Despite the nihilistic attitude of the United States Preventive Services Task Force—an agency that condemns all kinds of testing and even annual physical exams—it is my fundamental belief that preemptive testing and periodic doctor visits play a significant role in maintaining one’s health.
Clearly, genetics loads the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger; however, physicians can help your cause and should be considered part of your advocacy team with the goal of maintaining health and quality and quantity of life and lending service when disease rears its head.
There are several lab tests that can lend insight into one’s health or lack thereof, and there are a number of findings on physical examination that must be actively sought after because they cause no symptoms whatsoever. For example, high blood pressure, glaucoma (high eye pressure), and prostate nodules and lumps all generally are asymptomatic, and if unrecognized and untreated can lead to heart attacks and strokes, blindness, and metastatic prostate cancer, respectively. Simple examinations can readily detect all of the three aforementioned problems. Lab tests that are helpful include the following: glucose; hemoglobin A1c; lipid profile; PSA; uric acid; C-reactive protein; testosterone; and thyroid profile.
Glucose: Glucose (blood sugar) is a major source of energy for our cells. The level of fasting glucose should range between 60–100 mg/deciliter. Anything over 100 is considered abnormal and could indicate the possibility of a pre-diabetic state. If substantially elevated, diabetes mellitus is likely present. This is important to recognize because of the cardiovascular and health ramifications if unmanaged.
The pancreatic hormones insulin and glucagon regulate blood glucose by decreasing and increasing glucose levels, respectively. Diabetes is a condition in which either there is insufficient insulin present or resistance to the effects of insulin.
Hemoglobin A1c: This is a measurement of how sugarcoated your red blood cells are. Anything above 5.7% is considered abnormal and the higher the level, the greater the risk for poorly controlled diabetes.
Lipid Profile: Total cholesterol and its components consisting of HDL, LDL and VLDL as well as triglycerides are important tests in terms of predicting cardiovascular disease, which remains the leading cause of death in Americans.
PSA: Prostate Specific Antigen is a blood test for a protein that is produced by the prostate and, if elevated, may indicate an underlying process including prostate cancer, prostatitis, or benign prostate enlargement. It is most useful after a baseline has been established and year-to-year comparisons are made; when there is a rapid acceleration over a one-year time interval, it demands evaluation to seek out the source. Absolute elevations in PSA and rapid accelerations in PSA over time are the most common reasons that prostate biopsies are performed and are the underlying basis upon which most diagnoses of prostate cancer are made. This test allows recognition of prostate cancer years before it may present as a nodule or lump of the prostate gland. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…early diagnosis and treatment saves lives.
Uric Acid: This chemical is a byproduct of metabolism of purines that are found in rich protein sources including shellfish, red meat, and other foods. If elevated, it can cause gout and/or kidney stones. High levels of uric acid are correlated with cardiovascular and kidney disease.
C-Reactive Protein: This is a protein that is manufactured by the liver, frequently in response to inflammation; when elevated, it is often a signal to check the arteries for blockages.
Testosterone: This is the all-important male sex hormone that is responsible for much more than male sexuality. Many experts view the level of testosterone as a general marker of overall men’s health. Testosterone has a critical role in the masculinizing process at the time of puberty and has a major role in male physical development, promoting tissue growth responsible for the building of muscle mass, bone mass and strength. Testosterone greatly impacts physical development, sexuality, mood, energy levels, etc., so it is wise to know what your testosterone level is, particularly if you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with low testosterone.
Thyroid Profile: This includes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) as well as T3 and T4. The thyroid is our gland that regulates our metabolism and is therefore very important in terms of our weight.
Bottom Line: Don’t take better care of your car than yourself! Avail yourself of the diagnostic and preemptive tests that modern medicine has to offer. An annual visit after age 40 to an internist is a prudent move.
Andrew Siegel, M.D.
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Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com
Available on Amazon in Kindle edition
Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in January 2014.
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