There has been a huge increase in digital health as people seek more control over their own health and wellbeing. The rise of wearable technology now enables people to track everything from the number of steps they take each day, to their sleep patterns, heart rate, ECGs, blood oxygen levels and more. All of which provides insights to help people optimise and proactively manage their health.
The term 'Biohacking' has been coined to describe health optimisation by tracking key biomarkers. It enables you to identify areas where you can make small, incremental improvements to your health through changes to your diet or lifestyle.
So, what are biomarkers and how can they help you improve your health fitness?
What Are Biomarkers?
Biomarkers is short for biological markers which are molecules that indicate normal or abnormal processes taking place in the body which have a direct influence on our health.
At Forth we use a range of biomarkers to help identify areas of health improvement, from general wellbeing to hormone health. For example, the biomarker ferritin can help identify iron deficiency anaemia and LDL cholesterol which, along with HDL and total cholesterol can help assess heart health and risk of developing heart disease.
Nutritional biomarkers are characteristics that can be measured and used to indicate nutritional status with respect to the intake or metabolism of dietary constituents e.g. fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals.
Health & Fitness Optimisation
We are all unique, individuals - what's normal for you may not be normal for someone else. Which is where biomarker tracking can play a role in health fitness. By understanding the essential biomarkers to measure depending on your health goal will help deliver insights from which you can make the necessary lifestyle changes to optimise your health.
For example, you might want to increase your energy levels, so testing key biomarkers such as vitamin D, B12 and ferritin will help identify any deficiencies which may be causing low energy levels. You might want to get to the bottom of unexplained weight issues, so taking a thyroid hormone test may help rule out any underlining health conditions such as an overactive or underactive thyroid which can affect weight, but also mood and energy. Or maybe you want to find out if a stressful lifestyle is having an impact on your sleep, which is where measuring the stress hormone cortisol can highlight any issues that might be causing poor sleep and mood changes.
In addition, understanding your hormones and what’s normal for you is another crucial area when optimising your health. Our hormones play a huge role in our bodies, particularly for women due to the monthly menstrual cycle, so understanding the role hormones play in the body and whether you may have a hormone imbalance can unlock a raft of insight.
It’s not only our physical health that’s important, but our mental health too. Lifestyle can have a huge impact on our mental health which is why it’s important to take time to look after ourselves and prioritise our mental wellbeing. Health optimisation should include mind and body, particularly as our diet has such as impact on our mental health as well as our physical health. So measuring levels of ferritin, B12, folate and vitamin D can identify any deficiencies that might be contributing to low mood.
By tracking these biomarkers over time you will build up a picture of what's normal for you, making it easier to spot any changes quickly.
Where To Start With Biomarker Tracking?
Some of the key biomarkers to track to help improve energy levels, bone and muscle strength and mood are:
B12 / B9 (folate) - vital for the formation of red blood cells which contain haemoglobin, the primary goal of which is to carry oxygen around the body. Low levels of B12 and folate can result in fewer red blood cells or a low amount of haemoglobin which can lead to fatigue and feelings of weakness. Low B12 and B9 levels can also have an impact on cognitive function. Although more research needs to be carried out into the role of B vitamins in mental health, one theory is that B12 affects serotonin levels in the brain and low serotonin levels can lead to poor mental health.
Vitamin D - we all know the importance of vitamin D to bone health, but it is also vital for energy, mood and immune health. Vitamin D, or more accurately bioactive vitamin D or calcitriol is a steroid hormone produced by the kidneys that plays a role in regulating the body's calcium levels. Low levels of vitamin D not only affect bone health, but can also result in fatigue and there is growing evidence that vitamin D is important for brain function and low levels can lead to mood changes such as depression.
Ferritin - is a good measure of the amount of iron stored in the body. Like vitamin B12 and B9, iron also plays a key role in the production of red blood cells. Low ferritin levels are an indicator of iron deficiency anaemia which results in fatigue. Women are more susceptible to low iron levels due to their monthly menstrual cycle, particularly if their periods are heavy.
Cholesterol - plays an important role in the body by helping to maintain healthy cells, aid the absorption of nutrients from the diet and regulate the balance of salt and water within the body, to name a few. There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (the bad type) and HDL (the good type), both of which are included in a total cholesterol result. Having high LDL levels is a risk factor for developing heart disease. Improving your HDL levels will in turn help manage your LDL levels as HDL cholesterol transports the bad cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and removed from the body.
Tracking these biomarkers will help you identify areas for improvement. Making changes to your diet or exercise routine can help improve your results, for example, low vitamin D levels can be raised by taking a vitamin D supplement; low B12 can be resolved through changes to your diet; High LDL levels can be improved through diet and exercise. Making these incremental changes to your lifestyle will help optimise your overall health by improving heart health, increasing energy levels and improving bone and muscle strength.
Putting some science behind your health fitness will help you identify problem areas. Whether it’s lack of energy, poor sleep, frequent colds or struggling with sports performance; knowing what’s going on inside your body will help you develop the right plan to improve your health fitness.
It should be noted that health apps and our own blood tests are not replacements for getting medial support for health conditions. The tests Forth offers are intended to improve wellbeing and optimise sports performance. They are not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis. If you have concerns about your health please talk to your GP.