Many of us go to the doctor and just get the basic blood work they recommend. We may or may not hear back from the doctor regarding the results. I recommend that patients take a more active role in their health by learning about blood tests and getting copies of their results. (Locally, Lifelabs offers patients online access to most blood work.) It is helpful to understand which tests to request from your conventional or naturopathic physician and optimal levels you should be aiming for.
Thyroid: For patients dealing with fatigue or depression, I often recommend a full thyroid panel. The thyroid governs metabolism, affecting energy and weight loss. Typically just a TSH test is run, but sometimes imbalances in the thyroid can be picked up by testing free T4, free T3 and thyroid antibodies. If the thyroid hormones levels are borderline, I recommend supporting the thyroid non-pharmaceutically.
Ferritin: Another important test for fatigue and depression is ferritin. This test measures iron stores. Lack of iron can cause anemia, which can cause fatigue. It can also lower dopamine levels in the brain, which affects mood, motivation and food cravings. Too much ferritin can be a sign of excess iron storage which can damage the cardiovascular system and many organs.
Insulin: For patients with weight issues, dementia and some hormonal imbalances, checking fasting insulin is an excellent tool to understanding how the body is dealing with blood sugar. Adult onset diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance at the cellular level. Therefore, it takes a lot of insulin to help carry sugars from the blood to the cells. Even before elevated blood sugar is detected, this high insulin can be a sign of insulin resistance. High insulin levels promote fat storage and are hard on the circulation. Programs that reverse insulin resistance can accelerate the process of weight loss, protect the cardiovascular system and more.
Homocysteine: Patients who have a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease or dementia / Alzheimer’s are wise to have their homocysteine levels checked. This amino acid, if elevated, is a risk for increased strokes and Alzheimer’s. The “normal” range is stated as being under 11 umol/L, but studies show that the risk of Alzheimer’s is increased in people whose homocysteine is over 7 umol/L.
Vitamin D3: The rate of vitamin D3 deficiency in Canada is staggering. Gerry Schwalfenberg, an assistant clinical professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, said testing showing that “the fact that 60 to 70 per cent [of Canadians] have inadequate levels [is] not good,” given that vitamin D insufficiency is being linked to so many chronic diseases. Vitamin D is an important preventer of autoimmune disease, viral illness, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, MS and more. Having your levels checked is therefore wise. The optimal level of vitamin D is over 125 nanomoles/litre.
C Reactive Protein (CRP): Inflammation is an important risk factor for cardiovascular events, like strokes and heart attacks, and it creates an environment that supports cancer growth. It is a symptom of autoimmune disease, obesity, diabetes and other important health conditions. The C Reactive Protein in our blood is a reflection of general inflammation levels. While the normal range is under 5.0, the optimal range is under .8 for men and under 1.5 for women. Breast cancer survivors are wise to monitor CRP since elevations are associated with higher reoccurrence rates.
Vitamin B12: The levels of this important nutrient can diminish with age as absorption becomes more difficult. Vitamin B12 can be depleted by many medications, such as metformin (diabetes), birth control pills, and antibiotics. I am most concerned about acid blocking medications that many of my patients use for long term management of acid reflux. I much prefer to treat the cause of this problem than to manage it with a medication that impairs the digestion and absorption of a number of important nutrients. Acid blockers also can set up a more alkaline pH that promotes the growth of a weakened, dysfunctional set of intestinal bacteria.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Testing (SIBO): SIBO is a condition in which the wrong bacteria are growing in the small intestine, creating abnormal fermentation of carbohydrates into methane and hydrogen. SIBO patients suffer from gas, bloating, digestive concerns and many other health conditions. When indicated, I test patients through a university laboratory in PortlandOregon.
Be proactive with your health care by getting the blood work you need to understand your health and take steps to prevent illness.