You are visiting your doctor. You take your health seriously and undergo a routine annual check-up. Or you don't feel well, despite trying all the remedies and medications given to you by your grandmother, mother, neighbor, friend, and aunt. Dr. Google diagnosed you with a rare cancer or a fatal disease. You haven't slept for several nights due to anxiety, and all you need is confirmation that you need to embark on a journey of farewell from the world.
It is reasonable to assume that the doctor will send you for blood tests. You receive the results, and it's likely that most markers will fall within the normal range, and those that don't will prompt you to search on Google, which will only further distress you. If the situation is indeed severe, the doctor will send you for further tests or refer you to a specialist who will send you for a series of additional tests.
In most cases, a definite diagnosis will not be given from the blood tests, and you will return home "healthy" but somewhat frustrated.
This post aims to provide some clarity and give you tools regarding which blood tests to request from your doctor and how functional medicine looks at your blood.
Know Your Enemy
The likelihood that the doctor will send you for comprehensive blood tests is low. For each panel of blood tests, there are multiple options, and doctors, who are subject to insurance companies, will order the lowest-cost option.
Let's take the example of an iron test: An iron test will be conducted when you feel weak, perhaps a bit pale, with weakened peripheral symptoms (hair loss, brittle nails, dry skin), poor sleep, and difficulty building muscle mass.
Modern medicine will examine Hemoglobin, a protein that contains iron in red blood cells. Usually, ferritin, which is the iron store, will also be tested.
The values found in the blood provide a momentary snapshot. If you take iron supplements, the picture will change within two weeks. However, this does not indicate how much iron is truly absorbed into the cells and how much is being flushed out. Sometimes, an iron deficiency does not indicate a true lack of iron but deficiencies in other minerals like copper or magnesium that are bound to iron and help with its absorption. There are tests that show those, and your doctor can provide them, and they are covered by insurance. You need to know to ask for them (complete iron panel).
The same goes for thyroid gland testing (TSH vs. TSH + Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, TPO), and many others.
Did you know that laboratories update the normal ranges every few years? And different laboratories in different countries have different ranges? For example, if you had a blood glucose test 10 years ago, a value that is considered normal today might have been marked as red in the past. If you move to another country or state, it's very possible that the doctor will raise different flags. What does that mean? Were you sick before and now you're not? Or in Seattle, you have diabetes, but in California, you don't?
The reason for these differences is not rooted in smart technology or water quality; it's simply based on population statistics. And as we all know, the population has became less healthy over the years. Doctors won't prescribe medication until the glucose (or thyroid gland/liver/kidney, etc.) reaches a severe condition. However, they usually won't warn or invest in preventing the development of the disease when blood test results are not marked in red.
Why does this happen? To avoid panic in the population and to ensure that medicine focuses only on diseases.
Functional medicine looks at optimal ranges, meaning how far your body is from optimal function. When the body is not working efficiently, the first thing we lose is energy. We feel weak, have poor sleep, struggle to lose weight, can't engage in physical activity consistently, or fail to develop muscle mass.
Theory of Relativity
So you've done the tests, got everything checked. And now what? Body organs and systems work together as a whole —minerals, hormones, proteins, enzymes—they all come in a certain ratio with each other. For example, sodium, chloride and potassium need to come in a specific ratio to help with muscle building or cell hydration. The same goes for calcium:magnesium, cortisol:DHEA, estrogen:testosterone, LDL:HDL. If we test each one separately, we miss the main point, which is how the system works.
In functional medicine, we mainly look at clusters of markers and examine their ratios. These ratios give us an indication of how the systems work, and the
treatment is conducted accordingly. Below are some examples of how much we can learn just through routine blood tests. Alongside each analysis, relevant markers are indicated, as well as the protocol for changes that should be made to strengthen the weak system and prevent disease outbreaks or deterioration of your health.
And Now What?
If you are about to have a routine annual check or want to undergo comprehensive blood tests and are interested in in-depth analysis, know that you can learn so much about the functioning of systems and organs in your body just through your blood tests.
You are welcome to reach out to me, and I will guide you on what to request from your doctor in order to receive all the necessary tests and their expanded format. If you wish, I can perform a comprehensive analysis for you, through which you will be able to understand exactly which system needs reinforcement and how to do it.
Take your health into your own hands because your body belongs to you, not the healthcare system.
Do you want to get to know me and check if we are a good fit to work on your health concerns?
Schedule with me a free consultation today.