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Dr Mark, Medicine Man

Friday, 14 May 2010

What are the five numbers you need to know when it comes to your health? When it comes to blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI and even your waist size, Dr. Mark Hamilton lets us in on what numbers you need to keep and eye on, and what they should be.

Chronic diseases - such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis - are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in Ireland. We all want to know if we are healthy and knowing where we stand with these magic numbers is a good way to find out.

Dr. Mark Hamilton, Medicine Man

What are the five magic numbers you should know to keep your health in check?

1. Cholesterol
2. Blood Pressure
3. BMI
4. Blood Sugar
5. Waist Size

What are the five magic numbers you should know to keep your health in check?

Anything that we can check at home is great because it's so expensive to go to the doctor.

1. Cholesterol
What is the ideal number?

The ideal total cholesterol is below 5 mmol/l

In the breakdown of your cholesterol the aim is to have LDL ("bad") cholesterol below 3mmol/l, HDL ("good") cholesterol above 1mmol/l (or be over 20% of total level) and triglycerides below 1.7mmol/l

How to get it down?

This can be achieved with a healthy diet and exercise. There MAY be some benefit in using food products containing sterols (Benecol etc). Some people have raised cholesterol because it runs in the family and medication is provided to help lower cholesterol levels that don't respond to the above measures

Can you check it yourself?

Home kits, like the SELF Check cholesterol kit, can be used at home. It doesn't measure the LDL or HDL, but it's a guideline to tell you if it is over this number that you should visit your doctor.
Cholesterol Kit €14.93

2. Blood Pressure

What is the ideal number?

The optimal level is 120/80

Any level which is persistently over 140/90 is considered high. Sometimes a lower value may be treated if you have certain conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or high risk of cardiovascular disease

Can you check it yourself (blood pressure kit at home or doctor visit)?


Any advice to get it to this number, whether you have high or low pressure?

"High blood pressure can be treated or prevented by making changes to your lifestyle, such as exercising more regularly, eating a healthier diet and cutting back on your consumption of alcohol. Medicines are also available that can help lower your blood pressure."

If you have low blood pressure, you do have some protection against factors that increase blood pressure, such as eating too much salt, not eating enough fruit and vegetables, or being overweight. You also have some protection against the diseases caused by high blood pressure.
Some people who have low blood pressure experience symptoms as a result of it. There may be an underlying cause which could need treatment.

3. BMI

What is it?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person's weight and height. It is a relativily reliable indicator of body fatness for people. BMI does not measure body fat directly, but research has shown that BMI can correlate with measures of body fat. BMI is an inexpensive and easy-to-perform method of screening for weight categories that may lead to health problems.

How is BMI used?

BMI is used as a screening tool to identify possible weight problems for adults. However, BMI is not a diagnostic tool. For example, a person may have a high BMI but low body fat, such as an athelete. However, to determine if excess weight is a health risk, a weight loss consultant would need to perform further assessments, such as a body fat analysis measurement in combination with an evaluation of diet, physical activity, etc."

What is the ideal number?

Most people take the lower BMI value as 18.5 (others say 20) and the upper level is 25

25 - 30 is considered overweight and over 30 is obese.

It doesn't apply well to very muscular people, children, or pregnant women. A higher level is felt acceptable in the elderly.
It's measured by dividing your weight (in kgs) by your height squared (in metres)

Formula: weight (lb) / [height (in)]2 x 703
Calculation: [weight (lb) / height (in) / height (in)] x 703 Calculate BMI by dividing weight in pounds (lbs) by height in inches (in) squared and multiplying by a conversion factor of 703.

Weight = 150 lbs, Height = 5'5" (65")
Calculation: [150 ÷ (65)2] x 703 = 24.96

If an athlete or other person with a lot of muscle has a BMI over 25, is that person still considered to be overweight?

It is important to remember, however, that BMI is not a direct measure of body fatness and that BMI is calculated from an individual's weight which includes both muscle and fat. As a result, some individuals may have a high BMI but not have a high percentage of body fat. For example, highly trained athletes may have a high BMI because of increased muscularity rather than increased body fatness. Although some people with a BMI in the overweight range (from 25.0 to 29.9) may not have excess body fatness, most people with a BMI in the obese range (equal to or greater than 30) will have increased levels of body fatness.

Body Fat monitors are good if you are trying to lose weight. Anything over 32% for women is excess, and anything over 25% for males are excess.

4. Blood Sugar

What is this?

The blood sugar concentration or blood glucose level is the amount of glucose (sugar) present in the blood of a human or animal. Normally, in mammals the body maintains the blood glucose level at a reference range between about 3.6 and 5.8 mM (mmol/L). It is tightly regulated as a part of metabolic homeostasis.

What is the ideal number?

The level should vary normally throughout the day between 4 and 8 mmol/l
It can rise up to 10 after a meal

What is the risk of having high or low blood sugar?

When a blood sugar level is outside the normal range, it may be an indicator of a medical condition, mainly diabetes.

How can you keep it down?

The best way is to stay fit and healthy. Exercise is important, and it can be just walking for thirty minutes a day to help lower the blood sugar levels.

5. Waist Size

What is the ideal size/inches?

Many now feel this is a better indicator of disease risk than BMI and should probably be used in conjunction with BMI anyway.

Men should be below 94cm (37")
Women should be below 80cm (31.5")

Oxfam Ireland:

Last year Dr. Mark took part in the Oxfam Ireland Trail trekker, where a group of volunteers raise money for the charity and walk through the day and night from the Mournes in Derry to Carlingford. This year he is helping to recruit volunteers by taking part in the 'If I can do it so can you' campaign. Oxfam Ireland are looking to get people involved now so that they can start their sponsorship and training for everyone.
For more information go to

World Hypertension Day
Monday 17th May
WHD is about raising awareness on the importance of having blood pressure checked. For people with high blood pressure it is important to take steps to reduce it, as it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
For more information on World Hypertension day, go to