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Lab Tests: What We Can Do To Keep Our Numbers In Check

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Lab tests: it's what we rely on to tell us how healthy we are. But what exactly goes into these tests, and how can we make sure our numbers stay in check?

Here's a look at some of the most essential lab tests functional medicine is focusing on and what you can do to ensure your results come back in the healthy range.


We all know that lab tests help identify m before the disease progresses. We don't want to go to the doctor and just watch numbers inch up towards being out of range and then be told: “ Oh, now you have this condition, and here's your prescription.

We hear so many times patients come in and they say, “ The doctor said my numbers were normal, but I don't feel normal. So what is going on? I feel terrible!” There are different ranges for different lab tests. The normal range for a blood test is usually determined by studying data from patients who are not their best and their best health. Sometimes our numbers are different from the average population because the average population is made up of people who are not feeling well and going to the doctor.

But just because something is common doesn't mean that it's normal. In functional medicine, we look at optimal ranges that we aim to achieve as our target.

Vitamin D

In functional medicine, we believe in optimizing our health, rather than merely preventing disease. To achieve optimum health, it is important to maintain optimal levels of vitamins and minerals in our bodies. One mineral that is often overlooked is vitamin D.

While most people are aware that vitamin D is important for strong bones and a healthy immune system, they may not be aware of its other benefits. Vitamin D has been shown to protect against some forms of cancer and to reduce mortality from heart attacks. In addition, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to overall inflammation.

What practical steps can we take to influence these numbers?

We want to get outside as much as possible, especially in the wintertime. We need to protect our skin for extended periods and we want to probably avoid those peak hours and mid-summer months. Getting outside for at least 20 minutes a day is ideal.

Cod liver oil, as a Vitamin D supplement, is advised. It contains a small amount of Vitamin A and some omega-3 fatty acids. These two make a really good blend and serve as co-factors for optimal absorption.

We can pair Vitamin D with magnesium and K2 because they all help absorption. I think of K2 as a driver for calcium. It delivers calcium to the bones and teeth instead of depositing it into the arteries. This is good for our heart health.

Food sources include tuna, eel, liver, pork, eggs, vitamin K-rich foods, hard and soft cheeses (watch out for sensitivities), sauerkraut, butter, and fermented foods.

The most important thing with vitamin D is to make sure we're not guessing. We always want to make sure that we do monitor levels.

Glucose

If you have a physical exam doctors will usually consider measuring fasting glucose, but often that's about all that they require. The interesting thing is, that glucose is often the last thing to increase. Diabetes is often detected late in this case. Hemoglobin A1C or fasting insulin is often not done unless you have a history of diabetes, or you request it.

Fasting glucose, although it's important, is not the only unit of measurement that we should be checking for diabetes. Long before your blood sugar rises, your insulin spikes. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas.

Picture this: When you have a sugary snack like a donut, your blood sugar rises suddenly. Now you have sugar in your bloodstream and then the pancreas secretes the insulin. The insulin will then grab a hold of blood sugar, takes it, and pushes it into the cells. This is similar to a lock and key. Now, your cells are filled, and you have energy. What happens over time is that the pancreas gets tired of constantly having to reach out and fix blood sugar levels that are too high. This means checking fasting insulin is more ideal than fasting glucose.

Another important measure is Hemoglobin A1C. It is a measurement of your average blood sugar over the last three months.

Now, certain things can impact hemoglobin A1C, like anemia or dehydration. We don't want to solely use this test. But Hemoglobin A1C in combination with fasting insulin and fasting glucose is an ideal picture. Insulin resistance is linked to many disorders and diseases including Alzheimer's disease, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

What practical steps can we take to influence these numbers?

Eating whole foods, and low-glycemic foods is a good start. This doesn't mean the foods must be sugar-free. This means you should choose foods that are naturally low in sugar. Fruits are advisable in moderation along with proteins, fats, and vegetables.

As for artificial sweeteners, it is best to avoid them. Artificial sweeteners can raise insulin levels and trick your body into thinking you want more sweets. Avoid drinks like Diet Coke and those drinks with Splenda.

Even if you don't have a condition like celiac, we know that gluten can cause inflammation. Back to the coffee grounds filter analogy, gluten can open up those gaps and damage the gut lining. It can increase your risk for a leaky gut and decrease your insulin response. This means you should try to get rid of the gluten and increase fiber intake instead.

We want to make sure we're getting enough sleep. Not getting good sleep can make blood sugar levels worse. We also want to make sure that we're ruling out any sleep apnea, which can contribute to diabetes. You may want to ask your significant other whether or not you snore at night.

Movement and exercise are vital. Walking for about 30 minutes a day can reduce our risk of diabetes by about 50%. This is pretty significant and that's without any resistance training or strength. This has absolute importance from a metabolic standpoint too.

Chronic stress can increase cortisol which in turn can raise blood sugar. This eventually will increase midsection obesity. No one wants belly fat.

Nutraceuticals that help improve blood sugar and Vitamin D:

  • Magnesium

  • B vitamins

  • Alpha-lipoic acid

  • Berberine

Fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1C, and fasting insulin are the top three tests to consider. In some cases, there's some more in-depth testing we can do depending on the numbers. But these three are a solid start.

Thyroid tests

We will miss the thyroid a lot in primary care. Often, doctors just check a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Sometimes people ask for testing a T4 (thyroxine), but we don't check a free T3 (Triiodothyronine) very often and we also rarely check thyroid antibodies.

Refamiliarizing the thyroid…

The pituitary gland produces TSH. The thyroid gland produces T3 and T4. The thyroid gland also relies on nutrients such as selenium, zinc, iodine, iron, and Vitamin a to produce the thyroid hormones T3 and T4.

Imagine the thyroid being an employee and the pituitary gland being the boss. What happens is if your thyroid is being lazy for the day, the pituitary gland comes in and says: “You got to wake up. We've got a job to do.” It then signals to the thyroid by pushing out more TSH. This will cause the TSH to rise.

If your TSH is high, it means that your thyroid is not working well. This can be hard to understand because it's the opposite of what you would expect. Then the T4 has to be changed into T3 so that it can go out and be used by the cells. The T3 helps with growth, metabolism, and energy.

A lot of people have trouble converting T4 to T3 because they lack the nutrients to support these. Sometimes there is an auto-immune reaction. It's not the boss's (pituitary gland) fault nor is it the employees’ (thyroid). It's an auto-immune reaction. In other words, the immune system is attacking the thyroid. So, by checking antibodies, we can see if it's truly an auto-immune response.

There are a lot of things we don't know if we just check TSH levels. We don't know if there is an autoimmune reaction going on with the thyroid. We also can't tell how well our thyroids are working based on just TSH levels. We need to check other hormone levels too to have a better understanding. Free T3 is important because it is like the gas that fuels the thyroid.

This means we may be just somehow guessing and basing our symptoms on TSH. The other thing is, that TSH can range from 0.5 to 5.0 mIU/L, which is a pretty broad range. TSH is optimal usually between 1 - 2 mIU/L. There are a lot of areas that can be missed when we're not doing a full comprehensive thyroid panel.

Vitamin D, glucose, and thyroid are just three markers that can be overlooked when we're doing standard laboratory examinations. We mentioned here the reasons that we want to make sure we have these optimal ranges.

What practical steps can we take to influence these numbers?

What can we do to create more homeostasis? Surprisingly, we're going to go through the same things. It's diet, sleep, exercise, stress, and then there are some nutraceuticals.

We want to make sure we're eating anti-inflammatory whole food and follow a gluten-free diet if possible. Especially if you have elevated antibodies in a condition called Hashimoto's, the first thing we recommend is getting rid of gluten.

Adequate sleep can decrease your cortisol production which improves overall health. Moving your body by exercising helps receptor sites grab a hold of the active thyroid hormone, thus helping us utilize the active thyroid roaming about.

Stress can stop our thyroid from working. The test used to measure this is called Reverse T3. As we talked about before, T3 is the fuel for our thyroid, and reverse T3 is the brake. If we test for it and the results show it is high, this tells us that stress is the trigger for it being high. This has a big impact on our thyroid health.

The superfoods for thyroid health will include:

  • Selenium

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin A

  • Iodine

A lot of these you can be taken from vitamin supplements and different food sources too. For example,

  • Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc.

  • Brazil nuts are high in selenium

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can help in vitamin D

Additionally, CRP (C-reactive protein) is a great marker when we are looking at underlying inflammation. It is a starting point to address some of that inflammation as we work our way through.

If we look at all these different labs and think: “ What do we do to improve these numbers in the results? ” It all goes back to those main five areas: diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and superfoods or nutraceuticals. If you can tackle those five areas, which can sometimes be easier said than done, it overlaps in everything.

We hope you’ve found this information helpful and that it has inspired you to make some healthy changes. Remember, small steps can lead to big results, especially when it comes to our health. If you’re ready to take your health journey one step further, we’d be happy to help.

Our team of experts is passionate about helping people achieve their optimal levels of health and vitality, so please don’t hesitate to reach out for a free discovery call. During this call, we can discuss your specific goals and map out a plan that will help you achieve them. Thanks for reading!



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DISCLAIMER: The information in this email is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional

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