It’s your annual medical exam, and you know the routine: you spend 5-10 minutes with your doctor or the nurse practitioner/physician’s assistant, they weigh you, then measure your blood pressure and body temperature. If you’re lucky, they order a basic lab panel for 10-30 blood markers, which is fewer than half of what you really need for quality insight into your health, but that’s the most your insurance will cover. A comprehensive panel of 68+ markers is necessary to thoroughly assess what is happening inside your body and evaluate how your current nutrition and lifestyle are impacting you. In my experience, the basic panel has too many gaps, while the comprehensive panel illuminates the blind spots and empowers you to make wise healthcare choices supporting a long and happy life. In this article I will explain how a comprehensive bloodwork panel is a superhero of preventative healthcare when interpreted functionally .
Western medicine is primarily focused on remedial sick care rather than preventative health care. One of the most powerful tools in medicine is bloodwork, which can be used to help diagnose disease, or better yet, to detect and prevent developing disease long before symptoms appear and damage to your body occurs. Western doctors—both MDs and Naturopaths—are trained (and constrained by insurance companies) to order simple panels with just a few markers, and to use them to guide simple interventions, rather than for prevention.
There are three factors that make functional blood chemistry analysis superior to conventional analysis:
- Number of markers
- Reference ranges
Functional panels typically measure 2 to 6 times more markers. My preferred baseline lab panel for patients has 68 markers plus urinalysis—5 or 6 full pages of results. You won’t get that level of detail from your typical MD’s or Naturopath’s office. For each marker, there is a statistically-compiled range of values that are considered normal, called the reference range.
Conventional reference ranges are compiled from a huge population of people, many of whom had their blood analyzed because they were already sick! Functional reference ranges are compiled from a much smaller population of healthy people whose bodies are functioning optimally. The functional ranges are tighter. If a marker falls inside the tighter functional range, it compares favorably with healthy people and is a green flag. If a marker falls outside the wider conventional range, it compares poorly with sick people, and is a red flag. If a marker falls in between, it is a yellow flag: neither healthy nor very sick … yet. Conventional analysis notices red flags, and largely ignores the rest. Functional analysis looks for yellow flags, the early warning signs you can’t see or feel yet as symptoms—now that is a superpower!
Conventional analysis typically considers markers in isolation and often prescribes drugs to address just that marker (for example, statin drugs to reduce elevated cholesterol). Functional analysis recognizes multiple causes for any single marker to be abnormal and looks for patterns among multiple markers to more accurately discern root causes.
Functional blood chemistry analysis saved my life. I was sick with multiple debilitating symptoms, many of which could have been prevented, but instead went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. Once I found someone who was truly skilled at ordering and interpreting a functional blood chemistry panel I discovered enough about the root of my symptoms that I was able to take an accurate and individualized approach to my healing. I’m passionate about preventing others from suffering. I want to empower you with the knowledge you deserve so that you can make informed choices about your health, nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle so that you can dramatically improve your life.
In one year, functional blood chemistry analysis saved the lives of two of my patients. They both had a potentially life-threatening blood disorder called hemochromatosis, or “iron overload.” In both cases, their doctors never tested a full iron panel, so the condition went undiagnosed. I was able to quickly identify their iron overload by reviewing a comprehensive blood panel with all of the important iron markers. One patient, who underwent emergency pacemaker surgery just days before his functional blood chemistry panel results, told me that his cardiac symptoms could have been properly addressed by simply donating blood to lower his iron levels. The ER never ordered a single iron marker in his pre-operative blood panel!
My other patient’s functional blood panel showed that all of her iron markers were abnormally high even by conventional standards. I referred her to her primary care physician for further tests to determine the cause. She had to argue and even plead with her physician to order the follow-up test which proved her hemochromatosis was genetic and that she should also test her two children.
I learned a great deal about the preventative power of functional blood chemistry analysis that year. Please read next week’s blog to learn more about how this may be a powerful tool for you or a loved one.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary