Having Lower Hemoglobin May Have Health Benefits
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
One important component of our blood are red cells which carry hemoglobin (abbreviated to Hb or Hgb).
Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein which transports oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies and returns carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled. To give you an idea of how critical hemoglobin is to life, consider that you can live for weeks without food, days without water but only a few minutes without oxygen. It is manufactured in bone marrow. Another function of hemoglobin is maintaining the shape of red blood cells.
To determine your hemoglobin level, your doctor or other healthcare practitioner will do a simple blood test. This test most likely will be part of what is known as the Complete Blood Count (CBC), which also measures other components of your blood such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The normal range for hemoglobin is 13.5 to 17.5 grams per deciliter of blood for men and 12.0 to 15.5 grams per deciliter for women.
Having a lower hemoglobin level may not produce any symptoms. Also, a slightly low count may be normal for some people. For example, women may have lower levels during their menstrual cycles or when they are pregnant. If your CBC test shows that you are in the lower range of the normal hemoglobin level, your first instinct may be to wonder if you should be taking steps to increase the count more toward the midrange. Since having a hemoglobin count below the normal range could be an indication of anemia, at first glance, this would seem to make sense.
Recent research, however, now suggests that being at the lower end of the normal hemoglobin range may have some health benefits. So, it turns out that in the case of hemoglobin, less may be good.
This research, which was done in Finland, followed some 12,000 people from their birth for more than 50 years. A complementary study followed another 1,800 individuals. The results of these studies suggest that hemoglobin levels are strongly associated with our metabolic health. This includes body mass index (the well-known BMI), glucose metabolism, blood pressure and blood lipids (such as cholesterol). In the study, individuals with lower hemoglobin levels had healthier levels of these metabolic markers.
Based on these results, researchers suggest that lower hemoglobin levels may help protect against both obesity and metabolic syndrome. Both conditions can put you at significant risk for a variety of serious health issues as well as premature death. These include an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and even cancer. Estimates are that more than 42 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese and about 30 percent of us have metabolic syndrome.
While you are probably very aware of the causes of obesity and how to combat it, you may not be all that familiar with metabolic syndrome. Doctors will diagnose you with this syndrome if you have three or more of the following conditions (all of which can lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease on their own): high blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess body fat around your waist (having what is known as an “apple shaped” body), low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and/or high levels of triglycerides. Contributors to developing metabolic syndrome include a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, insulin resistance and genetic factors.
Obviously, more studies need to be done to determine exactly how a lower hemoglobin level can help reduce the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Researchers believe it may be in part due to our bodies’ reaction to not getting the same amount of oxygen as compared to those with higher hemoglobin levels. This is like the response to the type of mild oxygen deficit that happens to people who travel to or live at high altitudes or when athletes deliberately train at higher altitudes. People living at higher altitudes generally tend to have better control of their weight along with better glucose tolerance. And studies with mice suggest that this response to lower oxygen may also protect against fatty liver and atherosclerosis (also known as hardening of the arteries).How To Be Proactive.
Please note, however, that these possible benefits of having hemoglobin levels at the lower end of the normal range does not mean you should try to lower your hemoglobin levels on your own. A lower hemoglobin level is not a “magic bullet” to prevent obesity or metabolic syndrome.
To better manage your weight, I invite you to check out the wealth of information that pH Labs has already published on this topic by clicking here. You also can reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome by addressing the various conditions that define it by:
- Managing your weight to stay within the healthiest range for your height, body composition, fitness level and age. I would suggest you focus more on body composition and weight rather than on the familiar Body Mass Index (BMI).
- Making sure you get enough physical activity will bring you multiple benefits, all of which will contribute to helping reduce your chances of developing metabolic syndrome. These include better weight management, lower blood pressure and better glucose control. Exercise can also reduce stress and help you get better quality sleep. And if the pandemic has turned you into a “couch potato,” don’t worry – taking a thirty-minute walk around your neighborhood is a great way to start!
- Eating a healthy diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins such as fish. Also reduce refined carbohydrates, sugary snacks and sweetened beverages, processed foods and cured meats such as bacon.
- Knowing your blood pressure measurement and working with a competent healthcare provider to manage it if it is elevated.
- Have your blood glucose levels checked and take steps to control them if this is indicated and especially if your doctor has told you that you have what is known as pre-diabetes.
You should also consider a nutrient test to make sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs, and in the right amounts, to promote healthy hemoglobin and blood. And to help you be better able to take action to minimize your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, I would also suggest a body composition test to measure your total body fat and body fat percentage, lean body mass, BMI, total body water and basal metabolic rate. This information will help you and your doctor know exactly how much fat you need to lose or gain, how much muscle you need, how many calories your body burns and how hydrated you are.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses, and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products, and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.