How do you know you’re truly healthy?
Many people might point to body weight and say you’re more likely to be healthy if you’re not overweight.
But a “normal” body weight doesn’t equate to optimal health. So if the number on the scale isn’t an accurate measure of your health, then what is?
At MaxWell Clinic, we focus on your overall body composition, or the percentages of fat and non-fat (like muscle) in your body. To do so, we use a method called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) on all our new patients. In this article, we’ll dive into what BIA is and what it can tell us about your health.
What is Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis?
Bioelectrical impedance analysis uses electrical current to measure body fat.
The various tissues in your body (fat, muscle, bone, etc.) contain fluids, which are capable of electrical conduction. And because each type of tissue has varying amounts of fluid in and around them, their electrical conductivity can also differ.
This principle serves as the foundation for BIA.
A BIA device is used to run a small amount of electrical current through your body. Due to the variations in fluid content, the speed of the electrical current changes as it travels through different tissues.
Because lean tissues contain large amounts of water and electrolytes, they are much better conductors of electricity. Fat, on the other hand, is a poor conductor of electricity and impedes the current as it flows through your body.
By calculating the resistance to the current’s flow, BIA determines the total amount of water in your body. It can then use this estimate to determine your total body fat.
More Than A Fat Measurement Tool
BIA is much more than a superficial tool to measure fat. It can distinguish between the different types of fats in your body, including between subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral (surrounding internal organs) fat.
BIA can also give you an accurate picture of how much of your body weight is composed of lean muscle. Because maintenance of muscle mass becomes much more important as you age, it’s important to track it.
Perhaps the most valuable information we can gather from a BIA is the percentage of extracellular water (water outside your cells).
An excessive amount of extracellular water can signal an inflammation and/or toxin buildup in your body.1-6 Because there’s more fluid flowing around your body, excess extracellular water puts stress on your heart. It can also be the reason for your excess weight and/or limb swelling. High levels of extracellular water should be taken seriously.
To summarize, BIA is a fast, accurate tool to assess your body composition, including your body fat, water weight and distribution, and muscle mass.
The Importance of Body Composition
Maybe you’ve been told that you should try to keep your body fat percentage as low as possible to be healthy.
There’s some truth to that. Carrying too much fat on your body does pose serious health risks.
However, being “thin” doesn’t automatically eliminate these risks.
Your body needs fat for its vital functions and to maintain your immune system. Most medical guidelines recommend a certain range of overall body fat – 10-22% for men and 20-32% for women – for optimal health.7
In fact, a 2018 study found that being too thin (low BMI) could knock up to 4 years off your life expectancy.8
Your health is also more complex than a number on a chart or a scale. Ignoring variables like fluid balance and cell membrane health could leave you vulnerable to serious health issues.
What Can Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis Tell You That Body Mass Index (BMI) Can’t?
Have you ever been weighed at a doctor’s office and told you have a high BMI?
To many, a high BMI automatically equates to being overweight. You may have even been told you need to lose weight to reduce your risk of developing chronic illnesses.9
The truth is, such a simple number cannot capture something as complex as your health.
Your BMI is based on just two numbers: your weight and your height.
BMI ignores variables like your age and gender, and it also doesn’t consider how much muscle you have. If you lead an active lifestyle, you likely have more muscle than people who don’t. But your BMI may suggest you’re overweight – even when you’re clearly not.
Additionally, because BMI isn’t a direct measurement of fat, it can underestimate fat.
If you have “normal-weight obesity,” you may appear to be healthy weight-wise when you actually have a high body fat percentage and low muscle mass. This puts you at the same risk of developing chronic disease as someone who is obviously overweight – and you might not even know it.
BMI also doesn’t show any positive progress you’ve made. If you’ve incorporated a healthier diet and an exercise regimen but your weight has remained the same – your BMI won’t change.
You need more than BMI alone. BIA is the gold standard in body fat measurement.
How Does Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis Work?
The process of BIA is quick and simple. Depending on the machine we use, you will lie down or stand up. There are four electrodes connected to your body – one in each hand and one touching each foot.
The electrodes measure the flow of the current as it runs through your body. In a matter of minutes, we obtain an estimate of the amount of water in your body, which is used to determine your total fat-free mass. The BIA device then takes into account other variables, such as your height, gender, and weight to calculate your total body fat percentage.
BIA is a 100% non-invasive process. And because BIA uses only a tiny amount of electrical current, you won’t feel anything at all.
What Measurements Does Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis Provide?
A BIA measures several key objective markers of health (also known as biomarkers), including:
- Phase angle: An indicator of cellular health independent of weight. Phase angle values vary depending on your age and gender.
- Resistance: Resistance is the effect on an electrical current caused by different components in your body. A high resistance value indicates low amounts of fat-free body mass. A low resistance is consistent with high amounts of fat-free body mass.
- Reactance: This value represents your cells’ ability to store energy within its membranes. A low reactance value suggests damage in your cells’ structure. A high value means healthy cells.
- Fat-free mass: The total non-fat body mass, which contains most of your body’s water. This includes bone and muscle tissue.
- Body cell mass (BCM): All the living (“metabolically active” or able to consume and produce energy) components of your body, such as your muscle cells, organ cells, etc. BCM includes the water inside living cells.
- Intracellular water (ICW): The water volume of the body cell mass. Increases in intracellular water can indicate better health.
- Extracellular water (ECW): The volume of water outside of the body cell mass. High levels of extracellular water can mean inflammation, infection, or mineral imbalance.1-6
- Total body water (TBW): The sum of your intracellular and extracellular water volumes.
- Fat mass: The amount of fat in your body.
- Extracellular mass (ECM): ECM consists of all the metabolically inactive parts of your body, which includes your bone and blood plasma. It also includes the water outside living cells.
- Lean body mass (LBM): Your total body weight minus your fat mass. The range of lean body mass considered to be healthy is 70 to 90%, with women on the lower end.
When the values of these biomarkers fall within specific target ranges, they can indicate a high level of wellness and low risk for many chronic diseases.
When they fall outside their optimal ranges, we can use that information to modify your diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits. It can also indicate your need for targeted strategies, such as systemic detoxing, enhancing nutrient absorption, or increasing mineral reserves.
A BIA is the start of your journey to optimal health. By routinely examining these biomarkers, we can identify areas of your health that need improvement long before any chronic issues develop.
How Can You Prepare for a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis?
Ready to come in for your BIA appointment? There are just a few guidelines to follow before your test:
The day before your BIA:
- Ensure normal hydration by drinking 8 ounces of water every 2 hours.
- Do not engage in intense exercise or any lifestyle practices that can promote dehydration.
- Avoid alcohol for 24 hours prior to the test.
- Minimize caffeine-containing beverages like sodas and coffee for at least 4 hours prior to your visit, though a maximum of 24 hours is preferred.
- Avoid saunas.
On the day of your BIA:
- Dress comfortably. Please avoid wearing full pantyhose. You will remove your socks or stockings.
- Avoid using lotion or other cosmetic products on your hands and feet.
- Strive to finish eating a meal at least 2 hours prior to the visit, 4 hours if you can.
- Do not overeat or over-hydrate before your visit.
- Minimize caffeine intake for at least 4 hours prior to the test.
- Take medications and supplements as normal with as little water as possible. For consistency, be sure to take the same medications and supplements each and every time you do this procedure.
That’s it! In less than 5 minutes, you’ll gain critical knowledge about your current state of health.
Have a Team of Experts on Your Side
As a clinic that specializes in Personalized Systems Medicine, MaxWell Clinic understands the impact body composition has on your health. That’s why BIA is performed as a part of all our new patient consultations. BIA is also one of the many extensive diagnostic tests included in our comprehensive MaxWell Care plan.
MaxWell Care is a 3- or 12-month program designed to uncover the root cause of your symptoms and help restore true health and vitality to your life.
If you’re in the Nashville area and are looking for a comprehensive approach to restoring your health, reach out today. Schedule a free call with our New Patient Coordinator here. We look forward to joining you on the journey to good health.
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