Here’s my new formula for fat loss (no longer based solely on calorie count):
Hormonal Balance + (Calories In – Calories Out) = Lasting Fat Loss
If you would like to ensure your hard work in the gym and in the kitchen will pay off this summer, you need to ensure that all parts of this equation are in check. You’ve got plenty of resources for measuring calorie intake and calorie burn, but getting the hormonal balance part of the equation down is slightly more complicated. For that, you’ll need to schedule a visit with your doctor and request the following basic blood tests:
1. Thyroid Hormone Assessments:
a. Blood test(s) you want to request: TSH, Free T3 and Free T4
b. Why: These four tests are required to accurately assess the function of the thyroid gland, our master gland of metabolism. TSH should be less than 2.0 to be optimal, not the currently accepted 4.7 reported by most labs. T3 and T4 should be in the middle of your lab’s reference range. It’s almost impossible to have a low body fat with an improperly diagnosed or managed case of hypothyroidism. In fact, even a modest increases of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) within the reference range may be associated with weight gain according to a study reported in Archives of Internal Medicine (March 2008).
2. Vitamin D Status:
a. Blood test(s) you want to request: 25-OH Vitamin D3
b. Why: Vitamin D levels in the body at the start of a low-calorie diet predict weight loss success according to research released at the Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C (June 2009). For every increase of 1 ng/mL in level of 25-hydroxycholecalciferol—the precursor form of vitamin D and a commonly used indicator of vitamin D status—subjects ended up losing almost a half pound more on their diet. Higher vitamin D levels also predicted greater loss of abdominal fat. An optimal value for vitamin D in the blood is 125 or greater.
a. Blood test(s) you want to request: Cortisol (best tested in the blood before 9 am)
b. Why: High levels (more than 15 mcg/dl) of cortisol are detrimental for almost every tissue and organ in the body. It causes destruction of muscle, increases calcium loss from the bone, accelerates the process of aging and is linked to memory loss, anxiety, depression and low libido along with an increase in the deposition of fat around the abdomen.
4. Insulin Resistance Assessment:
a. Blood test(s) you want to request: Fasting glucose and insulin and these same two tests two hours after eating a high carbohydrate meal. You will go to the lab first thing in the morning after an 8 – 10 hour fast. Then leave the lab and return two hours later for a second blood draw after eating a very large breakfast (including orange juice, pancakes and syrup).
b. Why: Although insulin plays an essential role in healthy body function, an excess of this hormone will absolutely make you fat. Not only does too much insulin encourage your body to store unused glucose as fat but it also blocks the use of stored fat as an energy source. For these reasons, an abnormally high insulin level makes losing fat, especially around the abdomen, next to impossible. The first sign of insulin resistance is elevated insulin after a meal followed by high fasting insulin. Insulin tends to be abnormal long before blood sugars start to rise typical of the diabetic state. Insulin resistance may be apparent with fasting glucose values greater than 5.0 mmol/L and fasting insulin greater than 36 pmol/L. Two-hour glucose readings of more 7.0mmol/L and insulin levels of more than or 259 pmol/L are also indicative of an increased risk.
5. Testosterone Status:
a. Blood test(s) you want to request: free and total testosterone
b. Why: Maintaining testosterone levels is crucial to build muscle and lose fat in both men and women. Many men with insulin resistance, obesity or sleep apnea have low levels of testosterone, which is known to increase the risk of heart disease. This also influences erectile function, libido, sense of well-being, mood and motivation. In women, low testosterone is damaging to bone density, a healthy libido and aspects of memory (especially task-oriented memory). If testosterone is too high (often associated with PCOS or insulin resistance), hair loss, acne, increased risk of breast cancer or infertility may occur.
6. Liver Function Assessments:
a. Blood test(s) you want to request: Liver enzymes – AST, ALT and GGT
b. Why: Your liver is the primary organ responsible for detoxification, fat burning, fat excretion (via the digestive tract) and ridding your body of hormonal waste. The liver is a major player in achieving hormonal balance because it controls the production of certain hormones, such as T3 thyroid hormone, and the breakdown of others, like cortisol.
Fat burning in the liver occurs through a complex metabolic pathway. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Gastroenterology and Liver Physiology reported that toxins including drugs and alcohol, can cause abnormalities in our fat-burning pathways in our liver. The causes less fat burning, and leads to increased storage of fat in the body and possibly our liver cells too. Over time, excess fat stored in our liver cells can be harmful to liver structure and impair its function.
7. Inflammatory Assessments:
a) Blood test(s) you want to request: Hs-CRP and Fasting Homocysteine
b) Why: Homocysteine is a protein which if elevated in the blood (greater than 7), is a proven independent risk factor for heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Homocysteine has been found to increase with insulin resistance.
Hs-CRP is a marker of inflammation and a risk factor for arterial disease. Levels tend to increase as body fat increases and with insulin resistance. An optimal value is less than 0.8.
8. Growth Hormone Levels:
a) Blood test(s) you want to request: Growth hormone marker: IGF-1
b) Why: Growth hormone is essential for maintaining healthy bones, skin and hair as well as a strong, lean muscle mass. It tends to naturally decrease as we age; however, conditions like sleep deprivation, diabetes, hypothyroidism, some cases of osteoporosis, anorexia and insulin resistance can cause levels to decline more rapidly.
Dr. Natasha Turner is one of Canada’s leading naturopathic doctors and natural health consultants. Bright, energetic, and practicing what she preaches, her goal is to inspire others to make positive lifestyle choices in order to enjoy healthier lives. Her passion for promoting wellness, fitness, and integrated medicine makes her a sought-after speaker for corporations, the public and the education of other medical professionals.