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by Dr. Will Cole

One of the first questions I ask new patients is “How would you rate your health?” It’s a good ice breaker because it gets right to the core of their relationship with their body. The most common answer is: “I’m in good health, doc!” But when I look at their list of medications and health issues – the ones that made them want to set up an appointment with me in the first place – I see that they are hardly in “good health,” much less optimal.

What they usually mean is that they feel “all right.” They go to work, try to eat healthy, and get through life without any major problems. In reality, though, how we feel is a relatively poor predictor of our health. For the first time in human history, chronic disease has surpassed infectious disease, and these types of illnesses – like chronic heart problems, autoimmune diseases, and cancer – often go under-the-radar for years.

So what are great gauges for assessing your health? Well, I’m glad you asked! Because achieving optimal health is not only possible; it’s something that I see on a weekly basis in my functional medicine center. Here are the 19 signs you’ve achieved optimal health:

1. Your inflammation levels are in check.

Just about every health problem we see today has inflammation at its core. But this chronic, low-grade inflammation isn’t the same as the acute variety that we find in an injury, so pain isn’t always a clue that inflammation is brewing. The best way to see where your inflammation levels are at is lab tests, which will show you where your inflammation levels are right now.

2. You have a balanced microbiome.

The delicate equilibrium of the trillions of bacteria in your gut and on your skin is super important in health optimization. Bacterial imbalances like SIBO and candida yeast overgrowth are increasingly common and very rarely looked at in mainstream medicine. I’m going to get personal here: Are you having at least one to two healthy bowel movements a day? Do you suffer from bloating, constipation, or diarrhea? Ideally, your poop should look like snakes, not like pebbles or soft-serve ice cream.

3. You have the “longevity personality traits.”

Some exciting research looked at the personality traits that are most commonly found in people who live long, healthy lives. See how many of these you possess:

  • Conscientiousness
  • Openness
  • Emotional stability
  • Friendliness
  • Emotional expression
  • Energy and stamina

I find that my patients who are lacking in these six categories tend to have a more difficult health journey.

4. You are brain-fog free.

Muddled thinking and forgetting names and words are so common today that it’s considered a normal part of getting older. Instead of settling for brain fog, see it as a clue that something needs to be addressed. You have more brain cells than there are stars in the galaxy, and you need to take care of every single one. If you’re struggling with brain fog, here’s my guide to achieving mental clarity.

5. Your hormones are on point.

Hormones play a major role in the way we feel each day. And the beautifully balanced dance of the endocrine system is needed for you to truly thrive. Underlying hormone imbalances such as adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, and estrogen and progesterone imbalances often go unchecked.

6. Nutrient deficits are a thing of the past.

Your body is alive because of brilliant biochemistry, and if you are lacking in any of the essential nutrients, your cells can’t function the way they were designed to. Make sure you get a comprehensive nutrient work-up done, looking for common deficiencies such as vitamin D and magnesium and imbalances between copper and zinc. Your body will thank you!

7. You’ve addressed any problems with methylation.

Methylation is a super-big biochemical-highway system that makes your brain, gut, and hormones function optimally. Methylation impairments such as the MTHFR mutation are super common but widely not looked at in conventional medicine. If you aren’t actively supporting methylation, it’s time you read up on this key factor in your health.

8. You don’t get “hangry.”

If you get irritable, weak, or shaky if you miss a meal, chances are your blood sugar is not balanced. Simply put, you can’t have optimal health if your blood sugar is not stable. Not sure if you have a blood sugar problem? Here are 15 signs to look out for – plus exactly what to do for better blood sugar health.

9. You have a healthy libido.

It still amazes me how ubiquitous low sex drive is. Just like brain fog and fatigue, low libido is just chalked up as a “normal” part of getting older or being busy. Just because these issues are common doesn’t make them normal! See issues like this as a sign that something is in need of your attention.

10. Your weight is stable.

If you’re at optimal health, your weight should stay relatively stable and be healthy for your height and build. If your weight fluctuates significantly, something is typically off with your hormones or inflammation levels. And if it’s really hard for you to lose weight, looking at problems like leptin resistance is a good idea.

11. You’ve learned to love healthy food.

Clean eating is a way of life and not a “diet.” This is the transition that every successful patient of mine has to undergo. If you are truly healthy, you’ll see eating healthily not as a chore but as an exciting way to nourish your body with yummy food medicine.

12. You aren’t on any unnecessary medications.

Medications are frequently overprescribed and given as the only option for people struggling with health issues. I encourage anyone on prescribed medications to have an open, honest discussion with their doctor about their options. Here is a list of some common medications that I find to be overprescribed, including potential side effects that might affect your health.

13. You have clear skin.

Your skin is your largest organ, so what’s it telling you? Problems like acne breakouts, psoriasis, eczema, and rashes are a sign that something’s not working well. Looking at the gut-skin connection is usually my first consideration for people with skin issues.

14. You limit your sitting.

Sitting is the new smoking; haven’t you heard? Prolonged sitting is a major threat to your health, increasing the risk for a wide range of diseases. So get those standing desks out, or at the very least take frequent walking breaks!

15. You have a good relationship with stress.

Chronic stress affects just about every system of your body. You can be eating kale and kombucha all day long, but if you’re serving yourself a big slice of stress you’re counteracting all your healthy efforts. Making time for self-care and mindfulness is essential to optimal health.

16. You sleep through the night.

And even more importantly, you wake up feeling refreshed! We need to stop seeing sleep as a luxury and start seeing it as a necessity! Just one night of poor sleep will spike inflammation levels and mess your brain up (that’s a technical term, by the way). But seriously, if you are not getting eight to 10 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep – you won’t achieve optimal health.

17. You don’t get winded doing simple activities.

If walking up stairs, carrying groceries, or getting dressed is a difficult chore, chances are you’re not in optimal health and it’s a sign that you need to invest a little more time and energy into your body.

18. You sweat six times a week.

With the sedentary nature of modern society, I’m a firm believer that most of us should be sweating about six times each week. Whether it’s a brisk walk in nature, yoga, or HIIT training, exercise does tons for your health – like increasing something called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which regenerates brain cells!

19. You don’t have insatiable cravings.

In functional medicine we see intense food cravings as a sign of imbalance. Hormonal imbalances, blood sugar issues, and emotional stressors can sabotage your good intentions and quest for optimal health.

I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.

Photo: Simone Becchetti

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