Blood tests for optimum health

My boss is under a lot of stress, she’s been off work with heart-related issues at least twice in the past 2 years (she’s in her early forties). After taking a week off work she comes back and carries on at the same relentless pace as before. I’ve always found this attitude perplexing, maybe she thinks her premium healthcare plan will protect her somehow. If the truth be known it only gets you a nicer bed in the hospital; long-term exposure to large doses of cortisol/stress will kill you.

“You can have all the riches and success in the world, but if you don’t have your health, you have nothing”

Steven Adler

Maintaining and optimising health

Health is primary, without it there’s nothing. I want (as I’m sure everyone does) to have a long healthspan. Note: health and lifespan are different, being bedridden or generally inactive isn’t much of an existence. Exercising and eating properly will support this, there’s also the recent advancement in health testing accessibility. At-home blood testing and DNA kits are available with next day delivery or by visiting your local Boots. A rich source of actionable health information is more readily available now than ever before. I don’t plan on having expensive healthcare in early retirement but I do plan on taking preventative measures by having regular blood tests.

Life & health expectancy from England (born between 2012-14)

Regular blood testing

Blood testing is often reserved for when you have a medical problem or for infrequent periodic check-ups. However, I’d advocate getting your blood tested regularly and not just when sick. It’s illogical to have your car serviced more frequently than your own body. Having blood tested has never been easier and it’s relatively inexpensive. It’s also an area everyone should take a keener interest in, why wouldn’t you want to know more about staying healthy?

Blood tests make health tangible

We know what’s good and bad for us but we can’t see our health. Who knows if those multivitamins are making a difference? Human beings haven’t evolved to handle abstract risk. The tangible report that comes with your blood test means you can “see your health” and this hopefully, becomes the catalyst for any needed change. Now you can see those daily doughnuts aren’t such a good idea with elevated blood glucose levels and maybe all those sausages are the reason for your poor LDL cholesterol score.

NHS general health checks

It’s possible to get some testing done for free on the NHS but it won’t be that comprehensive or frequent (which is understandable for an overwhelmed free health service). The below photo shows you my Free NHS Health Check results from a year ago which are available for over 40s.

Free NHS Health Check results

My recent blood test

For the second time, I used a company called Medichecks for my blood test. They offer every health test you can imagine and there’s an option to have your blood drawn at a drop-in clinic; I’ve tried taking blood samples at home using a lancet but struggle to fill the capsule. I’m taking Medichecks’s “Well Man UltraVit” blood test which is their most comprehensive overall health check for men (there’s a version for women too). Some of the health markers tested include: red blood cells, white blood cells, liver health, kidney function, bone health, diabetes, iron status, cholesterol, inflammation, vitamin B12, folate, vitamin D, thyroid function, magnesium and testosterone. There’s often a further break-down per health marker, as an example, the below screen capture shows my cholesterol status expanded which then includes: LDL, HDL, non-HDL and triglycerides. There’s also a write up from a doctor to help you interpret the results. This might be information overload for some, but I prefer the added level of detail versus the simple cholesterol report provided from the NHS.

Results

This was a follow-up blood test based on results from a test done back in February, I won’t bore you with all the details, however, if you are interested in seeing what a complete report looks like you can see here. Vitamin D and Iron were flagged by the doctor in the first blood test so I was interested to see how I could influence them in time for my follow-up test.

Vitamin D

Living in the UK and doing the test back in the wintertime, it was no big surprise to have Vitamin D flagged. The doctor’s report stated: “Your vitamin D levels show that you have vitamin D insufficiency. This may progress to vitamin D deficiency if you don’t take steps to increase your vitamin D levels. We recommend supplementing with 20-50 mcg (800 -2000 iu) of vitamin D per day for twelve weeks.

Before:

The action for this was simple enough, I took vitamin D supplements over the winter but also spent a lot of time outside in the summer. My recent follow-up results showed a marked improvement from 38 nmol/L to 65 nmol/L.

After:

Iron Status

Another area for review was Iron: “Your ferritin, which is a good measure of your iron stores, is normal but towards the lower end of the normal range. There is scope to improve it by increasing your dietary iron intake (beans, lentils, tofu, dark green veg, and chicken & lean beef if you eat meat). Orange juice will help you absorb dietary iron better. Over the counter lysine supplements can also help with this.”

Before:

I’ve always eaten a healthy amount of vegetables and a fair amount of meat, so the most actionable advice was the lysine supplements which appeared to work with recent results showing a 100% improvement 21 umol/L up from 10.7 umol/L.

After:

Cholesterol

My last 2 tests from Medichecks have shown my total cholesterol being within the recommended range (although my NHS result looked a bit high). So I feel as if there’s room to lower my LDL cholesterol (commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol”) by reducing saturated fat intake. I did a rough calculation on my daily consumption by looking at old Tesco orders and worked it out to be around 58g per day which is 90% above the recommended daily amount of 30g.

My weekly saturated fat consumption

FoodWeight (g)Saturated fat (g)
Red meat60039
White meat1506
Halloumi cheese45077
Parmigiano cheese20040
Feta cheese60098
Cream30035
Natural yoghurt84021
Dark chocolate30090
___________
406 / 7 = 58

Is all fat bad: The French paradox

The French paradox goes: if saturated fat is so bad, how come the French have low rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) especially when compared to the British? The tide of evidence is turning in the opposite direction when it comes to fat. It’s no longer to be completely demonised. Trials have shown participants eating cheese and yoghurt rich in “good bacteria” do not experience increased cholesterol levels. This isn’t the case for other dairy products such as butter, cream and highly processed cheese. There’s also a good hypothesis that fat consumed from good sources can help reduce CHD. With all this said, I’ve decided to cut back on my poor choices of saturated fat consumption. I’ll be reducing halloumi cheese, dark chocolate and removing cream from my diet. Let’s see what impact (if any) this has on future testing.

Hypochondria vs the ostrich effect

There’s a balance between obsessing and stressing over your health versus not wanting to know anything. Health testing accessibility is improving at a rapid rate and we should embrace it. Prevention will always trump cure.

Further reading

Dairy Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: Do We Really Need to Be Concerned: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5867544/

Is coconut oil good or bad for your cholesterol?https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1pk5mWmJXvTQLZYWpN431mW/is-coconut-oil-good-or-bad-for-your-cholesterol

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