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The Fat Loss Nutrient You’re Forgetting

You’ve probably heard about fat burning boosts from supplements like green tea extract and coleus.  And there’s been many a blog written on the metabolic bonuses from fish oils and vitamin D, but the unsexy one that doesn’t get talked about enough, (or at all, really) is oxygen.

Of course, if you are eating Fruit Loops for breakfast instead of veggie omelets, or your gym pass is collecting dust, then you probably know what changes you need to make to feel better and get some fat loss results.

But, what about the rest of you? The ones who consistently eat well, exercise, and get your rest.  Should you be rushing to the supplement store for some green coffee bean extract? Not yet.

You may have a beautifully balanced nutrition plan and the smartest workout regimen, but without a healthy physiology it won’t work.

Key to healthy physiology is the ability to get oxygen to your organs and muscles, and yet we hardly give a second thought to it.

Oxygen gets shuttled around on hemoglobin, a component of your red blood cells. When these red blood cells are too big or too small, their ability to carry and unload oxygen at the tissues is compromised.

anemia-450x272Poor oxygen delivery is a very commonly overlooked issue that I see every day in my practice, which includes the toughest of the tough fat loss clients.

Some of them have poor circulation, as well, compounding this issue, but the vast majority of them also have decreased oxygen delivery via these little red blood cells, known as anemia. Anemia can be a common, yet overlooked factor in fat loss struggles.

It’s important to note though that it doesn’t have to be a full blown anemia for your physiology to start to suffer. Sub-clinical anemias or “anemic tendencies”, once resolved can go a long way to getting you more energy and more fat loss.

What Is Sub-Clinical Anemia & How Do You Know If You Have It?

Anemia is the compromised ability to deliver oxygen to the cells of your body.

Once delivered, oxygen gets utilized in the mitochondria – a cell’s powerhouse – to form ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is the basic energy source for your body and oxygen is a fundamental component in making it.

Without a steady supply of oxygen to your body’s tissues, your metabolism gets compromised, hormones get out of whack, digestion can go on the fritz, you can’t even think clearly, and you’ll struggle to drop weight.

Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, cold hands and feet, pale complexion, decreased stamina, getting easily short of breath, hair loss, and it can be a component of a sluggish metabolism.

Anemia can be from B12 and folic acid deficiency or from iron deficiency.

B12 issues can arise from autoimmunity, poor digestion, lack of stomach acid or poor dietary intake.

Iron can get low from excessive blood loss (i.e. heavy menses or gastrointestinal bleeding), poor dietary intake or absorption, medications or certain genetic or chronic conditions (i.e. thalassemia).

A subclinical anemia is when lab values are within normal range but show a trend towards an impending anemic state. In Functional Medicine, we see these as problems just around the corner and address them.

But, it’s just as important to ask WHY?

b12vitaminbottle-350x284Are you trending this way because of a heavy cycle due to hormonal imbalances? Are you trending this way because of a genetic defect in methylation? Are you trending this way due to decreased ability to digest your food and get nutrients?

It’s easy enough to take iron or B12, but addressing the why behind these shifts in your physiology can help you truly resolve the issue and keep that oxygen delivery system going strong. Supplementing to help your anemia can be helpful, but you and your trusted health professional should be looking deeper to determine why and how anemia has occurred.

So, how do you know how your oxygen delivery stacks up?

The most basic test to see an anemia is the CBC (aka complete blood count). This will show how big or small those red cells are.

However, to better see more subtle issues, we often need a few markers beyond the CBC. Those include TIBC (total iron binding capacity) and ferritin to see iron deficiency issues.

You can also request a homocysteine level. This was once a marker for cardiovascular disease, and while it’s been replaced by better testing for CV risk, elevated homocysteine levels show us the need for nutrients such as folic acid, B6 and B12 (aka methylating nutrients).

Here are the values most functional docs use when assessing your oxygen carrying capacity:

Test/Marker Standard Lab Ranges* Functional Reference Range
Hemoglobin (Hgb) 12.1-15.1g/dl 13.5-14.5g/dl
Hematocrit (Hct) 36-44 g/dl  27-40 g/dl
RBC 3.8-5.2 3.9-4.5
MVC 78-98 85-92
MCH 28-34% 27-32%
MCHC 32-36% 32-35%
Iron 40-155 ug/dL 85-130 ug/dL
TIBC 250-460 ug/dL 250-350 ug/dL
Ferritin 18-300 ng/ml 10-122 ng/mlL
Transferritin 15-55% 20-35%
Homocysteine 0-15 µmol/L Less than 7 µmol/L

*Note: lab values vary slightly lab to lab across the country, so these may not be the exact reference ranges for your lab. Also, men and women have different lab ranges for various tests such as hemoglobin, hematocrit, etc.

These blood tests are totally routine (save homocysteine) and can be done easily with your MD, but remember if you’re hoping to catch these functional issues or “anemic tendencies” you may need to be working with a functional medicine practitioner.

So, if you feel you’ve got everything in place with diet and exercise be sure to have a look at these issues and see if supporting your oxygen delivery is the missing piece to your fat loss plan.

If your goal is fat loss, in addition to improving your nutrition habits, a balanced and well-designed training program is a key factor toward achieving results—and we can help you with that!

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About The Author: Dr. Brooke Kalanick

Dr. Brooke Kalanick earned her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. Known as “The Hormone Whisperer,” Brooke's balanced approach to health, using both conventional and alternative therapies, allows her to successfully treat patients with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism and PCOS as well as other female hormone imbalances. Learn more about Dr. Brooke on her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.