Have you been told by your PCP that your lab results look “normal” and that you’re “fine,” but you know intuitively that something deeper is going on?
We hear you and we trust your gut instinct and encourage you to continue digging deeper for the truth.
Today, we’re going to explain misconceptions about labwork and the differences between looking at lab results from the functional medicine lens vs. the western medicine lens.
What is “Normal?”
To kick us off, let’s start by asking the question: what does “normal” really mean? The normal range in labwork is actually the statistical norm of 95% of the population. In a country where disease is rampant, do we really want to be considered the statistical norm?
In western medicine, if a patient is within the normal range, then they’re perceived as being healthy and “fine.” It isn’t until the results end up outside of the typical reference range in which practitioners start to recommend interventions. In functional medicine, however, we look at the whole person and strive to create optimal health BEFORE things get too bad that it’s harder to climb yourself out of. We seek to find and create lab results that are optimal for each unique person. For instance, A conventional doc will look at a lipid panel with cholesterol levels in the normal reference range of 0 to 200. They see anything in this range as “OK”. However if you’re at 0 = you’re dead! That’s not OK with me, and I don't want to be anywhere in that lower end headed in that direction! And, if I’m at 199, I’m “OK”. From a functional perspective, we want to look for the optimal number within that range for that unique person WHILE looking for trends and patterns amongst the other lab markers that will help us paint the whole picture.
When interpreting labwork, we also have to keep in mind that other life factors can influence the results. Why? Because our body and thus lab markers are constantly adapting, adjusting and evolving to help us thrive in the environment we’re in.
Getting the Most Out of your Labs
Factors to remember when getting blood work done to ensure you’re getting an accurate result that represents your norm:
1. Stick to your normal routine the day before your test.
2. Do not get your test done on a day that you feel ill unless the test is to determine why you have that specific illness.
3. Eat a diet that is normal to you prior to your test. Do not get your testing done after a big change in your diet, such as during the holidays, after a big party, or after vacation.
4. Make sure to follow your fasting recommendations. If your test needs to be done while fasting, schedule it for as close to 8-10 hours fasting as possible. Drinking water during this fasting period is ok and recommended.
5. Do not start a new exercise routine or do a strenuous workout prior to your test.
6. Reschedule your test if you suddenly have a poor night’s sleep and this is not a normal issue for you.
7. Medication and supplement timing is important! For example, if you take a thyroid medication such as Levothyroxine (Synthroid) you should wait to take it until after your thyroid test. Also, the supplement Biotin can disrupt thyroid levels on the test and should be avoided for two days prior to your test.
8. Dehydration affects your testing results. Make sure to drink at least 8 glasses of water daily prior to and the day of your test.
9. Avoid alcohol consumption prior to your testing date.
10. Avoid coffee the morning of your testing date as this can skew electrolytes, glucose and other lab markers
BLOOD TESTING PRO TIP: Because the equipment and testing methods change from lab to lab, it is best to continually get your testing done from the same lab if it is possible. Comparing the results from the same lab will create the most accurate trends.
What do my results mean?
From the functional medicine perspective, we are asking ourselves “who is this person I’m supporting and how does this lab data align with their health situation?” We don’t look at just one number alone, instead we look for patterns amongst the data and symptoms, accompanied with lab trends and their health history. We also take into consideration the timing the labs were completed. For instance, for a female who is menstruating and they completed their labs soon after their cycle - their iron may be a bit lower than other times of the month. Or maybe not! Maybe they’re not impacted by that at all and they are simply not absorbing their iron intake. These are the types of questions and thoughts that got through a functional medicine coach’s mind as we put each unique client’s case together.
Labwork is just one piece to your puzzle. Heart centered health care is looking at the unique person in front of us and using their intuition along with their personal health history, family history, life system, symptoms and labwork together to create the bigger picture. It’s about helping an individual create optimal health for their unique body and their unique life so they can move from surviving to thriving.
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone.
Always be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner. I highly recommend trying all new recommendations and/or supplements slowly to make sure they are ok for you.