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Volume 10 Issue 1
May/June 2004

Stray Cats on the Open Prairie
One Cat's Story of Healing

The Dangers of Sugar

Body Composition Analysis
A Tool to Help Prevent Health Risks

Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage
Off-The-Table Bodywork

Basic Elements of Psychic Medium Readings


Body Composition Analysis
A Tool to Help Prevent Health Risks

by Dr. Alana Barmby, ND
Dr. Alana Barmby, ND

The promotion of healthy eating habits is more important now than ever before. Scientific evidence has linked unhealthy eating practices to the onset of chronic diseases such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The number of deaths attributed to obesity has doubled in the past fifteen years. Approximately 1 in 10 deaths of people aged 20 to 64 is linked to obesity; in Regina, 49 percent are classified as obese or overweight. The rates of obesity in Saskatchewan have increased 30 percent from 1995 to 2001. The common denominator in all these conditions is altered body composition.

Body composition refers to the amount of body fat a person has, relative to the amount of lean tissue (e.g. muscle and bone). Essentially, an unhealthy body composition is when you carry too much fat relative to lean muscle. As your body’s “fat to lean” ratio increases, your health risks also increase. Some of the conditions associated with an altered body composition include:

• heart disease
• back pain
• stroke
• gallbladder disease (gallstones)
• high blood pressure
• kidney disorders
• high cholesterol
• osteoarthritis
• type II diabetes
• respiratory problems
• estrogen related problems
• sleep apnea
• certain cancers
• excess fatigue
• urinary incontinence
• depression

Identifying altered body composition is important in identifying health risks. This is what prevention is all about.


Altered body composition correlates to excess adipose (fat) tissue. Indeed, the term overweight and obesity are often used interchangeably with altered body composition. However, body weight alone is not a definitive assessment for altered body composition. Unfortunately, the bathroom scale cannot differentiate the mass of fat tissue from the mass of lean muscle.

The Canadian Guidelines for body weight assessment utilize the body mass index (BMI) and the waist circumference (WC). BMI is calculated by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by one’s height squared in metres. Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while individuals with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered obese. Both categories are associated with an increase in disease risk. Waist circumference greater than 40 cm in men and 35 cm in women correlates with abdominal fat and is an independent indicator of health risk.

One shortcoming of BMI and WC is the decreased accuracy in assessing body composition of people who are very short, very tall, competitive athletes, body builders, certain ethnic or racial groups, adults over the age of 65, and young adults who have not attained full growth. Another shortcoming is that it does not take frame size into account. The BMI is not a direct measure of body fat or lean tissue (muscle), and high levels of body fat are specifically linked to health risks.

The percentage of lean tissue has important implications for how well an individual ages or withstands acute or chronic illness. According to The Journal of Nutrition, “No decline with age is as dramatic or potentially more significant than the decline in lean body mass.” And according to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the loss of muscle that occurs as people age “is the backdrop against which the drama of disease is played out: a body already depleted of protein because of aging is less able to withstand the protein catabolism that comes with acute illness or inadequate protein intake.” During illness muscle provides protein for antibody production, wound healing, and white blood cell production.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) is a method of assessing body composition by measuring the actual amount of fat relative to lean body mass. BIA is scientific, the results are reproducible, and it does not have the same limitations as BMI and WC (the previous methods discussed above). The bioimpedance analyzer is a machine that uses electrodes similar to EKG electrodes. The BIA passes a harmless, ultra-low level electrical current through the body. Lean tissue is a good conductor of electrical current because it is composed of over 70% water, whereas, fatty tissue is low in water therefore it does not conduct electricity well. The resistance to the flow of the current is thus used to calculate body composition.

The BIA also measures phase angle which is an indicator of cellular health and integrity. An individual’s level of hydration can also be assessed. BIA has many clinical applications. Disturbances in body composition caused by acute or chronic diseases are often critical factors in determining diagnosis, treatment, and patient outcome. BIA can monitor health in patients with hepatitis, diabetes, renal diseases, sepsis, HIV, and cancer, to name a few. BIA can lead to early detection of protein-energy malnutrition in the elderly. It also helps monitor weight loss programs to ensure that it occurs in a healthy manner. For athletes, BIA can be used to evaluate nutrition and training programs. BIA can also help detect whether someone is “skinny fat.” For example, the BMI and WC of an individual are within healthy limits but the percent of body fat is too high. With the use of BIA to monitor key indicators of health and fitness, we can develop, monitor, and manage diet, nutrition, and exercise programs that lead to improved overall physical condition.

Bioimpedance analysis provides an accurate and clinically useful assessment of body composition. The procedure takes only minutes and is non-invasive. Participants remove their right shoe and sock, then the electrodes are placed on the right foot and right hand. For accurate results: no exercise, caffeine, or food within four hours prior to taking the test. Drink two to four glasses of water prior to the test and no alcohol consumption 24 hours prior to the test. Ladies, please do not wear pantyhose.

This body composition analysis service is available to everyone who is interested in having it done. The cost of the test is $20.00, plus applicable taxes. Should anyone desire a program designed to improve his or her body composition, Dr. Barmby can help specifically formulate one that addresses the complex interplay of factors that have attributed to altered body composition.

Dr. Alana Barmby is a naturopathic doctor who practices at the Saskatoon Naturopathic Health and Wellness Centre, 1814 Lorne Ave. She offers a unique and comprehensive approach to improving health and treats a variety of conditions at any age. Focussing on prevention and using natural substances, Alana helps support the body’s ability to heal itself. For an appointment or further information call (306) 955-2633.


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