It is axiomatic that, at least in naturopathic medicine, we don’t treat labs, we treat patients. This means that the circumstances of a patient’s life and their subjective description of their symptoms are the primary determinant of what therapy is appropriate. Only in exceedingly rare cases would someone get a specific nutrient or even a prescription based solely on something seen on their blood work without correlating it in some way to their symptoms.
That said, labs can give an enormous amount of insight into what is happening “behind the scenes.” Once a complete history has been taken, and an appropriate physical exam completed, labs offer an extremely valuable additional layer of information. The individual “High” or “Low” designations on completed labs are only occasionally meaningful. More important are the overall patterns that emerge, groups of numbers that shift high or low even within the given Reference Range. While there might be only a few High or Low numbers, there are typically dozens of patterns that indicate underlying imbalances.
Labs in the conventional medical world are used to identify specific conditions: high cholesterol, anemia, low thyroid, etc. However, there is a much better use for labs, and that is to see imbalances before they progress to the point that they register as a High or Low on testing.
I personally think the first set of labs should be done at age 20. After that, everyone starting at age 30 should have a comprehensive set of labs draw at least every 2 years, and some should have it drawn every year. Starting at age 40, labs should be twice yearly for everyone.
Then, most importantly, the labs need to be interpreted by a practitioner trained in the functional interpretation of labs. I think it is a doctor’s responsibility to educate each patient about what their labs mean, what the various tests are testing, and how their own behavior and nutritional status impact the various lab values. It is through this kind of education that patients become engaged in their blood work, taking an active interest in how their change in behaviors impacts their next set of labs. For a doctor to dismiss labs by simply telling the patient, “It all looks good,” is to overlook valuable clues about the patient’s health.
Any individual who has insurance that covers labs and who would like to actually understand what labs can show about your health should set up a visit with me. I run a very comprehensive set of labs that tell us detailed information about blood sugar and hypoglycemia, inflammation, thyroid status, cardiovascular risk, clotting risk, vitamin D and adrenal status, oxidative stress, genetic mutations impacting health and other potential issues.
Individually, these labs would cost over $1500. If you have lab coverage through your insurance, this entire panel can often be run free of charge. Occasionally there is a minimal fee, around $39. For more information, call to set up an appointment. It’s not too late to jump into your healthy New Year’s Resolutions. A full set of labs is a great way to better understand what your health is like now, and to measure how well you do with those resolutions a year from now.