Body Composition, Why is it so important?

From time to time we like to give a new voice to our blog.  Dr. Steven Snyder is a Chiropractor that we work closely with and we agree with his focus on Body Composition.  We use the same equipment to measure body composition and his article below explains why.  Please read more on why monitoring body composition is so important to a successful weight loss program. Thank you Dr. Steven for your wonderful expertise!

For many reasons people can have their body composition measured. The most common reasons are that they are looking to get into a weight loss program, are involved in athletics, or concerned about some aspects of health/aging. This is a valuable tool for all of those reasons and many more.

In general what is body composition?

Body composition is a form of measuring certain aspects of a person’s body to determine overall health status. The most common health aspects that health professionals tend to look at are:

  1. Lean mass
  2. Fat mass
  3. Cellular Water content
  4. Bone composition/density
  5. Oxygen saturation
  6. And many more

This is an example of an InBody Body Composition Scan. This is a blank form that when complete will give a healthcare professional a good idea about a persons overall health.

For the purposes of this article we are going to focus on the first 3 but in more detail.

What is lean mass?

Lean mass is the measure of all the non-fat materials that make up your body. This includes parts of bone, muscle, organs, skin, hair, nails, etc. By using the information gathered about a persons lean mass you can get a better idea of how active or physically fit a person is.

Should a person be in an exercise program, weight loss program, or starting new supplements/medications lean mass can be a great indicator of nutritional level. In general, losing lean mass is not a good thing regardless of the situation. It means there isn’t enough caloric intake of carbohydrates or fats to sustain life. This makes us rely on protein intake as our fuel source or source of energy.

So, when a healthcare professional sees lean mass loss there are several things that they must consider.

  • Is this person eating enough?
  • Are they eating at the right times?
  • Are they experiencing negative effects from any of the 3?
  • Are they getting sick in some way?

So we know that lean mass is everything that is not fat mass. What is fat mass?

Fat mass is all the fat within the body; bone marrow, body fat, and visceral fat. Now I want to break the idea or myth that all fat tissue is bad. That is simply not the case.

Visceral fat in many ways is protective. Visceral fat is the fat that is around our organs which allows them to function without damage. Visceral fat is form of lubricant/insulation. It also provides that particular organ with an added local source of fuel to burn. What having too much visceral fat can do though if it reaches dangerous levels is that it can start to be a sign of organ distress. Two examples of this

  1. Fatty build up around the liver. This can indicate that a person drinks heavily, eats a poor diet, is having trouble managing their medications or supplements, and is even experiencing heart distress.
  2. You guessed it heart disease is the second example. Fatty build up around the heart can lead to constriction and thickening of the blood vessels. This can ultimately cause a heart attack. What this can also do is should there be too much around the entire heart or one part of the heart. This may decrease the hearts ability to pump blood. This will force the heart to work harder. While the hearts working harder you’re more susceptible to heart attacks, tears in the lining of the heart, and several other pretty damaging events.

Bone marrow is largely made up of fat. It is invaluable. It produces all of our blood cells. Without it we would not live.

The dreaded body fat, it is very much like the visceral fat in that we need it. While most people would agree they don’t want to be fat, however, building up body fat was and is essential.

Why do we need body fat? Only a few quick examples

  1. Maintaining core temperature
    1. Fight off diseases. Many diseases will start to break down at certain temperatures and become easier for our body manage. This is also why we run fevers when we are sick.
    2. Aid in biochemical reactions that take place in the body. There are two main factors that impact a chemical reaction and one of them just happens to be temperature. Maintaining a normal core temperature allows the body to run at a normal rate. This is why people with hypothyroid often times run several degrees cooler than the rest of us.
    3. Better DNA replication. Well this is just another biochemical reaction where we’re replicating protein. Changes in this process can be extremely detrimental to a persons overall health should the cell become cancerous.
  2. Source of energy
    1. While at rest fat is the #1 source of energy. If you rest a lot it would make sense that you’re going to store and use that more frequently. That is why more active people have an easier time at maintaining their weight.
    2. In longer bouts of endurance exercise this is also the primary fuel source that can save our protein stores.
  3. Place to put our junk
    1. “Toxins” we cannot breakdown for whatever reason get stored in fat
    2. One of several reasons people sometimes feel sick during a period of rapid weight loss.

Why is water content important?

Water content is important in that it allows for proper nervous system function and muscle function. Ever had muscle cramps from being dehydrated? They’re no fun , right? Well all that happened is the amount of water decreased to the point the muscle couldn’t function properly.

But wait there’s more. Nearly 100% of our biochemical reactions that we need to live take place in a water-based environment. So with out water we will not be able to make energy, buffer the toxins, replicate DNA, digest food, and so on.

The ratio of intracellular water to extracellular water allows a clinician to see the level of hydration. And for how long a person may have been dehydrated. Certain health conditions require limited water intake as well. This is a simple method of measuring the amount of water a person is taking in and seeing if it’s appropriate for that patient as well.

So what does this tell the chiropractor?

This is an example of a complete InBody. The name has been blocked out. Can any of you guess who it is though?

Well to use this by itself really means very little to a Chiropractor except indicating the overall health status of the individual. Now if the Doctor would use the test based upon the patient history, orthopedic examination, and functional tests to see if the patients problems could be related to deconditioning, obesity, dehydration, previous injury, and so on.

The example to the right is not a great example of using this with a patient. Can you guess who this is? I’ll give you a hint: He’s a great Chiropractor! As an example on being healthy and eating properly, it can become easy. Never lose hope! If you do your best to sleep 6-8 hours of sleep a night, make wise food choices, exercise several times a week, drink enough water, and get adjusted staying healthy becomes habit rather than hell.

Anyways back to using the example: a little mock history, 27 year old runner, cyclist, swimmer, and all-round athlete. Comes to a Chiropractic office with low back and leg pain that gets worse after “leg day”.Can anyone take a look and see what might be causing this?

Well, here’s a little more history. The patient is experiencing difficulty recovering after long endurance workouts that exceed an hour in length. Without much more information what are some things that can contribute to this particular case?

Well, the patient is having trouble with endurance exercise and general recovery. So look at body fat %. The patient is at 3.3% body fat. This is fairly common in cyclist and runners, however, this is still extremely low for endurance athletes. Anything below 5-7% in men can be questionable as to the impact on health status. This can be compromising protein synthesis and ability to recover. Next look at the lean mass and you’ll see that the legs are the only area where there is little “black” above average is lean mass. This is going along with needing more calories, especially on “leg days” or endurance days.

Moving on from the dietary issues, the next thing to note is the asymmetry in the composition of the legs and arms. While in many people it shows the dominant side especially the arms. We will focus on the right leg having less lean mass than the left leg, since there is pain in the low back/leg area. This can indicate previous injury. In this case we will say that the patient has previous had a broken leg and other injuries from year ago that they didn’t think were important. They then didn’t tell their doctor about them. Looking at this could bring up the question, “Did you ever injury your right leg, knee, ankle, foot, etc. at some point?” A question that might not have gotten a good answer from the first time around.

So many people think just because you’re no longer in pain that the problem isn’t still impacting your health. While you may think it not important to tell a doctor about some of the older injuries you suffered, each injury can have a longer lasting effect on the body and it is important to tell your healthcare providers about all of them.

Hopefully you’re seeing that the use of body composition can help better paint a clear clinical picture when sometimes a patient might not think to tell their Chiropractor the whole story. This can also shed light on a situation where the person may appear to be in AMAZING health but having difficulty reaching that next level of performance or struggling to reach their goals. So aside from just helping those looking for weight loss this can prove to be a valuable clinical tool for many people.

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