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Preventative Health Care: Is being “not sick” the same as being “healthy”?

Posted Nov 30 2011 12:13am

YES IT WILL. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. Don’t disillusion me.

Remember that kid in your class who ate dirt or licked the inside of the freezer or sucked down paste? Well it turns out that he may not have been one pinto bean shy of a bingo like we all thought. Pica – the intense desire to eat non-food items – is now thought to be the result of an iron or other mineral deficiency. Who knew? Get the kid a steak and he might have been class president. Or maybe his blood was fine and he just really liked the taste. See, that’s the tricky thing about our bodies – figuring out what is actually going on inside them takes a weird mash-up of science, voodoo, ESP and cosmic luck. One of my greatest fantasies (you ready to find out how truly geeky I am?) is to have a computer screen attached somehow to my brain that would tell me exactly what is going on inside my body.

Back in the days when I counted calories – so glad that’s over ! – it used to frustrate me to no end that every measurement was an estimate. There was no real way to tell exactly what calories were in that apple or how my body used them or what nutrients I gained or lacked from it. And it wasn’t just calorie counting. I’d lay in bed and wonder if my intense craving for Lindt dark chocolate truffles were really from PMS hormones – and which hormone exactly? – or if I was lacking magnesium or if my body was fine but it was my mind that was whacked out. (I heart my OCD.) But of course there is no way to know any of that.

Or is there? Recently I got to try out a new service called Inside Tracker . Basically it’s all the blood tests you wish you could ask your doctor to do. The difference is that your doctor is mostly interested in diagnosing dysfunction in your body and being “not sick” is not the same as being “optimally healthy.” Inside Tracker doesn’t diagnose disease but rather focuses on helping people be their healthiest. All you have to do is go get your blood drawn at a local lab – because that’s what everyone does for fun in their spare time, right? Just me? – and within just a couple of days you get your results back along with recommendations about how to improve your numbers based on your age, gender and fitness level. It also gives you recommendations on what foods and supplements to take more of and which to avoid.

Answers? Numbers? I was like a kid in a candy store! Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it (you say Back Street Boys, I say N*Sync) – my results were surprising. And they raised more questions than they answered.

First the good news: out of everything tested (folic acid, glucose, calcium, magnesium, creatine kinase, vitamin B12, vitamin D, ferritin, total cholesterol, hemoglobin, HDL, LDL and triglycerides if you’re curious), I only had two “red flags.” But here’s where it gets weird:

First, my folic acid was too high, despite not taking a multi-vitamin and pretty much never eating fortified foods like bread, pasta or cereal (I eat those things but I make my own so obviously I’m not adding supplements to them). This is concerning because too much folic acid leads to increased cancer risk and brain damage. (And in case you missed the memo, too little is really bad too, especially if you are a pregnant woman.) When I clicked on the recommendations from Inside Tracker it told me to eat boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Because they’re really high in folic acid. Obviously the program is used to people being too low in folate rather than too high. (Inside Tracker assures me this was a glitch and they’re fixing it.) So I did what any freaked out person would and googled the crap out of it. According to the it is “impossible to get too much folate from natural sources.” Okay, then. Phew?

Second, my triglycerides are too low. Again, most people have the opposite issue. I’m a freak? I’m too healthy for my own good? I have a glandular problem? Unfortunately Googling this did not reassure me. So I have my yearly checkup scheduled in a couple of weeks with my doctor and I’ll definitely be talking to her about this. (Side note: my regular doc happens to be my OBGYN. I adore her. Is it weird that I’m willing to put up with a pelvic exam just to talk to her about my anti-depressants?)

The other thing I noticed about my Inside Tracker results is that their definition of “optimal” is different than what most doctors and health organizations recommend. I found their answer very intriguing: ” The bottom line is that the AHA [American Heart Association] gives you generic numbers for everybody in the population, from baby to centenarian. If you are within these wider ranges you are within physiological boundaries, ie. you are not sick. This zone is depicted by  the pink zone in the InsideTracker graph. However, we are not diagnosing disease. InsideTracker gives you an optimized zone for your special cohort: age, gender, race, performance needs. This zone is much tighter, and InsideTracker makes its recommendations based on this zone.” I’ve often wished for more individualized recommendations so this is awesome.

In the end, I am glad I did this. Preventative health care is so so important. Plus I’m a girl who loves numbers and this takes me a step closer to understanding what all is going on inside me. (Yay, no anemia! I had anemia for years as a vegetarian that never resolved with supplements so seeing these numbers was a relief and an assurance than adding some meat back into my diet has been helpful for my body.) While I still have a lot of questions – my total cholesterol is nice and low but my LDL (“bad”) is a little higher than I’d like and now I’m wondering if that’s because I eat a ton of coconut oil and other saturated fats? – I feel like this test gave me some useful information that I can now use to make tweaks. Their food recommendations were not at all accurate or helpful for me, however. I mean, there was no glue on their anywhere!

Do you worry more about being not sick or about being optimally healthy? (As I type that it strikes me there may be a happy middle ground between the two. Seeing as I am notoriously bad at the whole balance thing, please enlighten me!) Do you do any of these kinds of “extra” health tests? Have you ever had a pica?

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