and made sure to have a daily yogurt and some cheese(s). I was raised on home-cooked meals; I did not consume too much meat, but also not enough fruits and vegetables. Fast food and junk food was almost nonexistent for me, aside from some rare occurrences. I was a vegetarian for just over a year before I became vegan in January 2009. I was a very occasional and light drinker until July 2007, from which point on I decided to permanently remove all alcohol from my life. I have never smoked (anything) in my life.
With respect to exercise, I’ve had good amounts and poor amounts of it throughout the years, but most of the time never enough. During my late teen years I was an avid swimmer during the warmer half of each year. During most of my 20s I was an avid walker and a bit of a dancer, with some occasional hiking and biking. There was some flexibility and resistance training thrown into the mix, here and there. While I was always quite active during the warmer parts of the year, I would always fall back during the colder months of the year.
With respect to medical check-ups, up until 2009 I typically went in for a complete physical and/or some basic blood work every two years. I did this primarily to take accountability for my health, as I track and analyze all of my own results and like to know where I am at. So I wasn’t expecting too many, if any, surprises from the health assessment.
My Consultation with Dr. Duke
Dr. Duke is the official medical physician for the Nutrilite Medical Center. I got a phone call from him to go over the results of my health assessment a few weeks after coming back from the Nutrilite blogger event. The consultation with Dr. Duke was really enjoyable as we got to talking a lot about optimal health. Dr. Duke emphasized the idea that optimal health is not just about being free of disease today, but also about reducing chronic disease risk factors for the future. The main reason for the health assessments that Nutrilite offers is to help everyone identify their risk factors and learn how to reduce them, to avoid or decrease the chances of future chronic disease.
To test our fitness we were subjected to a flexibility test, a grip strength test, body composition, waist to hip ratio and blood pressure.
The flexibility test evaluates the flexibility of the lower back and the flexibility of the muscles on the back side of the leg. The grip strength test provides a very reliable assessment of the general upper body muscular strength. I wasn’t expecting to have athlete-like results, but in both areas I was dismayed to learn that I was barely at average. My flexibility was much lower than where I’d like it to be, so it is a good thing that I started a regular yoga practice this past fall, which I intend to have part of my life from now on.
The body composition test indicates how much of our body is fat. Dr. Duke explained that women are typically between 22% and 27%. However, anything of 27% or more is a serious risk factor for various diseases. My result was 21%. While my number may seem fine, based on what I told you about myself above, I know it would be to my benefit to be at say 19%. While I am generally happy with my muscle tone, this would help to improve my composition even more. As we age, it is to our benefit to have more muscle and less fat.
My waist to hip ratio is another important health index, as it matters greatly where we carry our fat. Abdominal fat for example is the most indicative of being a risk factor for disease. For women, a normal waist to hip ratio is less than 0.85 and for men a normal waist to hip ratio is less than 0.95. My waist to hip ratio was 0.746, so all good on this front.
A blood pressure test helps us understand possible risk factors for heart disease. Normal blood pressure is anywhere from 110/70 to 120/80 depending on which source you consult. My blood pressure is normally on the lower to normal side, so it was no surprise to hear that it was a healthy 110/78.
Vitamin D test
My main surprise came from my vitamin D test. According to Dr. Duke, a deficiency of vitamin D is below 20ng/mL, insufficient vitamin D is between 20-37ng/mL, and sufficient vitamin D is greater than 37ng/mL. My result was a shocking low of 13ng/mL. The reason I was shocked about this is two-fold. First, I spend a decent amount of time outdoors throughout the warmer months. Second, I just went for a vitamin D test a month before this health assessment via my family doctor and was told that I had completely normal levels. In Canada the units of measurement are in nmol/L, where normal vitamin D are levels greater than 75 nmol/L and mine was 128nmol/L. Given a conversion where 1 ng/ml = 2.5 nmol.L, my levels should have equated to around 50ng/mL. So I really do not know how to explain this anomaly, as I don’t think it possible for vitamin D to fall that much in such a short period of time.
Here are some more numbers to help you make sense of any vitamin D results you may receive:
Previously considered normal 25-hydroxyvitamin D values were:
20-56 ng/ml OR 50-140 nmol/L
Currently considered the lowest optimal 25-hydroxyvitamin D values are:
45-50 ng/ml OR 115-128 nmol/L
Vitamin D has been linked to being preventative for most cancers, inflammation, and immune diseases. Today we are told that most people in the population are deficient in this vitamin. According to old values, 60-70% of the world is deficient in vitamin D, where as according to new world values for optimal health 90% of the world population is deficient in vitamin D. Although the numbers can be helpful, I have a feeling that we are just learning to understand vitamin D and hence are “playing” with the numbers. Plus, we do not have stats for most people in the world and their vitamin D levels, so I find those rather blanket statements. Either way something about our lifestyles is not agreeing with optimal vitamin D levels and must be investigated further.
When I was eating animal products, a few years ago I got a blood test where the results revealed that I had elevated cholesterol. This was one of my motivations to switch early on in my life to a plant-based diet. I was excitedly anticipating these results, therefore, and they came back just as I would have expected - not only normal, but optimally low.
Normal cholesterol = 140-200mg/dL Mine = 131mg/dL
Normal LDL cholesterol = 66-130mg/dL Mine = 65mg/dL
Normal VLDL cholesterol = 6-35mg/dL Mine = 7.4mg/dL
Normal HDL cholesterol = 40-80mg/dL Mine = 59mg/dL
Normal Triglycerides = 10-150md/dL Mine = 37mg/dL
Normal Chol/HDL ratio = less than 4 Mine = 2.2
Sugar Metabolism/Insulin Resistance (fasting)
My current diet has no refined sugar in it or any white processed grains, so these numbers were also where I would expect them to be.
Normal Insulin = less than 5 ulU/L Mine = 2.8 ulU/L
Normal Glucose = 65-99mg/dL Mine = 84mg/dL
Since I was a teen, I was regularly told that I had low iron, even though I felt great. Thus, during my teens, all I heard is eat more meat. It wasn’t until I studied nutrition in university that I realized there could be so many other factors for optimal iron balance and storage, other than meat, including vitamin C, the B vitamins, phytic acid, heavy periods, pharmaceuticals, parasites, etc. So in my teens I took some iron pills here and there, but pretty much stopped by my 20s since I really felt great. My energy levels were always pretty good and I never had any symptoms associated with anemia. When I adopted a vegan diet, my iron stores (serum ferritin) did fall a bit, but upon reading up about this, I learned that it is quite normal as the body learns to readjust to extracting iron out of plant-sources, rather than animal sources. This still made no impact on my energy or health levels, but I did take a high quality supplement for a little bit to support my body.
So when Dr. Duke shared about my iron, it was no surprise to hear my iron stores were low. I asked Dr. Duke if it was possible that given how great I have felt all these years with supposed “low iron” that this was actually my body’s normal? To this he replied, “yes, very much so”, especially given my smaller build. He said that despite my normal iron blood levels, given my ferritin number, I should be tired and falling over, but given how good I feel, statistically speaking, I may be amongst the outliers. So my so called “low iron” based on medical averages of the general population, could actually be quite normal for me, especially given that all the other numbers related to iron are normal. This was good to hear because it has been what my gut instinct was telling me for a long time now. Regardless, I will stay vigilant about my iron levels to ensure that I support my body adequately at all times.
Normal Serum Iron = 35-155ug/dL Mine = 126ug/dL
Normal Serum Ferritin = 25 -100ng/mL Mine = 13ng/mL
Iron Binding Capacity = 250-450ug/dL Mine = 308ug/dL
Normal % Saturation = 15-55% Mine = 41%
This is a liver enzyme that helps detect liver disease or damage. It is also one that metabolizes alcohol. Given that I haven’t had any alcohol for over 2 years now and lead a toxin-free lifestyle as much as possible, I was not expecting this to be an issue. Normal levels are 0-60 and mine was 14.
This is an amino acid from protein breakdown that can be an indicative risk factor for heart disease. Normal is below 15umol/L and mine was 8.9umol/L.
Folate (Folic Acid)
This is a B vitamin that is super important for many cell processes. Its presence is vital for women of childbearing age, but it is critical for everyone for proper red blood cell production and decreased disease risks. Normal is over 5.4ng/mL and mine was 13.61ng/mL.
This B vitamin is also very important for many cell processes including proper functioning of our nervous system and proper red blood cell production. It is also a vitamin that is very necessary to monitor on vegan diets. Normal is 211-911pg/mL and mine was 581pg/mL. Dr. Duke shared that ideally people should be in the 500-600pg/mL range, which was great to hear.
High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein
This is one of the primary compounds indicative of inflammation within the body. Normal is below 1mg/dL and mine was 0.64mg/dL.
TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone)
This is a very important hormone that regulates the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which influences many reactions, including proper metabolism and energy use. Normal is 0.35-5.5 and mine was 1.45.
Bone Density Test
These results indicated that my bone density is lower than it should be for my age, and puts me at a medium risk for osteoporotic fractures in the future. I found this a little surprising, yet confirming, given my past diet. Guess it goes to show you that all the dairy in the world is not going to give us optimal bone health. However, I have also read a lot of literature when it comes to these tests in that women like me, who are petite or of a small build, are often misdiagnosed with osteoporosis when they are older, when in fact they are not. Medical staff is simply going by industry averages, which are problematic for a proportion of the population, resulting in false positives. The machines are calibrated to pick up small bones as being osteoporotic, when in fact they may be quite normal.
I asked Dr. Duke if this was a possible explanation and he said that indeed smaller build people do not need the bones to be as big, but if I am highly active the bones should be more responsive and show a better number. Given that I am not highly active, I do have to take this into consideration as well, as bone health is extremely dependent on physical activity.
This is a special health score calculated using an inclusive formula that Nutrilite has put together to rule out any sources of error that are associated with things like the BMI, waist to hip ratio and percent body fat. My score was 0.81 which is in the ideal range. The general numbers are as follows:
Ideal for Men = 0.64-0.84 Ideal for Women = 0.74-0.87
Normal Men = 0.85-1.0 Normal for Women = 0.88-1.0
Moderate Risk for Men = 1.0-1.13 Moderate Risk for Women = 1.0-1.13
High Risk for Men = >1.13 High Risk for Women = >1.13
In conclusion, Dr. Duke explained that given my results and current lifestyle habits, I am not at risk for any major diseases like heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or even cancers. My main areas of improvement should be to focus on my vitamin D levels and regular physical activity for optimal bone health.
It was really wonderful to see how our body responds when we take care of it optimally and I am super grateful for this health assessment experience. We can be optimally healthy and feel great everyday and live long but it starts with the right diet, physical activity, sleep, mental patterns, and overall healthy lifestyle habits. By looking at our health on a deeper level today, we can be prepared to deal with what we may be facing in the future. Let us always remember: our health starts with us, so be proactive today to enjoy the benefits of all the tomorrows to come!