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Why Your Labs Are Failing You

A few years ago, I completed an incredible certification program in functional blood chemistry. I'm not really the lab science-y type of student at heart (communicating is more my thing), so even though I found the whole topic both fascinating and incredibly useful, the experience was a significant stretch for me academically and required a ton of study and review. It still does.

I don't use this training every day, or even every week, so I don't pretend to know more than I do. When people bring me questions, I almost always tell them I'll need to a few days to review their labs with my notes by my side for reference, but over time, the broad stroke concepts are beginning to stick. If nothing else, I know I am doing a better job explaining lab results and additional testing options to my friends, family, and past clients than a lot of medical professionals. I know that because these folks tell me so! That doesn't mean I know more than licensed providers; it simply means I humbly try to view things holistically and without bias, and I take the time to explain the things I understand.

With that, here are a few things I think we all should know:

  1. Learning the basic meaning of lab acronyms and abbreviations is something we can and should learn. It is our responsibility as grown adults to prepare for clinical appointments with at least a rudimentary understanding of what we're seeing on paper. It's illogical and unfortunate that this information isn't taught during our high school years, but that's the sad reality of our educational system and priorities. Our doctors do not have the time to teach this material to us, and it's a foolish mistake indeed to take everything that health professionals say as gospel truth. We must bring something to the table and demonstrate that we've got some skin in the game as far as our own health is concerned. We need to stop elevating our doctors to the status of gods or omnipotent judges and instead view them as partners - partners who are human and have limits and make mistakes and don't always have the answers. One way to be a better partner is to familiarize yourself with the markers included on a CBC with differential (complete blood count), as well as the CMP (comprehensive metabolic panel). This is do-able, I promise! I could teach you, and in fact I'm planning a Blood Chemistry 101 Workshop for early summer 2024. Send me a note if you're interested. I am not the person to make you an expert - not by a long shot, but I know you'll gain confidence and develop a better understanding of your body.

  2. We should always ask for a copy of our labs, or ensure we have electronic access through an online portal. Of course, these documents won't mean much to us if we don't understand what the results mean, and that sends us back to Truth 1 shown above. Take the time to research, or find someone trained in functional lab ranges who can help you make sense of the numbers from a nutritional and lifestyle perspective. Please do not accept a cursory 2 minute review of your labs in which all the practitioner does is look for high or low results as dictated by the conventional ranges listed right there on the page. Anyone can do that! At the very least, design a simple spreadsheet to track results over time, to see which values are increasing, decreasing, or staying the same. Because what we are looking for are TRENDS and PATTERNS, not isolated numbers from a single lab draw.

  3. Conventional lab ranges are skewed towards sickness. What that means is this - clinics like Quest and Labcorp take thousands of lab results from people all over the country and build their own "acceptable ranges" based on those results. Imagine a bell curve with the majority of results accumulating in the middle, with outliers on either end. If you land somewhere within the bell, you're deemed healthy. But here's the problem...studies show that only about 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy, which means those common ranges are being developed based on the results of people with illness and metabolic dysfunction. (It makes sense that sick people are the ones getting blood draws, not the healthy people, unless of course you're proactive and wise!) So, in other words, when a doctor says your results "all look normal," what he or she could be saying is, "Congratulations! You're about as sick as the rest of America! Go celebrate with a burger, fries, and milkshake!" I don't want to feel "normal." I want to strive for optimal.

  4. Conventional doctors are forced to order the absolute minimum of lab tests. Insurance simply won't pay for tests that are not clearly indicated in standard of care procedures. For this reason, simple nutrient deficiencies that could be easily corrected are left undetected for months or even years. No problems are identified until there is an explosion of dysfunction and symptomatic evidence, which often coincides with a somber diagnosis. Even a fatal one. Cancer, diabetes, autoimmunity, dementia, heart don't "get" these diseases overnight like you get a bruise overnight. You develop chronic disease over time, and your body sends signals like flares that are so easy to detect if you're looking through the right lenses. To detect early stages of disease, you need labs that include more robust markers and paint a clearer picture of what is going on inside and outside your cells. Unfortunately, getting these labs often means you have to pay out of pocket, and I understand not everyone can do that. But for those who can, it's a marvelous incentive to do your part and take care of yourself!

  5. Doctors can't treat you until your lab markers fall outside that potentially skewed bell curve and/or your symptoms have a clear diagnosis. Even when you know there is something off with your body, they will often tell you everything looks normal and send you on your way. "Come back when things are really bad and then I will have a drug to give you!" Please know I am not slamming medical professionals; I am simply pointing out the ways in which our medical system hamstrings the really passionate ones who desire to do the most good. Most of these individuals are not really practicing medicine or helping people heal; they are only doling out pharmaceuticals and managing symptoms. I won't settle for that kind of "sickcare." You shouldn't either.

  6. Singling out one or two markers on a set of labs is myopic and irresponsible. The obvious example is cholesterol. The body does not do anything in isolation. Is your LDL high? Okay, that is one tiny piece of a very complex puzzle! What do your thyroid markers show? How's your digestion? What are you eating? How's your stress level? What's your cortisol look like? What are your white blood cells doing? Is your liver struggling? Are you sleeping? What kind of exercise are you doing, or not doing? The sad truth is that most doctors graduating from our western medical system aren't given the time or training to investigate deeper into these issues. They are only taught that elevated LDL (as defined by those who stand to benefit financially from your high LDL) should be treated with a statin drug. And so they force that LDL number down artificially, never addressing the root cause, and create even more problems in the process of interfering with and silencing the body's natural responses.

I'm sure there are more things I could add to this list, but hopefully these 6 give you enough to think about and ponder. The name of the game here is personal responsibility, and understanding your own lab results is a wonderful first step in that direction.

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