My blood draw took a total of about 5 minutes. 5 long minutes in a downtown Seattle lab… looking out the window, focused on the “Go Seahawks” and “12th Man” signs on nearby buildings so I didn’t pass out. Something like 12 or 13 vials of blood were taken from my right arm and confirmed, one by one, that they were labeled correctly. I thought I would be lying down in a spinning haze after the 6th vial but I breathed through it like a ninja warrior would.
One could say that the lengths I go to learn more about my mind and body are a tad bit excessive. And expensive. But you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and in this case what I’m measuring include some of the most important indicators available today for overall health, well being, and spiritual, mental, and physical performance. If there’s something I could be doing to feel better, think better, or move better that I’m not already doing, I want to know immediately. Am I overtraining? Am I more stressed than I thought I was? Are my hormones getting in the way of my training progress or ability to solve problems at work? Is chronic inflammation an issue and if so, why? Do I need to scale back on my creatine or fish oil supplementation? Is lack of vitamin D holding me back during the winter months? What about the summer? Is my Primal/Paleo lifestyle actually improving my health as promised or making it worse? And so on.
Enter WellnessFX. WellnessFX is a relatively young service with a pretty straightforward outward mission: to improve the health and performance of its clients through data. And that data comes from the ultimate source: your blood. A quick trip to a lab and a couple weeks later you have a complete analysis of the primary blood markers you should care about.
Why does this matter?
“The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” – John Connor
What we eat and what we do in our everyday lives have major impacts on our body and mind. The field of epigenetics explains how controllable environment factors like your diet, your training, your friends and family, your job and stress levels, and the sunlight or toxins you’re exposed to can trigger gene expression. So while we may be pre-coded for certain outcomes, we aren’t prisoners to those outcomes. We have a lot more control over how our body ages and adapts to external stimuli. So if we care enough about living better, there’s frankly a lot we can do.
I do believe that taking your health into your own hands is an important skill to hone. I’ve found that far too few doctors keep up on the latest research, so their recommendations are typically outdated (“eat a low-fat diet and lose weight”). And the lack of true personal connection with patients means their advice is almost always based on limited information about you. So it’s best to arm yourself with the same data they have – and then some – since only you know how you actually feel at any given time. In other words, a medical doctor has a role in your overall wellness, but so do you.
What did I learn?
The package I ordered was the mega package – the Premium package with the Omega-3 profile which includes all the basic biomarkers for heart health, blood sugar, and thyroid function as well as inflammation, performance hormones, fatty acids, and more. It had been a while since my last blood test (over a year) so I wanted to be as comprehensive in my first WellnessFX screen as possible, though I’m unlikely to need this level of testing next time.
My results, which were returned in about 10 business days, were broken into sections: Cardiovascular Health, Metabolic Health, Liver Health, Kidney Health, Electrolytes, Bone Health, Blood Health, Vitamins & Minerals, and Fatty Acids. There’s also a set of lab notes that are included as well to help you understand how they were tested.
In general, there was a lot of goodness.
HDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides. These were both strong. HDL was 59 mg/dL which is well above where it’s been in the past, so that’s a great sign. Triglycerides were very low (52 mg/dL) which is also very positive. The ratio between the two, which is apparently a good predictor for cardiovascular disease, is almost 1:1 which is exactly where I’d hope it would be. And while Total Cholesterol was a touch high, the ratio between Total Cholesterol and HDL was about 3.8:1 which is close to the “ideal” ratio of 3.5:1.
LP-A (a different form of LDL) was very low (<10 nmol/L). Given that this is “believed to cause clogging in blood vessels by inhibiting the breakdown of blood clots in the body” and is “very complex to lower”, I’m pretty happy about this!
Metabolic Health. Glucose (Blood Sugar) was within the high-end of normal (101 mg/dL) and my Insulin levels were super-low (3 mIU/L) as was my average blood sugar level (Hemoglobin A1c, which was 5).
Liver Enzymes. These are a number of tests which monitor liver function and inflammation, and they were all positive and within normal ranges.
Kidney Health. These tests measure how well the kidneys are filtering blood were also all positive and within normal ranges. The one indicator I was a little worried about was Creatinine given 20 years of off-and-on creatine supplementation, but it was within normal ranges.
Electrolyte balance. This includes Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, CO2, and Calcium. These were all in normal ranges, including my Sodium/Potassium ratio.
Bone Health. This includes ALP, Calcium, and Vitamin D, D-2, and D-3. These were also all in normal ranges, with Vitamin D and D-3 at 45 ng/mL, which was a little lower than I was hoping it would be (60-80 ng/mL) for optimum health and performance.
Blood health. These were all great across red blood cells, white blood cells, and Iron which I’ve seen high in the past. All were in the normal ranges with one exception (Platelet Count) which I need to keep an eye on in future tests.
Vitamins and Minerals. This includes Vitamin D, D-2, D-3 again, Folate, Vitamin B12, and minerals like Ferritin, Iron, RBC Magnesium, and Folate. Vitamin B12 was very positive at 705 pg/mL.
hs-CRP. This is moderately elevated, but just slightly (low-risk is <1 mG/L, high-risk is >3 mG/L and mine was 1.5 mG/L). This is somewhat strange given that I’m on a pretty strict anti-inflammation diet, but I was also just getting over an infection the week prior to the test which likely affected this. I also think it could be at least a little related to over-training and general stress, which I could always do a better job of managing. Or perhaps my Omega-6 levels which I’ll cover shortly.
Total Cholesterol. This is also a bit elevated (226 mg/dL), but again, the ratio between Total Cholesterol and HDL was about 3.8:1 which is good. So I don’t view this as a real risk indicator in and of itself. Plus, total cholesterol levels of between 200 and 240 are associated with the lowest risk of all-cause mortality… so there’s that.
Omega-3 and Omega-6. These fatty acid indexes were all “off the charts” way too high, including DHA and EPA in my blood. This is entirely on me and my supplementation plan since I have been consuming fish oil in spades every morning. The Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio was positive however, as were Free Fatty Acids and my overall calculated risk factor, so this is a matter of reducing my supplementation and retesting to see where it lands. It’s likely that this was affecting the other “ugly” numbers actually since Omega-6 fatty acids are known to contribute to inflammation.
LDL. This was pretty high (157 mg/dL) and about 30 mg/dL higher than the last time I was tested in mid-2012 (when I had basically the same diet). It is considered “borderline high” by the AHA, but unfortunately WellnessFX didn’t break down the LDL to show the LDL-P (particle count) numbers which are supposed to be better for predicting heart disease than LDL.
Apo B (protein in LDL cholesterol that helps particles bind to and clog blood vessels). This was in High Risk range (or Medium Risk depending on the source) at 101. Given that every single LDL particle has a single ApoB, ApoB could be viewed as an effective measurement of LDL particle count – so maybe even without the LDL-P numbers, I have the information I need. A data point isn’t a trend though, so this is something I need to monitor more closely. Reducing LDL should reduce Apo B as well.
Lp-PLA2 (marker of inflamed blood vessels). This is a relatively new marker related to inflammation, and the research doesn’t seem to be definitive. But this was way too high as well (311 ng/mL) and needs to be monitored to see if it can be brought down naturally along with LDL and Apo B.
Based on these results, it’s clear to me that I’m doing at least some things right… with a few areas for improvement. I plan to continue a Paleo/Primal lifestyle – focusing on lots of vegetables, poultry/meat/fish, nuts and seeds, with some fruit and healthy fats. A cup or two of high-quality loose leaf green tea daily, a little high-fat dairy (grass-fed butter), daily Vitamin D and fish oil supplementation, a little dark chocolate, lots of sleep, and 30-60 minutes of movement at least 4 or 5 days per week. No grains! All of this is goodness along with basic life essentials like spending quality time with family, connecting with nature, learning as much as possible on a daily basis, and of course, flossing regularly!
But I could be doing some things better as well. Because of this I have added a few changes to my 2014 plan. This was done in partnership with a naturopathic & functional medicine doctor whom I spoke with for 30 minutes as part of my WellnessFX package (highly recommended by the way!)
- Improve my stress management. While I can’t seem to maintain an ongoing meditation habit, one thing I can do is practice mindfulness breathing throughout the day. And remember to not take things so seriously!
- Graze less. My “eat 6 meals a day” bodybuilder habits are hard to break, but my grazing is probably not helping either my fasting blood sugar levels or my cholesterol, so I’m going to scale this back.
- Eat more greens in the morning, not just at dinner. I had slowly been cutting this out due to time pressure and I need to pull it back in – kale, spinach, romaine, other baby greens, avocado, and some olive oil and vinegar.
- Cut out all caffeine in the afternoon, and move to half-decaf coffee in the morning. Continue with early morning green tea which helps my workout and is great for overall health in so many ways.
- Swap out my current fish oil for a cod liver oil which includes Vitamin A and D and has a better Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio than the oil I was using.
- Supplement with additional Vitamin D liquid drops (appx. 4000 IUs total) to get levels up to 60-80 ng/mL
- Eat more wild caught salmon (2 servings/week) and fewer servings of conventional red meat (at restaurants) which usually have higher levels of Omega-6. If I’m going to eat red meat, I’ll stick to grass-fed only.
- Add curcumin, niacin (Vitamin B3), and some adrenal support to my supplement plan for 3 months. Curcumin is good for reducing systemic inflammation, niacin helps raise HDL and reduce small dense LDL, and adrenal cortex helps support healthy adrenal function and counteract emotional and physical stressors.
The combination of all these things should better reduce any systemic inflammation. In 3 months, I’ll do another test and see how things are progressing. If there’s no material improvement with the “ugly” numbers, I’ll schedule a VAP cholesterol test and check my LDL-P (particle numbers) amongst other markers just to make sure everything is OK… and if not, take it from there.
To say that I’m impressed with how easy WellnessFX was & how it works would be an understatement. 5 minutes of mild discomfort helped bring into question certain things about my diet and supplementation plan while simultaneously giving me the information I need to improve upon it. The consultation with a naturopathic doctor was immensely helpful and worthwhile to help fine-tune my plan as I’m not an expert on all this stuff. This type of iterative model is something I’ve used a lot in software development, and it applies just as easily to my health as well: If something isn’t right, set a goal and take the appropriate steps to fix it. Checkpoint progress regularly and adjust the plan. Repeat until all markers are green across the board. This is simply the best way to take my health into my own hands.
There are few things in this world quite as powerful as knowledge, and I’m glad to have it. Small changes like these can add up to a big deal over the course of a lifetime.
Interested? Give it a shot at WellnessFX. (Yes I get $10 off my next test if you sign-up, but that isn’t a motivater for me. I just like spreading word about things I find valuable! And otherwise I have no direct affiliation or investment in the company.)
Want more? Here’s a fun article that gives an overview of the WellnessFX approach.