As a new year approaches, it’s good idea to assess your health status and make informed decisions about what you need to do next to get your body in the best health ever.
While I feel that oft times, practitioners over-rely on lab testing and use it instead of applying clinical detective tools, like a good interview and exam, still there are many lab tests that I believe are super important to guide you to making informed decisions about what to eat, how to move, and what supplements might be needed.
The basic lab tests performed as part of the “annual physical”contain a tremendous amount of information about your nutritional status and your health…far more than most conventionally trained practitioners know to look for.
The Basic Lab Test: Understanding what “Normal” Means
The ranges used by most doctors are those calculated by the lab. Sadly, for most tests the way they decide if a value is normal or abnormal is based on the average values of all the lab tests done by that lab. So when you’re told you are “normal” what It really means is that you’re average.
I, for one, fail to feel encouraged to be told I’m average in a land where close to 50% of the people get cancer, autoimmune disease is epidemic, hormone imbalance is rampant, and heart disease and diabetes kill millions each year.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I look at optimal ranges calculated from studying healthy populations.
The List of Five Lab Tests that are Helpful Guides to Optimal Health
The following list is not meant to be comprehensive. Check with your doctor to determine the best tests for you.If you don’t have a primary care doctor or do but don’t have insurance coverage for lab tests, I suggest you check out one of the direct access labs that allow you to order your own blood tests.
The one I use is called Direct Labs – http://www.directlabs.com.
These panels are unfortunately only available in the continental U.S. excluding New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island due to state laws in these localities. If you live outside the U.S. or in one of these states, speak to your local health practitioner or seek a functional medicine doctor in your area to get help with ordering tests.
1. Comprehensive Wellness Profile (CWP)
I like to start with a comprehensive blood chemistry panel and Complete Blood Count (CBC). Direct Labs calls this the Comprehensive Wellness Profile, aka CWP. It’s a panel of over 50 tests that assesses your thyroid, kidneys, liver, cholesterol and other blood lipids (fats), minerals, fluids and electrolytes, and blood sugar.
The CWP also includes the aforementioned Complete Blood Count test, which assesses your immune system and determines if you have anemia and what kind of anemia if so.
Direct Labs usually runs a sale on this test in December. Until the end of the month, you can order this complete panel for only $59.
Click HERE for details.
Even if you’re outside the region that can Direct Labs to run the test for you, you can see what’s covered and be better informed when you speak to your local practitioner about ordering the equivalent for you.
2. Vitamin D
Next, I add Vitamin D.This is a very important test to run, as Vitamin D deficiency is very widespread due to the fear of the sun propagated by the media.Vitamin D is made by your body upon exposure to UV sunlight.Deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to widespread problems, including altered immune system function, including autoimmune disease, leaky gut, depression, hormone imbalance and much more.
If you’re tired, overweight, have dry skin, depression or constipation, your thyroid might be off.While the CWP tests thyroid, it’s not always enough.The most common cause of low thyroid function is an autoimmune condition.For this, I suggest you add to the mix 2 tests for thyroid antibodies: Thyroid Peroxidase and Antithyroglobulin.
4. Blood Sugar
If you have a history of blood sugar imbalance, hard to get rid of belly fat, fatigue, or a family history of diabetes, I also recommend additional tests to assess your blood sugar status and determine if you have a tendency towards insulin resistance or diabetes. The CWP includes fasting blood glucose, but often this is not enough to give the true blood sugar balance picture.
I recommend also running fasting insulin and hemoglobin a1C. In addition, you can purchase an inexpensive blood sugar meter at your local pharmacy or online and really get the complete picture.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Sadly, for about 50% of people with heart disease the first symptom is dropping dead of a heart attack. This happened to BOTH my parents. Wouldn’t you like to know if you are at risk BEFORE a fatal event so you can take the steps to reduce your risk?
If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, or find that your cholesterol tends to be higher than ideal, there are a couple of really useful tests. C-Reeactive Protein (CRP-hs) is a marker of inflammation in your blood vessels and homocysteine is an amino acid that plays a role in destroying the lining of your artery walls, promoting the formation of blood clots, and also accelerates the buildup of scar tissue. High levels may increase the chance of heart disease and stroke, especially if you have other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, or family history.
I suggest you run CRP-hs and homocysteine tests if you feel you are at risk. There are also much more detailed and sophisticated cardiac risk tests, including one called VAP, that I order when appropriate.
Extra tests I often run when indicted by symptoms and health history are the adrenal stress index and a fatty acid test to determine the balance between the oh-so-important omega 3 and 6 fats and risk for inflammatory disease.
How to Determine Which Tests You Need
When I’m working with someone one on one, I do a complete history and determine which tests would be helpful.
My Assess Your Own Body Chemistry class was designed to empower you to take charge of your own health. The program teaches you how to read your own lab work, as well as physical signs and symptoms.
We’ll be releasing the self-study version of the course in early 2012.It’s an excellent way to learn how to read your own body.
Finally, if you are overweight, crave sugar or carbs, and feel like you need to eat frequently to maintain your energy, you most likely have a blood sugar imbalance. In this case, I recommend you get yourself a glucose meter and start to track your response to foods.
The participants in my recent B4 Be Gone System learned how use a glucose meter to track their blood sugar in response to their foods and realized the tremendous value in knowing just how each food affected them. Knowing YOUR response to particular foods guides you in designing a diet that keeps your belly flat, your mind sharp and focused, and your energy high. The B4 Be Gone System will be available again for a live group setting in February 2012.
Before you get yourself tested, make a commitment to take good care of yourself. Get the white stuff out and the green stuff in.
If you’ve been feeling off or overweight in spite of a good diet, it’s time to do some testing and see what’s out of balance.
Measuring your health is the best way I know to really determine how your habits are serving you.
Watch here for more information and resources for lab testing over the next couple of months.
Hi Dr. Ritamarie,
I am 52 and just finished with menapause. My hair falls out really easily just by merely running my fingers thru it and I’m worried that I’m losing my hair! I had my TSH thyroid level checked today and it is normal. I also had my iron level checked and it is normal. I’m wondering if I should also go ahead and get the additional thyroid tests you recommended to test for antibodies related to thyroid. The tests are kind of expensive but well worth it to me if they are needed. What else would you suggest someone in my situation get checked out/tested or do regarding hair loss? Thank you so much!
Yes, I would suggest you look at those tests for your thyroid. Also, consider having your adrenal glands reviewed.
If you are interested, we have a thyroid program you might be interested in – http://www.ThyroidReviveAndThrive.com. Here is information on our adrenal fatigue program – http://www.CAFEprogram.com.
Another thing you might be want to do is to submit a Health Consultation Request form. From there, you can schedule a time to talk with one of Dr. Ritamarie’s personally-trained health coaches, such as myself. http://www.drritamarie.com/faq/nutrition