August 9, 2012
Ben Greenfield racing a Half Ironman last weekend, photo courtesy James Richman
Do you ever wish you could know exactly what is going on inside your body?
In my recent bout with MRSA (a nasty staph infection), I certainly wished I could know what was going on inside my body.
After all, how on earth could a young, vibrant, healthy guy like me somehow have an immune defense system that can’t handle external attacks from a tiny staphylococcus organism?
Something just didn't seem right.
What about you?
Do you get tired a lot? Brain fog every afternoon?
Short of breath when you’re going up stairs?
Sore muscles no matter how well you feel like you’re managing recovery?
Slower or weaker than you think you should be compared to the amount of actual training that you do?
That stuff isn't normal, and it shouldn't be happening to you. So in today’s post, I’m going to walk you through exactly how I found out what was going on inside my body, and the tools I used to do it – which are totally accessible to you too.
In this day and age, self-testing is easier than you think, and by the time you finish reading this crash course on finding out what is happening inside your body, you’ll know exactly how to take charge of your own health and identify all the things that could be causing problems for you – including hormone levels, protein allergies, gut issues and more.
After you read this post, feel free to leave any questions that you have below, as I know that this stuff can get confusing sometimes!
Baseline Blood Assessments
My recommendations for baseline blood assessments include the basic tests that your general practitioner physician might order if you were to go in for your annual physical, but when I did my baseline testing, I added in some variables that are very important to truly understand what's going on inside your body (these are the same “add-ons” I recommend in Podcast Episode #188: What Blood Tests To Ask Your Doctor For When You Go In For Your Physical).
For what costs about $199, I personally split my baseline assessments into 5 basic categories: 1) Cardiovascular Health; 2) Inflammation; 3) Metabolism/Hormones; 4) Liver/Kidney; 5) Nutrients/ Electrolytes.
Below, I'll show you a quick video of my WellnessFX dashboard (WellnessFX is where I got these baseline blood markers tested) and then describe these tests in more detail below, along with my notes on what was good and what was bad in my case.
Over 50% of heart attacks occur in people with totally “normal” cholesterol levels, and two-thirds of people with what modern medicine would describe as “healthy” cholesterol have other diagnosable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For those of you want to really geek out on cholesterol, my friend Peter Attia has a great series on cholesterol at his EatingAcademy blog, but what the issue comes down to is this:
When it comes to cardiovascular markers for health, particularly your cholesterol and lipid panels, you need to go beyond typical tests for total cholesterol, HDL and LDL to uncover the actual risk factors for early heart disease.
The tests that I had performed were:
-Total Cholesterol – my levels are fairly high (228), but nearly half of that is HDL, and I eat a high fat diet, so no surprises there! Remember, total cholesterol is not an indicator of heart disease.
-HDL – good
-LDL – good
-Triglycerides – good (low)
-Lp(a) – good
-ApoB – this was slightly elevated in my case, probably due to the fact that I had some inflammation and oxidized cholesterol in my bloodstream from a Half-Ironman the week prior.
Tons of research has shown that high sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) inflammation marker is associated with lack of recovery from hard workouts and also with the future onset of diseases such as cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease, and many other chronic diseases. There are other inflammatory markers you can test, but hs-CRP is the most important.
Metabolism & Hormones
Among the issues that can affect your metabolism, thyroid disease and insulin/blood sugar issues are the most common hormone imbalances and can lead to many symptoms such as fatigue or restlessness, heat or cold intolerance, and weight gain or loss. Tons of people have undiagnosed thyroid imbalance and/or insulin insensitivity.
My tests for metabolism and hormones were:
-TSH – slightly elevated, so I will follow up with T3 and T4 testing to make sure my actual active thyroid hormones are adequate.
-Glucose – good.
-HbA1c – slightly high, and as a 3 month snapshot of blood glucose, this was not as surprise, as I have several high carbohydrate weeks during race season.
Liver & Kidney Health
Your kidney and liver are you body's filters, and they detox your body of harmful pollutants from your everyday environment. When these organs are optimally functioning, they play a large role in helping you to avoid chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and also let you handle environmental pollutants much better.
For liver and kidney, I tested:
-BUN – high, pretty typical in active individuals who are breaking down muscle on a regular basis, so no surprises there.
-Creatinine – also high, for the same reason above.
-AST – high. In this case, my liver was processing the antibiotics I had just come off from the MRSA, so again, no surprises, but my WellnessFX physician recommend I get another liver test soon just to make sure.
-ALT – good
-Total Bilirubin – good
-Albumin – good
-Total Protein – good
Nutrition & Electrolytes
Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and others are critical in allowing your body’s cells to function properly and the right balance of electrolytes helps to optimize nerve and cellular function that supports nearly every system in the body.
In addition calcium and Vitamin D are essential for hormone and steroid formation, strengthening the immune system, and reducing the risk of cancer.
For these markers, I tested:
-Vitamin D – I see Vitamin D levels low in nearly everyone I help with testing, but my levels were very high (almost 70), likely due to my high amounts of sun exposure and cod liver oil consumption.
So how did it work if you want to get these baseline blood markers?
Basically, after purchasing a test kit, you just print a “requisition form” and visit one of the WellnessFX partner laboratories for a blood draw. Then you're notified to schedule your phone consultation with a physician of your choice to review your results and discuss their recommendations.
You should know that WellnessFX is currently available in California, Oregon, and Washington, but will soon be available in Texas, Colorado, and Massachusetts, and they're rapidly expanding to new regions in the U.S. based on demand. If they're not available where you are, another good source for these type of baseline markers is DirectLabs.
Summary so far: so far you know that I found out that I (and you!) need to continue to be careful with total carbohydrate intake (returns to Risk vs. Reward of hardcore triathlon racing), especially because when eating a high fat diet. But there were no “serious” issues noted on my baseline blood markers that indicate I've got any serious health issues.
If you're eating foods to which you're allergic, you're going to be inflamed, and that can set you up for a hyper reactive immune system. This can lead to things like resistance to weight loss, getting sick frequently, or lack of performance, which is why my REV Diet book starts by simply eliminating all basic food allergy triggers.
But let's say you want to actually test to see what exactly you're allergic to.
Allergic and other hypersensitivity reactions to foods can actually characterized by elevated allergen-specific antibody levels in the affected individual's blood. There is one type of test called an Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) methodology that test allergies and sensitivities to a variety of common allergens.
One name for this type of test is an “immunoglobulin test”, and under the advice of my naturopathic physician, (Dr. Todd Schlapfer, in Coeur D' Alene, Idaho), I went ahead and did a quick blood draw for this test (I simply got this blood draw done at the same time I did my WellnessFX blood draw, and was at the lab for a total of about 10 minutes).
Here's a link to the US Biotek Antibody Assessment that I did, and here is what the results look like:
If you cock your head just the right way, you can see the little yellow marks that my physician placed on these test results.
It was very interesting to see that:
A) any dairy from a cow (not a goat)…
B) and also chicken eggs…
…cause my body to mount an inflammatory reaction!
Considering the amount of omelets, raw dairy yogurt, raw dairy cheese, Greek yogurt and even grass fed cattle whey protein bars I consume, this was very valuable news for me to have, and based on this information, I can cut these immune triggers out of my diet and switch to goat based milk products only.
Another very good option for food allergy testing (especially for gluten) is Cyrex Labs. They do their testing through salivary panels that cover all areas of gluten, and also make available a test that can pinpoint the very areas of your body that are being most affected by gluten.
To get your hands on either of these food allergy tests, you must go through a licensed medical care provider, meaning that they need to order the test for you, but that's easy to do and both sites I linked to above give you instructions on how to do it.
Summary so far: Obviously, this was a biggie for me. I'm cutting cow dairy and eggs.
Secretor Blood Type
The secretor blood type test is based on Dr. Peter D'Adamo's blood typing test protocol and blood typing diet.
If you have a reason to want to be even more strict in adhering to the diet for health concerns, such as my aforementioned concerns about my MRSA scare, this home kit for saliva testing, which runs about $50-60, allows you to refine your diet even further.
While the average person may not really need this information, people with special needs and more serious health concerns may want to know their secretor status in order to open the door to even more specific dietary guidelines. In my case, because of the MRSA issue, I was encouraged by Dr. Schlapfer to also complete this test.
As you can see, I was identified as a “Type A Secretor”:
Based on this information, Dr. Todd supplied me with list of appropriate foods for a Type A Secretor (in this case, he specifically gave me a low glycemic index food chart, because I try to keep my blood sugar levels very well controlled).
Here's a sample page from my food list:
Summary so far: I'll be sticking to my secretor type list for the next 30 days to see how I look, feel and perform.
Although I did not do a gut test in the past couple months, I can't write a post about how to test your body without including this vital information.
The first time I decided to do gut testing was when I interviewed Anne Louise Gittleman in the episode “How Many Critters Are Living In YOUR Gut, Making You Fat, Tired, Lazy, Bloated and Sick?“, in which you learn about how testing your poop can reveal presence of things like parasitic infections, candida yeast, digestive enzymes and more.
The test that I performed was the Expanded GI Panel, which runs about $440 and is the most complete gastrointestinal test you can get. It tests for parasites and intestinal function using multiple stool and saliva samples, and helps to find causes for digestive problems, gluten intolerance, hyperactivity, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
It also tests for H. plylori and pathogenic bacteria, Candida albicans and fungus – in addition to screening for many types of protozoa and worms, including C. difficile, Giardia, E. coli, Blastocystis hominis, Roundworm, Toxoplasma, Trichinella spiralis (from swine) and Tapeworm.
Intestinal function markers including GI immunity-SIgA, pancreatic enzyme output, blood in stool, and stool pH are also included in the results. In the privacy of your home, 3 stool samples and 2 saliva samples are collected and then sent to the laboratory.
At the risk of information overshare, here are my complete results of this test, along with a link to the explanation of results:
Because of my frequent travel, especially to Asian countries, I'll be redoing the Expanded GI Panel at the end of this year, just to double check and make sure my “gut is clean”.
Summary: My gut is clean. But I've discovered through self-testing that I need to watch my carbohydrate intake (even when exercising), be much more careful with dairy and eggs, and test foods that are more in line with my specific blood type.
You now know more than 99% of the population about how to self-test your body, and I hope that was a valuable crash course for you.
It may seem expensive, but all these tests together are less than a thousand bucks, and to me, that is well worth the investment in health and savings in health insurance premiums and hospital bills.
Now it's your turn!
If you have questions about what you should get tested, WellnessFX, your baseline blood marker tests, allergy tests, secretor tests or gut tests, then leave your comments below, and I promise to answer!