Lifestyle Solutions for a Happy Healthy You!

Important health numbers you need to know

Are you struggling with sugar cravings? Having a hard time quitting smoking? Drinking more than you should? Getting a thorough physical evaluation can help you uncover biological factors that might be contributing to your problem and that when corrected, may help you break free from your bad habits. At the Amen Clinics, we have identified 20 important health numbers that can hold the key to healing.

In this excerpt from my new book Unchain Your Brain, you will discover five of the 20 health numbers we check in our patients. You can find the other 15 important health numbers in the book. I have seen my patients make big turnarounds just by optimizing these numbers. I urge you to get all 20 numbers checked.

1. Vitamin D level

Vitamin deficiencies can harm your brain and increase your vulnerability for out-of-control behavior. Get a blood test called 25-hydroxy vitamin D to check your vitamin D level, and if it is low, get more sunshine and/or take a vitamin D3 supplement to get it in the optimal range.

Low: less than 30

Optimal: 50-90

High: over 90  

2. Omega-3 fatty acids level

Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for optimal brain function. They are healthy fats that come from foods like wild salmon, avocados, and walnuts. Scientific evidence suggests that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids play a role in substance abuse.

The test we use at the Amen Clinics involves a simple finger prick to get a few drops of blood. If levels are low, eat more foods rich in omega-3 and/or take a daily fish oil supplement. We have found that almost all of our patients are low unless they focus on eating fish or take an omega-3 supplement.  

3. Hormone levels (thyroid, DHEA-S, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone)

Most people think “hormones” are only involved in reproductive issues. Not true. Hormones are essential for health and vitality in both men and women, and it is the brain that controls all the hormones in your body. Your hormones all work together to achieve beautiful balance, but if a single hormone isn’t working hard enough or is working too hard, it can throw your whole system off balance. Imbalanced hormones clearly impact how the brain works and can contribute to impulse problems and compulsive behaviors.

Having problems with your thyroid can cause symptoms that make you want to self-medicate with food, drugs, alcohol, or thrilling behaviors. An overactive thyroid can mimic symptoms of anxiety that make you want to drink alcohol or take painkillers to calm down. Low thyroid levels cause your body’s systems to function at a slower speed, which may drive you seek out stimulating substances or behaviors. Having low thyroid levels also decreases overall brain activity, which can impair your thinking, judgment, and self-control.

Dr. Marvin “Rick” Sponaugle, founder and medical director of the Sponaugle Wellness Institute & Addiction Treatment Center, which has successfully treated over five thousand addicted patients, insists that the role of hormones in addiction can’t be overlooked. “We have successfully proven that over 90 percent of addicted patients self-medicate with drugs and alcohol in their attempt to balance their brain chemistry and feel more normal,” he writes in a paper entitled Anti-aging/Longevity Medicine Reduces the Prevalence of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. “Patients utilize drugs and alcohol either to stimulate under-active brain regions or relax over-active brain systems. The aberrant electrical activity in the addicted patient’s brain is typically caused by inherited or acquired biochemical and hormonal deficiencies.”

For women, Sponaugle points to declining levels of progesterone, a calming hormone, during perimenopause as a source for anxiety and insomnia that drives women to abuse drugs and alcohol. Women who normally drink a glass of wine with dinner will progress to a couple of bottles of wine at night, he writes. He claims this is the case with more than 40 percent of the middle-aged females at his treatment facility. Other women in perimenopause will turn to drugs like Vicodin or OxyContin to calm their brains. Sponaugle has found that when female patients use hormone replacement therapy, their cravings for these substances subside.

Having low testosterone levels for men or women has been associated with low energy and depression, both of which may drive a person to self-medicate. Low levels of the hormone DHEA-S can produce some of the same problems.

Testing hormone levels involves a blood test. Have your doctor check your free T3 and TSH levels to check for hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism and treat as necessary to normalize.

Also have your physician test your DHEA-S, testosterone, and (for women only) estrogen and progesterone levels. If your hormone levels are off, consider balancing them with hormone replacement therapy.

4. HgAIc  

This test shows your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months and is used to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes. Having diabetes has been shown to lower impulse control. Here is a look at what the A1c numbers indicate:

Normal: 4.0-5.6

Prediabetes: 5.7-6.4

Diabetes: 6.5 or higher 

5. Fasting blood sugar

This test usually requires that you fast for about eight hours prior to having your blood drawn. It evaluates your blood sugar levels solely for the day when you have your blood drawn. Here is what the levels mean:

Normal: 70–99 mg/dL

Prediabetes: 100–125 mg/dL

Diabetes: 126 mg/dL or higher

by Dr. Amen

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