Lab Testing 101 For Beginners
Many of my clients choose to work with me because I offer and interpret traditional and functional labs, and I know that many of you are also interested in learning more about labs.
One of my favorite sayings is, "test, don't guess", and because there are just some things we cannot know until we test for them, it's important to be mindful of these important labs. Because only a functional provider, like me, can order and interpret functional labs, like the DUTCH test, GI maps, organic acid tests, HTMA's, and so on, I'll be addressing the labs that you can get through your primary care provider first. A lot of my clients come to me with some existing lab work, or they wait until we start working to together so they can have my input from the beginning. If you are not ready to work with a nutritional practitioner, it's still helpful to have yearly or bi-yearly labs drawn. Below, you will find my top recommendations for blood testing.
1. A Full Thyroid Pane
A full thyroid panel includes the TSH, free T3, free T4, and TPO and thyroglobulin antibodies. Many providers only test the TSH, but being able to see your levels of T4 and T3, plus testing for antibodies, which can indicate a thyroid autoimmune disease, is extremely important. Many of my clients go years being told that "their thyroid is fine", only for me to discover that they might (1) be struggling with conversion of T4 into T3, (2) might have high antibodies, or (3) their TSH is too high for a functional range (under 2.0 is ideal, but too low of a range can indicate hyperthyroidism.) Many doctors or other healthcare providers will not agree to a full panel, but if you have a blood relative who has hypothyroidism, or hyperthyroidism, you can mention this, and it might help you access a full panel. In Canada, there are more laws surrounding testing, but in the US, if a provider wants to order something, it's fully up to them. In my practice, there are times where I test even more extensively then these panels mentioned, but that will most likely not be available through a doctor.
2. Sex Hormones
While I do prefer the DUTCH test (dried urine test that checks for hormone metabolites), a blood test every now and then via blood serum can give you an inexpensive baseline. I suggest checking a few things - estradiol, progesterone, total testosterone, SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone).
When to test these specific hormones:
Estradiol - day 3 of your cycle (add FSH to this)
Progesterone - 5 to 7 days before expected period (confirm ovulation first, or use this to see if you are most likely ovulating)
Testosterone - have this tested along with progesterone
SHBG - have this tested along with testosterone
FSH - day 3 of your cycle
3. CBC + BMP
A CBC panel is a panel that shows your complete blood count, and a BMP is a basic metabolic panel. It's helpful to have a baseline understanding of your blood count and your metabolism. A CBC shows what is going on with your blood, and shares insight into the status of your neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, basophils, and eosinophils. A basic metabolic panel, a BMP, shows 8 different substances in your blood - blood urea nitrogen (BUN), calcium, carbon dioxide, chloride, creatinine, glucose, potassium, and sodium. Insight into these health markers are especially helpful for integrative practitioners like me, who take note to even small indications of levels that are not optimal. By knowing these levels, I can do an even better job at addressing health struggles that could be linked to electrolyte imbalances, or elevated glucose, for example.
4.CRP + Homocysteine
CRP stands for "c-reactive protein", and this blood test shows the level of inflammation in the body. Homocysteine is a marker that, if high, shows that you might not be getting enough vitamin B12, B6, or folate in your diet, or you are at risk of heart disease. Many with MTHFR have elevated homocysteine. Low levels, though not often discussed, can indicate a low level of glutathione in the body. By seeing these two markers, I gain insight into (1) how inflamed someone is, and (2) if someone is properly methylating.
Functional testing: currently, I can only offer functional lab testing to 1:1 clients. A link to apply for 1:1 can be found here. I am a huge fan of HTMA (hair tissue mineral analysis), DUTCH (dried urine hormone testing), organic acid testing, and GI Map testing. Based on your situation, there will be one of several tests that could help me identify what is at the root cause of your health struggles. In the future, I hope to extend testing in a great capacity, but for now, please apply to see if we would be a good fit for working together 1:1.