As a medical technologist, Angela Andalcio-Holtz, 71, has seen many aspects of various illnesses.
However, over the past 20 years, she noticed an increase in certain factors, and in younger people, which caused her to study the topic in depth and eventually write a book.
Beyond Your Numbers: Connect the Pieces to A Path of Amazing Health, published in 2018 and available on Amazon, is the result of years of study in a simplified form for anyone to improve their health.
It includes information on decoding the Nutrition Facts labels on foodstuff, lists what foods have various types of vitamins and minerals and why each type is important, food combinations to reduce digestive distress, a portion size guide that could be measured by hand rather than on a scale or measuring cup, healthy recipes, and more.
She said working in a blood testing lab in a hospital in Winfield, Illinois, she has seen an increased amount of “critical numbers” in people’s blood test results including blood glucose, blood pressure, body mass index, triglyceride and high-density lipids.
She explained that a critical number is a set point where there is a possibility of death. Therefore, when she and other technicians get a critical result, they first confirm the numbers then contact the healthcare provider as soon as possible.
For example, she said regular blood glucose levels range from 70 to 99 mg/dL after not eating for eight hours, but she regularly gets results at 950 or 1,150 mg/dL. “Most likely that patient is in some form of coma and cannot respond to anyone and the doctors have to figure out what’s going on. Can you imagine we’re seeing teenagers and children coming in with critical glucose numbers at the level that they may not wake up?”
She said she often followed up on doctors’ diagnoses and saw these people had strokes, type II diabetes, and cancer, and was confused as to why so many people, including children, had critical numbers. “It started to worry me and I said, ‘There’s something going on and I need to find out why this is happening.’”
Andalcio-Holtz, therefore, began to study for a master’s in clinical laboratory sciences at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago. As part of her thesis, she completed a research project on how healthcare could be improved, and part of the research was to determine why so many people were getting sick.
While her findings were significant, she wanted to know more. She said her family had a history of diabetes and glaucoma and she wanted to avoid both, so she started to look for more answers in the field of nutrition.
She recalled that her ex-husband knew what books interested her and would often bring her books from the public library. One day, he brought Joshua Rosenthal’s book Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health and Happiness. She was engrossed from the start and knew that Rosenthal’s school, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, was where she would get the answers for which she was looking.
She applied what she learned to herself and became a certified health coach. “In the school I was further motivated to go and explain and talk to the world about what I had learned. And here I am coming directly from the lab, I have seen what is going on, I felt compelled to do that. That’s what led me to write this book.”
Calculating your health status
In Beyond Your Numbers, Andalcio-Holtz asks five questions on diet, habits, and emotional wellbeing to create awareness. Readers can calculate their scores based on their answers, which give an indication whether there may be something else they need to do to improve their health.
“It’s not difficult but it requires persistence. It also requires knowing how the body operates and what it needs. All of us are different genetically but the body relies on certain essential nutrients. This way all of us, especially parents with young kids, can see what it is that is needed.”
She said non-communicable diseases are not just a problem in the Caribbean. She stated that the World Health Organisation revealed that 80 per cent of premature diabetes, stroke and heart disease, and 30 to 50 per cent of all cancer can be prevented.
“When they came up with those statistics, they are telling us we can do things to prevent it but they don’t give you a plan. There’s lot of health information out there but how do you get on a plan and stay on that plan? What is required? What does your body need?”
Her book helps with that plan, and not just for diet and exercise.
Andalcio-Holtz said there are other types of nourishment that energises the body and mind. In fact, she said infusing life with fun is essential to staying healthy.
In chapter five of her book the “other nourishment” was divided into several aspects including a spiritual practice, strong relationships, home environment, creativity, and joy. “Your psychological, emotional, and social well-being are interwoven with your thoughts and actions. It is in your best interest to be aware of some uplifting practices and habits that can serve as the groundwork to protect and nourish your emotional and physical well-being.”
Another tool she highlighted was micronutrient testing which is available at SpectraCell Laboratories in Texas. The test quantifies nutrient levels so people would know exactly what they need to keep their immune systems healthy.
From dancer to author
Born in Laventille, Andalcio-Holtz grew up in San Juan. As a pre-teen she was involved in ballet and hiking. She wanted to be a dancer but also loved mathematics and sciences.
During her last year of secondary school at St Roses Girls Intermediate School, students were taken on an outing at the Port of Spain General Hospital. “That day changed my whole life and what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a performer but I saw what was going on and I said maybe I should get involved in medicine. There’s a need for people to help the sick.”
Her focus turned to becoming a doctor so when she moved to the US at age 20, she looked into classes that would supplement medical school. She started training as a medical lab technician but fell in love with it to the point that she made it her career.
After 47 years she said she still loves her job because she learns something new every day. She said one lifetime is not enough to learn everything in any one field so she never stopped learning, as proved by her graduating with a masters degree at age 52 in 2002.
During research for her thesis, when she learned exercise was vital to health, she started running and fell in love with it as well. She trained for and ran her first marathon at the age of 55 and since then she has run five full marathons and 12 half-marathons.
She continues to dance and has found another love to bring joy and fun to her life, her grandchildren.