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Thought-tober: Numbers as a Proxy for Health

I love numbers, testing, information and analysis. It is truly fascinating how we have been able to break the body down into hundreds of measurements and values. So much in health and medicine has been advanced by the development of testing. We now have the ability to get a glimpse into the workings of the marvelous human body.

Health has now become a highly manageable science. Need to see how healthy you are? Test a bunch of things and see how you score. Don’t get good test results? Implement some change(s) and retest. If your numbers get better then you are healthier. The creation of the health report card concept and philosophy has revolutionized the modern medical world. There is even a growing movement called “bio hacking” where people have taken this to new levels and are finding ways to test, manipulate and improve just about any and every testable measure you can imagine. Health has become quantifiable and scientific; it’s a numbers game.

My fear is this:
Does all the testing, lab results, bio hacking and reliance on numbers disconnect us from just feeling out our body and learning how to manage health and reconnect to the feedback the body provides naturally?

I’m not anti-testing by any means but I think it’s gone a little too far when people feel that health comes down to a lab test. We can gleam a lot from testing when appropriate but over reliance on managing numbers for health scares me.

How accurate are the things we test?
Should these tests even be used for what they are used for?
How many tests are useless without the context of others?
Do we know if changing numbers mean better or worse health?
Should lab tests be more important than how we feel?
Do we forget about simply living healthier when we focus too much on managing numbers?

We’ve all been victim to it or know people who are defined by their numbers. Whether it’s weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, hormones, etc., I have seen way too many people associate their health with numbers and ignore how they look, feel and perform.

If you feel, look and perform well and feel the healthiest you have in a while but get an abnormal lab test score it doesn’t mean you’re not healthy. Could it? Of course. But with the complexity of human physiology and the inaccuracies of medical testing, we need to really ask ourselves how much stock to put in some number we see on a piece of paper that represents some sample of blood that some lab machine analyzed.

Conversely, if you’re tired all the time, have bad digestion, allergies, excess weight on your body and just don’t feel right but your lab tests come back normal, it doesn’t mean you’re healthy. Could it? Of course. But people who trust themselves enough to listen to their body can start to ask questions that lead them toward answers.

The more practice we get at listening to our bodies and the less we outsource responsibility to medical labs the more we train and empower ourselves to know when something is indeed wrong.

Although the world is working hard to make health a game of science, would it serve us better to get back to making it more of an art?

Thanks for thinking, have a great day!

P.S. This isn’t a plea to not use tests, it’s a suggestion to keep those scores in the right context.

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