Imagine if there was one quick and simple lab test that could accurately predict your risk of getting the world’s most common chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
If you’re like most health-conscious people, you would run to your doctor to get this test done.
The problem is, not many doctors are aware of its significance, and if they do know about it they may not know how to interpret the results in a way that could seriously impact your future health.
What is this miracle test and how can you get your hands on it?
It’s called the Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C or A1C) test, and it’s one of the core functional lab tests we offer to all kNew Health members.
Read on to learn about why functional medicine’s leading experts believe the HbA1C test is the #1 marker for chronic disease risk and what you can do to optimize your HbA1C levels before your next functional lab workup.
What is the Hemoglobin A1C Test and Why Does it Matter?
As we discussed before, given the rapid increase in chronic disease worldwide, it’s painfully clear the annual physical with its basic lab workups isn’t cutting it anymore.
Therefore, many functional medicine doctors are offering patients a variety of advanced functional lab panels combined with a functional medicine evaluation of the results to get to the root cause of ailments and better predict their risk of chronic disease.
And those panels can provide extremely valuable information to patient and practitioner, but…
…what if you can’t afford a bunch of advanced functional lab work?
After all, while these panels offer incredible insights into pathology and may be essential in some cases, those costs can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The good news is, for many people dealing with common health issues, a basic-advanced functional lab workup is all that’s needed to assess your risk and get you on the road back to health.
And the Hemoglobin A1C test, which measures your average blood sugar level over the last 8-10 weeks, is the #1 predictor of chronic disease risk. Here’s why…
Why is it the #1 Marker of Chronic Disease?
Unlike basic blood glucose testing which just checks your blood sugar in that moment, the Hemoglobin A1C test is measuring your average overall blood sugar levels.
This provides a more accurate picture of how your body is processing sugar, and gives us a clear picture of your diabetes risk and much more. This test is key for understanding how your intake (diet) and output (muscle-demanding exercise) are either working for you or against you.
Our medical director, Dr. Jeff Gladd, MD likens it to a pre-pre-diabetes test…which is really what you want; to know if you’re headed for pre-diabetes before you’re diagnosed as prediabetic.
Beyond diabetes, this test tells us so much more. Because, if you think about it we don’t care about diabetes as a name, we care about the complications of diabetes which result from excess sugar corroding your tissues over time.
That’s right, if you have excess sugar in your blood it is breaking down and “rusting” your tissues. Since the HbA1C test is actually measuring blood sugar deposition on your blood cells (a low level is perfectly normal), you can actually see this “corrosive” potential in live time.
Complications of tissue-corrosion over time including:
- Heart attack
- Kidney issues
- Nerve issues
- Loss of vision
- Multiple autoimmune diseases
- Or amputation (to name but a few)
There has also been research done showing a person’s risk of cancer goes up considerably based on high Hemoglobin A1C levels.
This is why the Hemoglobin A1C is such a great window into your future chronic disease risk: it shows us how much corrosion is going on in real-time so we can quickly take steps to address that.
What is the Optimal Range of A1C?
While most doctors will tell you normal ranges of A1c are around 6.0 or less, those ranges aren’t optimal.
Optimal or “functional” ranges of A1C are considered 5.2 or less. A little above is typically not an issue, but you want to aim for less than 5.2.
As soon as your A1C gets above 6, your risk of heart attack begins to skyrocket, your risk of stroke skyrockets[note]https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-12-164[/]note], and risk of all cancers goes straight up too[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737277/[/note].
If your ranges are high, take a deep breath and consider it a blessing to learn about it now as there are steps you can take to lower that number and reclaim your health.
All is not lost and these numbers can be lowered.
Working with a Health Coach can be extremely valuable in this regard, as they can help guide you toward the best lifestyle changes you can make to get those numbers down as quickly and effectively in the most cost-efficient means possible.
That’s the beauty of functional lab testing, it puts you back in control of your health in a powerful, life-changing way. We’ll cover some of the lifestyle changes you can start making coming up, but first…
What Causes Sub-Optimal Ranges of A1C?
While genetics and pre-existing conditions can play a role, sub-optimal ranges are typically a result of lifestyle-driven factors.
Specifically nutrition, stress and movement.
Nutrition-wise, a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates leads to imbalances in blood sugar levels over time, which taxes the pancreas leading to pre-diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes, and Type 1 Diabetes. If your diet is already low in sugar, consider the impact of artificial sweeteners, refined grains like breads, granolas and corn chips.
Stress-wise, when we’re stressed it negatively impacts our metabolism and causes blood sugar imbalances[note]http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/stress.html[/note]. It also messes with our leptin levels―the hormone responsible for regulating food cravings and appetite[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16824059[/note].
Movement-wise, the more you challenge your muscles, the more rapidly and consistently your body uses up sugars. So if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you’re more likely to have complications from high blood sugar such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes and metabolic conditions [note]http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/[/note].
Depending on your level of health, age and family history, you may be able to get away with a less-than-optimal diet and high-stress if you exercise.
However for some of us, if even one of these areas is out of balance too long, it will result in sub-optimal HA1C levels and an increased risk of disease.
What Can you Do to Optimize Your A1C?
The good news is, you can do a lot to optimize your A1C levels and prevent chronic disease.
Diet-wise, stick to a low-sugar diet with moderate amounts of healthy carbs.
What exactly is a healthy carb?
That answer depends on your current state of health. Generally healthy carbs come primarily from fruits, vegetables with moderate amounts of gluten-free grains (for those without autoimmune conditions).
As much as we may love it, sugar should be reserved for special occasions only (unless you’re a diabetic, then it should be avoided completely), and artificial sweeteners should be stricken from your diet as they have been shown to affect blood sugar levels by altering gut microbiota[note]https://www.nature.com/articles/nature13793[/note].
If you need something sweet (and are not diabetic) fruit, dates, stevia, raw honey, coconut sugar, date sugar or maple syrup should be considered first, but used as a flavoring only in small amounts.
If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, stick with fruits and/or natural low-carb or carb-free sweeteners such as stevia or stevia-blends without artificial sweeteners.
Stress-wise―as mentioned above, our stress levels directly impact our blood sugar. Which means you need to make time to restore and decompress every day.
Sleep is key here, as studies have shown those who get less than optimal sleep are more prone to blood sugar issues and have more food cravings[note]http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk[/note].
But it’s also important to practice regular stress management activities such as deep belly breathing, meditation, exercise, laughing, listening to music, taking a hot bath and spending time with friends.
Movement-wise―the best type of exercise to regulate blood sugar is weight-bearing exercises and interval-style training.
The reason for this is the more muscle you have, the more glucose gets used up. And interval-style-training has been shown most effective in lowering blood glucose levels in diabetics[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3587394/[/note].
Aim for 20-30 minutes of strength and/or burst training 3-5 times a week. This can mean doing intervals, weight lifting, yoga or any other type of exercise that builds muscle.
At kNew Health, we take A1C seriously when it comes to designing our member’s custom health programs.
An A1C test, along with others, is included in your preliminary lab work, and your Health Coach will help you understand how that number impacts your health and help guide you on how to optimize A1C to prevent future ailments.
To learn more about what’s included in your lab work as a kNew Health member, check out our previous post: “Functional Medicine vs. Conventional Medicine: The Assessment”.