The First Step to Health: Assess Your “Four Factors” by Dr. Mercola

19 10 2010

There are four time-tested, clinically proven gauges of health that you can use to determine your own level of health. They are:

-Insulin levels
-Blood pressure
-Cholesterol levels

These four factors are your signs on the highway to optimal wellness. You can use these proven health indicators to monitor your success on the beginner’s nutrition plan.

Additionally, you can use these indicators as a guide to figure out when to move to the intermediate level of this nutritional plan. You’ll feel comfortable, confident and psychologically ready to move on to the next level, and your indicators of health will be in their optimal ranges.

Factor # 1 : Your Insulin Level

Insulin is absolutely essential to staying alive, but the sad fact is that most of you reading this have too much floating around, and it is pushing you towards chronic degenerative illness and increasing the rate at which you age.

Most adults have about one gallon of blood in their bodies and are quite surprised to learn that in that gallon, there is only one teaspoon of sugar! You only need one teaspoon of sugar at all times — if that. If your blood sugar level were to rise to one tablespoon of sugar you would quickly go into a hyperglycemic coma and die.

You body works very hard to prevent this by producing insulin to keep your blood sugar at the appropriate level. Any meal or snack high in grain and sugar carbohydrates typically generates a rapid rise in blood glucose. To compensate for this your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream, which lowers your blood sugar to keep you from dying.
However, if you consume a diet consistently high in sugar and grains, over time your body becomes “sensitized” to insulin and requires more and more of it to get the job done. Eventually, you become insulin resistant, and then diabetic.

If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or are overweight, it is highly likely that you are eating too many grains — yes, even unrefined whole grains — as this is the most common culprit causing your insulin level to become abnormal.

Compounding the problem, when your insulin levels rise due to an excess of carbohydrates, they send your body a hormonal message telling it to store fat while holding on to the fat that is already there. So not only will excess carbohydrates make you overweight, they will effectively hamper your weight loss efforts too.

Your Fasting Blood Insulin Test

To find out your insulin levels, you need to get tested by your doctor. The test you need to ask for is a fasting blood insulin test, The test is done by just about every commercial laboratory and is relatively inexpensive.

Facts about Your Fasting Insulin Test:

-This test is profoundly useful. It’s one of the least expensive tests in traditional medicine, yet it is one of the most powerful. A normal fasting blood insulin level is below 5, but ideally you’ll want to be below 3.

-You can safely ignore the reference ranges from the lab as they are based on “normals” of a population that has highly-disturbed insulin levels.

-This is a great test to do BEFORE you start your program as you can use it to assess how well you are progressing in the program.

-If your level is above 5 you will want to consider significantly reducing most sugars and grains, even whole wheat grains, until you lower your level. Once you’ve normalized your insulin level you can reintroduce grains into your diet at a lower level to optimize your health.

-Exercise is of enormous benefit in improving the sensitivity of your insulin receptors, and help normalize your insulin level far more quickly.

Factor # 2: Your Ideal Weight

Unfortunately, two out of three people in the U.S. are overweight and one out of three is obese, and the rest of the world is not far behind. It has been my experience that many people are in denial about being overweight.

One effective and simple method to figure out if you have a weight problem is as follows: With a tape measure, comfortably measure the distance around the smallest area below the rib cage and above the umbilicus (belly button). Waist circumference, perhaps surprisingly, is the best and simplest anthropometric measure of total body fat. It is better than BMI (body mass index), and is also the best indicator of intra-abdominal fat mass. So if you measure your waist, men would be classified as obese if their waist size is above 40 inches, and women if it’s above 37.

BMI is a good tool, however, to find out what your ideal weight should be. The National Institutes of Health has a simple online BMI calculator that can help you painlessly calculate your ideal weight.

Your ideal weight is important for this nutrition plan. Not only because I am committed to helping your body heal and become healthier, but also because extra body weight and obesity can have major negative psychological effects that impair your ability to be optimally healthy.

If you are not at your ideal weight — overweight or underweight — you should start with the Beginning nutrition plan and stay there until you have achieved your ideal body weight; then move into the Intermediate plan to further optimize your body to fight disease and live a longer, more energetic life.

Factor # 3: Your Ideal Blood Pressure — 120/80

Ideally your blood pressure should be about 120/80 without medication. If you are on medication, you will be delighted to know that this nutrition plan tends to normalize elevated blood pressures in the vast majority of people.

Although elevated insulin levels are one of the most potent contributors to elevated blood pressure, it’s also common for stress, tension or anxiety to contribute to this problem. After you begin my nutrition plan and follow it for several months, if you don’t see an improvement in your blood pressure you need to seek out a health care professional who is well-versed in using stress-relief methods, such as my personal favorite: EFT.

In my clinical experience, over 95 percent of patients with elevated cholesterol or triglyceride levels respond to a reduced carbohydrate and insulin level correction approach. This is especially true for triglycerides. In over 20 years of practicing medicine, I have never seen an elevated triglyceride level fail to drop in response to a low carbohydrate program.

Factor # 4: Your Ideal Cholesterol Level

Most people are seriously confused about their cholesterol levels. This is because too much emphasis is placed on the importance of the total cholesterol. A far more important predictor of cardiovascular risk is actually the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to total cholesterol.

I use the percentage of HDL and obtain this number by simply dividing the HDL by the total cholesterol (HDL/Total Cholesterol). Ideally this number should be above 24%. Levels below 10 percent are very dangerous and usually indicate an imminent cardiovascular problem. Ideally, your level should be 30 or higher. It rarely gets above 50, but to the best of my knowledge, the higher the number the better.

It is important to note that some clinicians actually obtain this ratio by dividing the total cholesterol by the HDL (Total Cholesterol/HDL). In this case, the numbers should be lower. The cut-off point for a poor ratio would be any number greater than 4, with greater than 10 having serious problems. This number rarely drops below 2.

There is a small subset of individuals born with a genetic condition called familiar hypercholesterolemia, (about one in 500 people) in which their cholesterols are typically around 350 or higher. While this program will help to moderate their cholesterol levels, they usually do not normalize with a low insulin program such as this. (To learn more about hypercholesterolemia, see this link.)

If you’re using your HDL percentage to determine when to transition to the Intermediate nutrition plan, you must use caution and consult a trained natural health care clinician if your cholesterol is above 350.

You can also use the triglyceride to HDL ratio (Triglyceride/HDL) as another indicator of insulin disturbance. This ratio should be below 2. The higher this number is, the worse your insulin control may be.

There does not appear to be a similar genetic condition for triglycerides, so you could use the Triglyceride/HDL ratio below 2 as one indication that you are ready to move on to the adaptation phase.

For more of Dr. Mercola’s Nutritional Plan click here.




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