Your Health Numbers

The Doctors explain how to take charge of your health and get even with your body by lowering your too-high health numbers and raising your too-low ones. From cholesterol and protein levels to balancing hormones and more, learn how to reach the perfect ratio and attain balanced, optimal wellness.

Part 1: Lowering High Health Numbers

Plus-Sized Mannequins Controversy

Popular clothing retailers have received both praise and criticism for plus-sized mannequins in their store displays.

The Doctors are joined by family medicine physician and sexologist Dr. Rachael Ross to debate whether “overweight” mannequins boost self-esteem or support unhealthy lifestyle choices.

"Why not just a healthy size?" OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masteron asks. "Why do you have to go to an unhealthy size, whether it's too low or too high?"

Dr. Ross counters with the fact that a significant portion of the U.S. population wears plus-sized apparel, and mannequins should reflect what clothing will truly look like on their figures.

“If you look at the [U.S.] population in totality, a third are obese, another third are overweight, so two-thirds of the country is overweight or obese,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says.

“We don’t want everybody to be a larger size because it’s not healthy. I would rather see models that are in different races than different sizes,” Dr. Lisa adds.

Cholesterol Count
“As weight goes up, often so does your cholesterol,” Dr. Travis says.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance attached to proteins and carried through the bloodstream. Cholesterol is a vital and necessary part of cellular function in the body. It is made in the liver and is also found in foods derived from animal products, such as meat, dairy and eggs. Cholesterol helps cell membranes produce bile, hormones and vitamin D.

There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), known as bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), known as good cholesterol. While small amounts of cholesterol are necessary, too much causes plaque buildup in arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

LDL levels should be below 100 in men and women. HDL levels should be between 50 and 60 mg/dL in women and between 40 and 50 mg/dL in men. Triglycerides, a type of fat found in blood, should be below 150 for men and women.

Total Cholesterol Levels:
Ideal: Less than 170 mg/dL
Acceptable: 170-199 mg/dL
High: 200 mg/dL or greater

The Doctors'
Cholesterol-Cutting Smoothie

Get the recipe for a healthy, high-fiber smoothie that may help lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels and raise beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Following a healthy diet, avoiding foods high in saturated fats, exercising regularly and maintaining an ideal weight are easy ways to keep cholesterol levels in check. To improve cholesterol numbers, exercise is extremely important because being active will raise the HDL and lower LDL. Making slight changes to your diet can lower cholesterol, as well.

“What we really care about, nowadays, is your ratio of LDL to HDL,” Dr. Travis explains.

The American Heart Association states that the ideal cholesterol ratio is 3.5:1 or lower.

“You should know these numbers and understand them, because it should dictate how you eat,” Dr. Travis says. “I would also argue that if you’ve ever made a recent change in your dietary habits then it’s worth rechecking your cholesterol. It’s amazing how much the foods we eat actually play into our cholesterol,” he adds.

Four foods that can help raise HDL cholesterol.

Protein Overload?
Protein is one of the key nutritional needs for the human body to function properly. Ideally, ingesting 25 grams at every meal is the best way to maintain strength and functionality of muscles and internal organs.

“Protein does a great job of helping you feel satiated after a meal. You tend to eat less when you have enough protein. It actually requires calories to break down protein when you eat it,” Dr. Travis says. “It’s used to rebuild muscles, it’s used in enzymes, it’s crucial.”

High-protein, low-carb diets have become a popular nutritional trend as a diet high in protein can also assist in weight loss; however, is it harmful to consume too much protein?

Calculate Your Protein

Learn the ideal amount of protein recommended for your individual body type with a protein calculator, courtesy of University of Maryland Medical System.

*This calculation should only be used as a guideline and is based on information available through the American Dietetics Association.

Dr. Travis explains how a surplus of protein can exacerbate conditions for people with kidney and liver problems; in addition, high protein levels can cause less absorption of calcium in certain cases.

“We’re talking about extreme amounts of protein here,” Dr. Travis says.

"It’s pretty unusual that that’s going to happen on the basis of what you eat alone,” plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon says. “We know certain disease states where there is an overproduction of certain proteins, certain types of cancers, for example. We know that has a devastating effect on your body, but that’s highly unlikely that you’re going to get it from your diet.”

“It kind of goes with any nutrient; too much of anything or too little of anything is not good for you,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears adds.

Dr. Ordon's Morning Protein Shake.

Hormone Highs and Lows
Beth in Danville, California writes:
I feel like my hormones are off. Other than mood swings, do high hormones pose a health risk?

“You want your hormones in balance and, as women, we are hormonal beings,” Dr. Lisa says.

“We want your hormones in balance, too!” Dr. Ordon jests.

Dr. Lisa explains the importance of regulating hormone levels throughout different stages of life to prevent cancer and other health hazards.

“If your periods are irregular, it usually heralds an imbalance,” she says. “Birth control pills aren’t just for contraception; they’re also treatments or medications to try and return our hormones back to balance.”

How to take control of your hormones.

High Heat: Healthy or Harmful?

From saunas and steam rooms to hot tubs and hot showers, almost everyone can attest to the relaxing effects of high heat. But can prolonged or consistent exposure to hot temperatures have deleterious health effects?

Dr. Travis explains that heat can provide great benefits, including improved circulation to help relax tired muscles; however, too much heat can dehydrate skin, aggravate varicose veins in those who are susceptible, affect blood pressure and lead to heat stroke and fainting.

The Doctors discuss the ideal water temperatures for adults versus children, and how hot is too hot.

“Here’s the thing: If you’re going to be in a superhot environment, make sure you stay hydrated and limit your time,” Dr. Travis says. “If you have other health conditions, always consult your doctor before you engage in one of these high-heat activities.”

Blood Pressure IQ
Blood pressure is defined as the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood. The more blood the heart pumps and the narrower the arteries are will result in higher pressure. High blood pressure can damage blood vessel walls, making them vulnerable to cholesterol plaque buildup. Over time, excessive plaque can accumulate, causing the blood vessel to burst and create a blockage, which can lead to cardiac and cerebral aneurysms that often result in death.

You can lower your risk of heart disease by eating a nutritional diet low in saturated fats and exercising regularly. If you have high cholesterol, increase the amount of fiber in your diet, and for high blood pressure, limit sodium, alcohol and quit smoking. Additionally, keep track of your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers so you can monitor them as you age.

Blood Pressure Numbers:
Normal/Healthy: 120/80 or lower
Pre-hypertensive: 120-139/80-89
Hypertensive: 140/90 or higher

Gina has a family history of high blood pressure and has lost both her mother and her aunt prematurely from related complications. At age 43, Gina has concerns about her blood pressure and wants to avoid succumbing to the same fate.

After being diagnosed with high blood pressure during all three of her pregnancies, Gina regularly monitors her levels but is looking for alternative ways to keep her blood pressure down without taking medications.

Dr. Travis and Dr. Lisa put Gina’s blood pressure IQ to the test and explain how blood pressure affects every organ in the body.

Blood Pressure Elevators

Learn the surprising foods and habits that can raise blood pressure.

Free blood pressure tests.

Blood pressure vs. cholesterol.

How to accurately check blood pressure.

Recent research conducted by UC Davis revealed that high blood pressure can accelerate brain aging earlier than expected. The article published from UC Davis Health System reported that, “the investigation found accelerated brain aging among hypertensive and pre-hypertensive individuals in their 40s, including damage to the structural integrity of the brain's white matter and the volume of its gray matter, suggesting that vascular brain injury develops insidiously over the lifetime with discernible effects."

Read more on the UC Davis blood pressure study.

“What’s so scary is, if this is happening in our 30s and 40s, you can’t say, ‘I’ll address that when I’m in my 50s or 60s’ because it may be too late,” Dr. Travis says.

Blood pressure is recorded in two numbers – systolic, when the heart beats while pumping blood, and diastolic, when the heart is at rest between beats. Watch as Dr. Travis demonstrates what doctors are listening for when they test systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Part 2: Raising Low Health Numbers

Low Thyroid Levels
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. It regulates every aspect of metabolism, from heart rate and blood pressure to body temperature and burning calories. Millions of Americans suffer from thyroid disorders where the gland is either overactive, known as hyperthyroidism, or underactive, known as hypothyroidism. When doctors perform thyroid tests, they measure the TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone) in patients’ blood to gauge whether it’s too high or too low.

Audience member Liesl is concerned about low thyroid levels and joins The Doctors on stage for an assessment.
Symptoms of Low Thyroid:

- Cold sensitivity
- Constipation
- Dry skin, hair and nails
- Fatigue
- Muscle cramps
- Voice changes
- Unexplained weight gain

People with high thyroid hormone tend to have the opposite symptoms.

Dr. Lisa adds that an iodine deficiency can also trigger low thyroid levels. Salt supplemented with iodine can provide the necessary amounts, yet many people are switching to sea salt, which does not contain supplemental iodine.

“It takes so little iodine to not have thyroid problems,” Dr. Travis adds. “It’s not like you have to go home and start shoveling iodized salt. It takes so very little.”

If doctors prescribe a thyroid supplement, they also advise to not take it with calcium-rich foods or calcium supplements as they can inhibit the absorption.

How to perform a thyroid self-exam.
How the thyroid gland functions.

Tightening Lower Abs

Prior to getting pregnant, Gretchen would exercise daily with a fitness routine that included Pilates and cardio. After giving birth via C-section, she has just started to exercise again but is struggling to tighten her postpartum tummy.

Certified personal trainer Basheerah Ahmad joins The Doctors on stage to demonstrate her top tips for a taut lower tummy.

“The stomach muscles not only look great when we pull them in but they also support the back, assist in breathing and also help when we move through life,” Basheerah says.

Chef Rocco DiSpirito's 2013 weight loss tip.

Lifting a Low Sex Drive

From citrus fruits to keep your love life juicy to how ginseng may improve erectile dysfunction and more, discover food-based fixes to raise a low libido.

More on aphrodisiac appeal.

The Lowdown on Vitamin D
“Vitamin D – it’s a very important nutrient to essentially every process in our body,” Dr. Travis states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that less that 10 percent of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient and a recent study out of Loyola University in Chicago suggested that 80 million Americans may be unnecessarily taking vitamin D supplements.

“It raises the question [of] who should be potentially supplementing or focusing on vitamin D-rich foods or getting enough sunlight,” Dr. Travis adds.

Dr. Ross explains how races with more melanin, or darker pigmentation, are more prone to vitamin D deficiency. It’s currently estimated that approximately 31 percent of African-Americans are vitamin D deficient whereas 12 percent of Mexican-Americans and 3 percent of Caucasians are lacking in vitamin D levels.

“That same pigment that makes you this beautiful, brown color is actually blocking you from absorbing the sunrays to make the vitamin D,” Dr. Ross explains. “When you really look at it, recent studies are linking arthritis pain in African-Americans to low levels of vitamin D, so it’s very important for you to recognize whether or not you’re deficient and then to supplement it on top of that,” she adds.

For people with fair skin, 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight per day is recommended to obtain necessary vitamin D levels; however, for people with darker skin tones, it can take three times the amount of sun exposure to reach ideal absorption, which, in turn, raises the risk for developing skin cancer.

For those who prefer to obtain vitamin D through food sources instead of supplements or sunlight, salmon, sardines, mushrooms and yogurt can help boost levels naturally.