How to Measure your Health through Standard Blood Tests
The Blood Code: Unlock the Secrets of Your Metabolism
by Richard Maurer
Reviewed by Rosalind Michahelles
Have you realized that you can “create a ‘GPS coordinate’ that maps how your body is currently interacting with your diet and fitness habits”?
The analogy is apt and the author explains what each blood test – the ones we routinely get at our annual check-up – can reveal. His language is clear and comprehensible. Are you worried about blood sugar? Or blood lipids? Or thyroid function? All are covered and interconnections described.
What I find most helpful is the de-coding both of the blood lipid panel and of the dynamic glucose-insulin relationship.
First the blood lipids: total cholesterol, triglycerides (TG), HDL, and LDL. In terms of your heart, you want TG to be low (<100 mg/dL) because a high reading of triglycerides correlates more strongly with heart disease than does high total cholesterol or high LDL or low HDL. When you have your test results in hand, calculate this simple ratio: TG/HDL, i.e., divide your HDL into your TG. A ratio of 1:1 or lower is good news! But a score over 3 puts you at high risk for stroke or heart attack. How to lower TG and raise HDL? Cut out sugar and starch. Or, put another way, eat the butter, skip the jam, and go easy on the toast. This advice will also help normalize blood sugar.
Why is the low-carb diet becoming the new buzz? Because both type 2 diabetes and its frequent precursor insulin resistance have risen dramatically during the low-fat diet decades. Since carbohydrates provoke the production of insulin, a low carb diet will in effect mean a low insulin diet.
And, according to Dr. Maurer and others in the field, it’s insulin – when there’s too much of it – that is implicated not just in diabetes but also in obesity, dementia, fatty liver, hypertension, muscle weakness, constant hunger, and in some cancers. Why? Because insulin is the partner of glucose and protein, the partner necessary to ‘introduce’ them into muscle and fat tissue – except when the cells become insulin resistant making the process bog down.
Dr. Maurer explains insulin resistance as a functional and effective response, one that some people are more genetically prone to than others, and one that can be modified by diet and exercise. Historically it was efficient because we evolved to handle long fasts and prolonged exertion. That we now have no famine and little exercise has spoiled the outcome for too many of us. As Dr. Maurer points out, “insulin resistance is your perfect expression of an efficient calorie economy; inappropriate lifestyle habits are the ‘disease,’ not you.” Bottom line? Some people must restrict carbohydrates and must exercise to be healthy.
What are the important tests for insulin resistance? First, fasting glucose to see how much sugar is still circulating in your blood, usually tested before breakfast. Second, fasting serum insulin to see if insulin has been ‘refused’ by the muscle and fat cells because of insulin resistance. And third, hemoglobin A1C is the test for recent high blood sugar, that is, the average over the last couple of months. Dr. Maurer talks of recent evidence that non-diabetics with levels in the high end of the normal range are at greater risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease than those with lower scores. So this is a correlation to pay attention to in case the relationship is causal, not casual.
A further test the author recommends is to measure skin fold in four places using calipers (which he will sell you from his website). If you can’t tell whether you have the “apple” shape that is said to correlate with risk of heart disease, you can take measurements. But most of us do know if our weight accumulates around the waistline.
Once you have your test results and your ratio calculations, you can read the recommendations for your pattern. These are well spelled out. A few supplements are suggested, particularly vitamin D, fish oil, magnesium, and selenium if your diet is lacking. The book ends with a helpful meal planner and a promise of future research into diet for athletes.
Is this book for you? Well, yes, if you are looking for signs and signals relative to health; then understanding the blood tests and their use as a “GPS coordinate” in figuring out what to eat and how much and when to exercise is for you. Were I the author, I would have organized the book somewhat differently, giving cholesterol, blood sugar/insulin, and thyroid each its own chapter instead of introducing the tests and then later on how to interpret them. That said, THE BLOOD CODE is a useful reference work, the more especially as it behooves us to partner with our doctors rather than expect them to do all the thinking.
Rosalind Michahelles is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor in Cambridge.
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