My Juicing Journey

What Do All Those Numbers Mean: Undertanding your blood tests

As mentioned previously, I highly recommend you consult with your physician before beginning a juice fast of any significant duration…say more than 15 total days including the phase-in and phase-out period.  I did not consult with my doctor at the outset and now regret it.  Not because I have had any problems but because I do not have a true baseline to chart my progress.  That said, I met with my doctor this week.  At my request, he ordered a blood test (If they don’t recommend one, ask for it.  You are the customer; never forget that!)  When my tests came back, he said they all looked normal.  Usually, we just leave it at that, right?  We assume that normal is good and that good is good enough.

Well, “Normal” means that 1 in 5 Americans will have heart disease, 19.5% of adults are clinically obese, 9% have sleep apnea, 6% have diabetes with another 26% estimated to have prediabetes.  You get the idea.  I, and hopefully others who are joining this journey, have determined that “normal” is no longer good enough.  In order to do that, we much take charge of, and responsibility for, our own health. 

Taking ownership of our health requires knowledge and knowledge requires information.  So, that is my purpose today; to define and describe the numbers you will see on your next blood test.

One of the first tests you will see is known as a CMP or Comprehensive Metabolic Panel. This test is important because it gives you an overview of how your body is functioning and how well your organs are performing their assigned tasks.  Let’s look at the items they test for in a CMP, define “normal”, what it means, and what it means for those of us who are juicing.

Glucose – the test for glucose actually measures for Blood Glucose or the amount of glucose present in your blood stream at the time of the test. Any time you see the suffix “-ose” as related to health or to foods just translate that in your head as some sort of sugar.  Glucose, specifically, is a type of sugar that comes from carbohydrates – all carbohyrates – from the nutrient rich ones like oranges, grapes and beets to the nutrient poor carbs like Snickers bars and those rolls we eat with dinner. 

Glucose is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the main source of energy used by the body.  The hormone insulin helps your body convert it into a usable form for use by the individual cells in your body.  As you consume food, the body releases insulin from the pancreas to keep the glucose levels from getting too high.  Levels of glucose that remain high for an extended period of time can and will damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels.

Normal levels for the glucose test are from 70-99 mg.  Prediabetes begins at levels above 126 mg and diabetes at 140 mg.

When juicing we are getting the pure, distilled form of our food stuffs.  The fiber in most carbohydrates serves a valuable function.  It acts as a time-release capsule for glucose and slows the digestion and subsequent release into our blood stream.  In juicing, we lose the fiber and therefore the time release nature of glucose in its native forms. So we get a huge rush of glucose when we eat, which can cause spikes in our blood sugar.  This is one reason that it is imperative that we eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and that we do not, even though they taste better, juice only fruits.  I, personally, add veg to every juice I make and keep my fruit juices to a minimum –adding them only to sweeten or flavor an otherwise bitter drink. 

If we juice too many high sugar content foods our glucose will spike, spurring the release of insulin which ultimately tells our body that we have plenty of energy and to store the excess as fat.  So, yes, it is conceivable to actually gain weight and get fatter while juicing! 

To combat this, eat a wide variety of fruits and veg and make sure you are drinking juice 4-6 times per day to keep things on an even keel.

Juicers should keep an eye on their Blood Glucose levels because besides being an indicator for  diabetes, it will also let you know if you are concentrating too much of your diet on one type of food or another and may need to broaden your food horizons.

Electrolytes –  the next group of numbers all relate to macro and micronutrients known collectively as your electrolytes.  They include Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Calcium among others but those are the big four.  Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and have the ability to conduct electricity.  Since our brain and nerves are, in their most simplistic terms, a generator and wiring, their presence is essential for normal function of our cells, organs, and muscles…including the heart.  In short, get these out of balance and you will be in very big trouble very quickly.  Lets look at these elements individually

Sodium – Sodium is used by the body to regulate the amount of water and, at the molecular level, the transmission of sodium in and out of each cell is critical to normal body functioning. This movement of sodium is essential to the ability for our bodies electrical current to be able to travel freely.  Contrary to what you may have thought you learned in school, PURE water is a poor conductor of electricity.  By adding these sodium ions (Na+) to the water in our body, it becomes a very efficient conductor.  Too much or too little sodium, therefore, will cause cells to malfunction. 

The normal range for sodium in a blood test is 136-145 units (mmol/L).

For juicers this is why you see so many of the recipes at suggesting you add sea, celtic, or Himalayan salt back into your food.  The average american diet is NOT short on sodium.  One batch of McDonald’s fries could probably do you for about a week.  But with our natural, organic-based plant nutrition we need to add some back in.  In fact, when I showed my doctor my menu, he was very pleased that the recipes called for adding salt back in to my meals.

Potassium – This macronutrient is essential for normal cell function. Among other things it regulates heart beat and muscle function.  Ever had a muscle cramp?  The two most common reasons are a deficiency in potassium or dehydration (which leads to lower potassium levels.)  Abnormal levels of potassium can profoundly affect the nervous system leading to heart arrhythmias.

Potassium, in addition to being found in our foods, is normally excreted by the kidneys so low levels on this test can be a marker for poor kidney function.

For juicers, it is important to keep an eye on this level because of what it says about two areas of our health: Kidney Function and Hydration.  We are drinking so much juice that it is easy to forget about water intake.  Juicing is not drinking; it is eating! This is one of my personal challenges. I do not remember to drink enough.

In addition to hydration levels, though, juicing is hard on your kidneys. The rest of your body is thrilled with your new choices.  Your kidneys and liver…well not so much.  Here’s why:

The rest of your body is getting the benefit of all of the great nutrients.  But, as these nutrients and glucose are burned up rather quickly, the body goes looking for extra energy. So, it dips into the bank account of energy known as “fat”. 

Think of it like this, lets say that for 10 years the residents of New York City did not dispose of their trash.  They just hoarded it, stored it away, or threw it into the street randomly.  Then a new mayor takes over and creates a new program to clean up the city and get rid of the trash.  Soon everyone will be happy with their beautiful “new” city and how well everything is functioning.  Everyone, that is, except the garbage collectors who have the job of cleaning up everyone’s mess, processing it, and hauling it off.

Your body is NYC, your are the mayor and juicing is your decision to clean up this town.  The happy residents are your other organs who get to bask in the beauty of the new decision.  However, your kidneys and liver are the poor garbage collectors.  You see, it is their role in the body to filter out all of the vile filth that we take in so that it does not hurt the rest of the system.

So, as your body is digging into these fat stores, they are having to process all of this stuff…again.  You may be eating a balanced low-fat diet…your kidneys and liver are consuming a very high-fat, pollution rich diet.  So, go easy on them.  They are under a lot of stress right now.  This is why monitoring their performance is critical during a juice fast and why the blood test is an important way to keep tabs on them.

It is also another good argument for consuming lots of water.  It will help keep your blood thin and the newly discovered toxins (released from fat stores) diluted so they do not become a greater problem.

Chloride – Chloride is the main negatively charged ion found in fluids outside the cells and in the blood. As an aside, the fluids in our body have almost the exact same percentage as sea water. Chloride is the yin to Sodium’s yang. (Ain’t it great how God paired them in NaCl – table salt).  Like sodium, it serves as a regulator of bodily fluids.  Increased levels are indicated by diarrhea, some kidney diseases, and in over activity of parathyroid glands.  It can be lost through urine, sweat, and vomiting.

Normal ranges for Chloride is between 98 and 107 mmol/L

For juicers, make sure you’re supplementing your diet with one of the three types of salt mentioned above in our discussion of sodium.  That should be enough to maintain normal levels. However, if you are exercising extensively during your juicing program and prone to sweat, keep an eye on this number to make sure it stays in the normal range.

Bicarbonate – This element acts as a buffer in the body.  It regulates and normalizes levels of acidity.  This is why my Aunt Eunice would mix a teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) with a cup of water and give it to me when I had a “sour” stomach or indigestion.  There is nothing better to quickly neutralize stomach acid. It is also why farmers and gardeners may “lime” their fields with “Calcium Bicarbonate” it helps to restore proper pH in the soil.  Though the evidence is not conclusive yet, having your pH out of balance in your body seems to indicate the potential development of some types of cancers.  This test measures for the effectiveness of cell respiration, lung efficiency, metabolic rates, and kidney function.

On your blood tests this level may be represent by a test for CO2 (carbon dioxide).  The normal levels range from 22-32 mmol/L.

Calcium – This element is the social butterfly of the body.  It hates to travel alone and prefers the company of phosphorous, magnesium, and it’s bestie – vitamin D.  Good thing, because it helps all of these to work more efficiently and they help it out as well.  Calcium is important for bones as most everybody knows, but it is also a key element in the proper functioning of muscles.  The amount of free calcium and bound calcium should be in balance.  When it is not, you can get muscle spasms, suffer mental confusion, and even comas.  If the kidneys are excreting too much calcium – more than it can process – it precipitates, or falls out of solution and begins to bind to itself as a solid.  These little formations are known as kidney stones.  Too much calcium is also indicated in fatigue, weakness, constipation, and increased thirst to name a few.  While too little calcium can cause cramps, tingling fingers, and abdominal cramps.

Juicers, since we are not getting any dairy or meat which are high in calcium we need to make sure that we are juicing foods that are sufficiently high enough to maintain normal levels.  These include Spinach, Swiss Chard, Garlic Kale, Grapes, and Oranges.  This level is important to monitor especially for female juicers because of the risk of osteoporosis and other bone disorders.  It is also a marker for kidney function.

BUN and Creatinine – These tests are taken together, generally, to test the overall function of our….you got it…kidney. BUN stands for Blood Urea Nitrogen and tests for kidney disease as well as overall health.  High levels suggest impaired kidney function or reduced blood flow to the kidneys as is seen with heart attacks, heart failure, shock, stress, or dehydration.  High BUN levels may also show up with elevated protein in the diet.  Low BUN levels are relatively rare and are not generally seen as a problem unless they are present with other markers indicating malnutrition or liver disease.

Normal ranges for BUN levels are 6-20 while Creatinine ranges from .90 – 1.3

Juicers should expect there levels to be a bit on the low side if not slightly below normal. After all, based purely on caloric intake, our body may think it is being starved.  As long as it is not present with any other markers for kidney disease, liver disease, or malnutrition it is nothing to be alarmed by; just be aware and track this number. Further, our protein levels, unless we are making sure to get in plenty of dark greens, may be low as well which will lower the BUN readings.

Total Protein – Protein is pretty important, so keep an eye on this.  It’s main function is with the neuromuscular system and is one of the main building blocks for all cells. Protein deficiency can result in muscle atrophy. Because if you are not getting enough through your diet, this element is so critical to bodily function, that your body will cannibalize itself to get it.  By canniblaizing, I mean breaking down your own muscle tissue and harvesting the protein from there.

Low total protein levels can indicate nutritional status, or poor kidney and liver function. High levels can be caused by bone marrow disorders, and some infections such as HIV or viral hepatitis.

Normal levels range from 6.4 – 8.3

Juicers, it is critical that we eat a wide variety of fruits and veg because, to my knowledge, there are no plant sources of protein that have the complete amino chain (an important component of protein).  Your body needs all of the aminos.  Not to fear, you can get them, but you need to mix and match your fruits and veg to consume complementary sources.

Muscle tissue also burns more energy that any other tissue in our body.  So the quickest way to increase your metabolism is to increase your muscle mass, or at the very least protect it so that you are burning more calories each day even while at rest. This increased use of energy by our body means more calories expended and a greater weight loss if that is our goal. (Remember our friend Newton’s law of physics, a body at rest stays at rest while abody in motion styas in motion?  It’s true, build muscle and you can eat more without gaining weight. Your body will fight FOR you instead of against you.)

The remaining tests Bilirubin, AST, and ALT are all measures of liver and heart function. 

In juicers, our body may interpret some of what we are doing as “starvation” so some of these number may be off.  The key is to monitor them every month to six weeks while we are juicing. Low levels may mean nothing more than we are on a diet, but since they are connected to some pretty important organs we do not need to take it for granted. 

On my test my protein, albumin, bilirubin, AST, and ALT were all slightly abnormal or on the verge of being abnormal.  Your doctor can help you best interpret your results.  Mine…he looked at me and said, “Hmmm….yep you’re starving.  But we kinda knew that.  Go drink another juice, you’re fine.”

My juice fast is extreme, but I was in an extreme situation.  I was 470 lbs and heading for an early grave.  This is not a lifestyle.  This is 75 total days (reboot entry program and reboot standard program for 60 days).  While I am on this program, I will monitor these things so that I do not hurt myself while helping myself. 

While this extreme level of juicing is only a phase, I will be juicing for life.  As part of a balanced diet, or even for some meal replacement, juicing is a great way to maintain optimal health.

I hope you found some info here you can use.  I will go over the Lipid/Coronary tests and numbers tomorrow. Till then, I have a carrot, beet, sweet pea, strawberry, apple juice to drink.

Juice On; Join the Journey.

This entry was published on February 9, 2012 at 11:27 am. It’s filed under Food Science, Juicing, weight loss and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “What Do All Those Numbers Mean: Undertanding your blood tests

  1. Very well written. You have learned a lot. I teach a lot of nutrition classes and staying hydrated and keeping electrolytes balanced for endurance athletes. You took some big concepts and boiled them down beautifully. I especially liked the NYC analogy. I’ll be borrowing that one ok?

    I like it when you share what you are juicing…gives me more ideas on variety! If you could and would, that would be great.

    Juice on.

    • will do. Though I can tell you I am juicing everything but the neighbor’s cat! I ahve learned that it is about balance and since we are dealing with the extract of plants and not the whole plant, a little goes a long way. I.e. it don’t take much onion to carry the flavor. Think of it like adding jim carey to a movie…it’s easy to get too much of a good thing!

      But i will make it a point to start posting juice recipes and pics more frequently. Thanks for the Suggestion.

  2. YAY!

    It’s about time SOMEONE made the point that “normal” DOES NOT = “healthy”.

    I certainly doe not want to be “normal” in today’s society, if normal means I have more than 50% chance of dying prematurely from diet-related disease, and a 66% chance of being overweight or obese (I’m currently in the “overweight” category with a BMI of 29.2).

    Thanks for the lowdown on those tests. I’m actually heading off to my docs next week to get mine done. INtended to get them done before I started, but with school holidays and all, it didn’t happen. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. This is invaluable information.. thank you for doing all this research and compiling this info. I have never once gotten a print out of my blood test results like you did. I will definitely ask for a copy of that next time.

    • You are the customer. Don’t let their degree or demeanor throw you off. Ask for what you want and refuse to accept anything less. Never forget that, you are trading money for his/her education,knowledge and opinion; don’t leave till its a good trade.

  4. Dremples on said:

    Did you just ask for an overall blood test, or is there a specific kind of blood test you need to request for them to give you all theses number?

    • I talked with my Dr. and explained what I was doing told him what i was looking for and he translated tht into his medical terms. So, first, be sure and do that. Each persons medicla history is different and he may want to see more. I did a CMP or complete metabolic panel, and a lipid/coronary risk panel (profile).

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