Dr. Elizabeth Sierakowski, MD, ABFM, ABOIM, ABAARM, Medical Director & Provider at Essential Health – Raleigh, NC, is expertly trained in both medical and lifestyle approaches to improving health at the cellular level. Read on to learn more about what cellular health means and how you can take simple steps today to support your body, even at a microscopic level.
What is cellular health?
The human body is made up of close to 30 trillion cells that are classified into more than 200 different types, all with very specific designs and functions. The cells in our body can be seen like bricks that are used to build large buildings. If the individual bricks are weak, brittle, porous, or toxic, then the building itself will carry forward those properties.
The term “cellular health” refers to having a healthy, optimally functioning body all the way down to each individual cell. This includes mitochondrial function, oxygen transport, cell membrane health, proper clearance of cell waste and more. To be our most optimal selves and prevent or heal from disease, we must address the health and dysfunction of our basic building blocks, our cells.
How do you know if your cells are healthy?
Cellular health can be assessed through the lens of functional medicine with specialized testing, exams, and conversation. While most tests are indirect, as a functional medical provider, we use the informational milieu to make decisions about how cells are functioning. Some of our protocol to determine the health of a patient’s cells include:
- History: We will ask personal questions about your lifestyle habits and how your natural detoxification systems are working. Do you have a daily healthy bowel movement? Do you sweat regularly? Are you hydrating appropriately and urinating frequently enough?
- Physical exam: While often underestimated, physical signs like swelling, tongue scalloped edges, nail spots or ridges, and hair texture changes can indicate poor waste clearance from cells or nutrient deficiency.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): If your mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is above 100, your red blood cells are too large, indicating you don’t have sufficient B vitamins building the material needed to make healthy red blood cells.
- DEXA bone density testing: Low bone density is a sign of insufficient bone building or excess bone breakdown, indicating either over- or under-activity of bone turnover cells.
- Insulin like growth factor (IGF1): This marker helps us understand if your body and cells are healthy enough to produce healthy levels of natural growth – or “anti-aging” – hormones.
- Vitamins and minerals: We measure critical nutrients both in serum and inside red blood cells (such as RBC Zinc and RBC magnesium) to understand if your cells have enough of these building blocks.
- Hemoglobin A1c: HbA1c measures the amount of glucose, blood sugar, “stuck” to your cells, a process called glycosylation. Excess sugar damages and prematurely ages cells.
- Oxidized LDL (OxLDL): Oxidized LDL is a measure of how much of your low-density lipoprotein is oxidizing or “going rancid” in your bloodstream. Oxidation damages cells and their functions.
- Inflammatory markers: These include markers such as hsCRP, homocysteine, and ferritin. Chronic inflammation damages cells and their functions.
- Telomeres: These anti-aging keys can be directly measured through a specialty lab panel and can indicate if your body is aging on par with your biologic age, or if it is aging faster or slower.
How to support cellular health
Improving your health at the cellular level may seem highly scientific and difficult, but there are several easy ways to support your cells daily. You can start by breathing deeper, avoiding chronic shallow “chest breathing” that many of us get into the habit of unconsciously. Aim for 6-10 breaths per minute (the average is 14-16!). Be sure you are having regular bowel movements 1-3 times daily in the form of soft logs. Hydrate properly each day and aim for urination that is light clear yellow at a frequency of every 2-3 hours. Move your body regularly and avoid prolonged sitting (more than an hour straight). Avoid toxins that make your cells work harder – filter your air and water, avoid fragrances, and eat a lot of produce. Finally, modulate your body’s stress response in every way you know how, every day, at every opportunity.
One step you can take now to improve your cellular health is to increase the time you spend breathing through your nose, especially while exercising. It sounds minor, but nasal breathing enhances natural nitric oxide production, improves blood vessel health and function, and allows more oxygen to reach each cell. By nasal breathing during exercise, we enhance those effects while also improving lymphatic flow and sweating, thus clearing cellular debris.
Supplementation can also be a powerful tool to support cellular health when overseen by a functional medicine provider. On a general level, cellular health starts with supporting the mitochondria, or the “powerhouse” of the cell. A few supplements that can promote better mitochondria function include:
- Liposomal Glutathione: This is a great antioxidant most everyone can benefit from (if you do not have a sulfur allergy).
- NAD+: This amino acid is made in the liver and is critical to the production of cellular energy. Levels can be supported through NAD+ IV infusions, L-tryptophan and vitamin B3 niacin (especially the form nicotinamide riboside) supplementation, and prescription compounded Synapsin nasal spray which specifically promotes brain cellular health.
- Natural herbs: Milk thistle, dandelion root, and berberine help support the liver.
- Cleansing: A fasting mimicking diet has been found very effective at reducing body inflammation, clearing waste, and optimizing cell health and longevity.
Each person may benefit from different supplements depending on their need for vitamins, anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, or other nutrients. With any supplementation protocol, it is important to seek expert guidance from a qualified provider and only take supplements under close supervision.
Optimal health begins at the microscopic level. All of our cells have an important job to keep our systems running smoothly. By supporting our health at a cellular level, we can help prevent diseases associated with aging, promote longevity, and truly thrive in good health.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always speak to a qualified healthcare professional before starting a new healthcare regimen.