If You Don't Know Your Numbers You Don't Know Your Health
An estimated 90 million Americans are considered pre-diabetic - meaning their blood sugars are high but not yet in the diabetes range. The tragedy is that only about 10% are even aware that they are pre-diabetic.
What’s more, this stage is one where education and some simple lifestyle changes could prevent them from ever becoming diabetic. The same goes for both cholesterol, blood pressure numbers, and the risk for certain diseases.
Why is this so important? “Knowing your numbers”, or being aware of how your current health and lifestyle habits impact future health outcomes, allows individuals and practitioners to focus on one key aspect of disease—prevention.
Knowledge of and access to healthcare and certain preventative measures can mean the difference between making informed decisions about one’s health versus suffering from full-blown disease later on in life.
What’s the Goal?
The reality is, heart disease and diabetes are still the top causes of death in the United States. High cholesterol levels contribute to heart disease, which makes it an accomplice.
Imagine a world where everybody knows their numbers from an early age. And I mean everybody. How many cases of diabetes would we prevent? How many fewer cases of stroke, kidney disease, heart attacks, and yes even dementia could we prevent? The savings from preventing millions of cases of diabetes alone would dwarf the cost of the testing and implementing preventative measures.
There’s a famous saying out there, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Knowing your risk, as well as your current numbers, can help you take your health into your own hands and prevent many types of disease.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, continues to be one of the biggest preventable culprits when it comes to health issues. High sodium diets, chronic stress, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and being overweight are all known lifestyle causes which can be changed with proper motivation.
For example new research suggests there is a link between high blood pressure and your risk for Dementia. Dementia is a condition of cognitive decline – an ever increasing medical condition in the elderly population that creates a huge burden on the patient, the healthcare system, and the patient's family. While more research is still coming out, one comprehensive study (1) points out that high blood pressure in your 30s and 40s could increase your chances of developing dementia later on in life.
The first step in taking preventative measures is getting familiar with terms like systolic, diastolic, and heart rate. These can help you map out a game plan that puts you on the path to success.
What These Numbers Mean
Did you ever sit down at one of those free blood pressure checkers at the drugstore? If so, you placed your left arm into a sleeve and pressed the button. The cuff would tighten, you’d hear a beep, and numbers would appear on the screen. But what do those numbers (2) mean, exactly?
- Systolic: This is when your heart muscles contract and pump blood out. The mm Hg stands for millimeters of mercury, and is a unit of measurement for this volume of blood.
- Diastolic: This is when your heart muscles relax and let blood back in. The same mmHg unit of measurement is used to see the volume coming in.
- Heart Rate: Your heart rate is simply the number of times your heart beats in one minute. This includes both contraction and relaxation of the heart muscles.
So what does normal blood pressure look like? As far as the numbers go, you want your systolic to be under 120 mm Hg. Similarly, you want your diastolic number to be under 80 mm Hg.
Practical Prevention Steps: Maintaining a healthy weight by means of a whole foods diet and exercise will go a long way in reducing the stress on your heart. Learning to manage stress by taking herbs or supplements, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and learning positive coping mechanisms can help you keep your numbers within healthy ranges, preventing the problems that come from having chronic blood pressure.
In order to prevent prediabetes and diabetes, it’s important to understand how blood sugar levels work: when you eat, your body breaks down the food into particles. These particles can be proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. Carbohydrates break down further into fiber and sugars.
Sugars (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) are what your body uses for fuel. As your body digests food, sugars enter your bloodstream on their way to different destinations.
The sugar can’t just float around in your blood forever, though. It needs to be put to work. But your cells can’t accept sugar right out of the gate – it needs a little help.
Your pancreas gets the signal and releases insulin into your bloodstream. This insulin helps create a way for your cell to accept and use the sugar.
When does this become a problem? If there is too much sugar in your bloodstream, it can become problematic. Conditions like insulin resistance and diabetes can develope from numbers that aren’t kept in check.
Testing blood sugar levels can be either a Fasting level, or involve consuming a sugary drink or snack then two hours later, blood is drawn and tested - a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT).
Normal blood sugars (3) numbers for a GTT are below 140 mg/dl. Mg/dL stands for milligrams per deciliter, which is the unit of measurement used when calculating blood sugar. Blood sugar levels between 140-199 mg/dL raise a yellow flag for prediabetes. And if your blood sugar levels are above 200 mg/dL after eating, you’re in the danger zone for diabetes.
Normal Fasting levels are below 100 mg/dl. Pre-diabetes is between 100-125 mg/dl and numbers above 126 are Diabetes range.
Practical Prevention Steps: Preventing diabetes (and even getting out of the prediabetic range) can be done by cutting out refined carbs and excess sugar from your diet, focusing more on vegetables, lean meats and fiber, staying active to keep your metabolism up, drink more water (more than you think you need!), and keep food portions within appropriate sizes.
Believe it or not, cholesterol is a necessary part of a healthy life. Your body uses this waxy, fat-like substance to build cells, make hormones (4) and help digest your food.
But there are different types of cholesterol:
- HDL: this type means “high-density lipoprotein” and is actually the kind you want to keep around and often referred to as the “good cholesterol”. This one carries cholesterol found in other parts of the body back to the liver. From there, your liver removes the cholesterol.
- LDL: this means “low-density lipoprotein” and is not the kind you want to stick around (no pun intended). This type of cholesterol can attach itself to other substances in your blood, eventually forming plaque on your artery walls. Over time, this can lead to different kinds of heart issues. No wonder it's often called “bad cholesterol”.
- VLDL: this means “very low-density lipoprotein”. While most consider it a “bad” cholesterol as well, it’s a bit different in that instead of only carrying cholesterol, it carries triglycerides.
So while it’s important to have the “good” cholesterol, preventing excess buildup of the “bad” cholesterol will help prevent heart disease down the road.
What are good numbers to aim for? It depends on a few factors. When cholesterol is tested, blood is taken after a 9-12 hour fast (5). The numbers can vary based on age, sex, and whether heart disease is present.
- For people 19 and younger, LDLless than 110 mg/dL, with a total cholesterol level of less than 170 mg/dL.
- For men and women 20 and older, LDL levels of less than 100 mg/dL, with a total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL.
For people 19 and younger, LDL levels greater than 110 mg/dL, with a total cholesterol of more than 200 mg/dL
For men and women 20 and older, LDL levels greater than 120 mg/dL, with a total cholesterol greater than or equal to 200 mg/dL.
Practical Prevention Steps: Similar to the steps needed to prevent diabetes and heart disease, preventing high cholesterol means keeping excess weight off by exercising 30 minutes a day, swapping out junk food for whole food found in nature, ditching the cigarettes and keeping salt at a minimum.
What’s the common denominator here? A lot of diseases could easily be prevented by making some simple lifestyle changes.
Knowing your numbers is part of this change. It’s hard to take the next step if you don’t know where you are.
Having access to affordable devices that check your numbers – especially in the areas of blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, can help prevent many diseases down the road.
Furthermore, once you know these numbers, education and prevention becomes a top priority.
On a micro level, this would look like more practitioners working with their patients to educate them on the importance of diet, physical activity, stress reduction, and eliminating lifestyle habits such as smoking.
On a macro level, more educational campaigns and increased access to certain preventive measures, such as affordable fresh organic foods, is a step in the right direction when it comes to preventing instances of disease.
Once people “know their numbers” and are educated about what this means for their current and future health, they have the power to make the changes they need to live a better life and truly take their health into their own hands.
References & Disclaimer
††This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author