How many times have you had labs done because of whatever symptoms you went to your doctor for, only to have your doctor say the most annoying phrase one could hear…"Your labs look fine.” Uuuuggghhhhh! It’s annoying because on one hand, you’re so thankful things look okay because it could be worse. But you are just left wondering, “What the heck is wrong then???” You find yourself asking, “Why am I still constantly bloated, aching, hormonal, losing or gaining weight, losing hair, sweating too much, etc. So, if everything “looks fine” then why don’t I feel fine?”
As a nurse turned Functional Medicine Health Coach, I have had the privilege of seeing labs from different perspectives. One being the Pathological (conventional) perspective, and the other a Functional (Optimal) perspective. There are several differences between these two perspectives, but to sum it up: looking at labs from a Pathological perspective focuses on finding disease, reducing symptoms, and separating the body into different specialties with different problems. The Functional perspective differs by focusing on finding imbalance or dysfunction which may not be a disease/diagnosis, treating the root cause of symptoms, and treating the body as a whole, interconnected system. I’m sure you know which one I favor. All that being said…here are three “rules” when it comes to optimizing your lab results to solve the puzzle of your health.
BBUUUUT, before I go into the few tips I have for you for how to optimize your lab work, I want to touch on one thing. Clinical Ranges or Reference Ranges are not as helpful as you might think. They are actually developed by taking the average result for the particular lab, then adding a standard deviation of 2 to each side to make an “acceptable” range. But that does not mean optimal. And let me say this before I go any further, I am NOT one of those people that likes to make something out of nothing. Yes, we can always be healthier, more optimal, or better, but at what cost? The cost of our sanity? Of our joy when it comes to food and socialization? So, let’s not get carried away or go down a rabbit hole, but we definitely want to get the most out of our labs, and that means using Functional optimal ranges vs conventional lab ranges.
Rule #1 - NEVER just let your doctor tell you that “your labs look fine.” ALWAYS make sure you can have access to them, and be able to see them. Unfortunately, many times in our healthcare system, we need to do our own investigating. I mean, really, how many times has your doctor said the “fine” phrase, but you sit and wonder why you still feel awful? Chances are, your labs do actually give a clue or piece of your health puzzle, but your doctor doesn’t know what to look for or didn’t order the correct lab work. You want access to your lab work for records, but also if you want a second opinion. Or if you were to utilize a heath coach, some with a medical background (like myself), like to view your labs (with your permission) in order to best serve you. So, ask to look at your labs with your doctor, and have access to them, so you can dive as deeply as you so please.
Rule #2 - More is not always more. It is true, that in Functional Medicine - we can like to look at a lot of lab work, but that doesn’t mean we need 10 vials of blood every time we see you. Make sure you and your provider are being intentional with what you’re looking at, and not just ordering everything under the sun. Not only can that get expensive, but it can also just get too confusing for one sitting. Make sure to pause and take an inventory of your symptoms - even include the not-so-obvious ones or things you may think are “normal” (common does NOT equal normal). Then, look at your health history all the way back to birth…yep! I like to use a Functional Medicine Matrix to get all the details. From there, you can get the best idea for what labs, if any, would be the MOST beneficial for putting together your health puzzle.
Rule #3 - Labs don’t always involve blood. It’s true! So, if you have a fear of needles, then there are other ways to test important things such as your detoxification capabilities or microbiome quality such as through hair or stool analysis. Yes…poop…I’m a boy mom and former pediatric nurse, sooooo had to say it. But, your stool is actually SO informative, and analyzing the makeup of your microbiome can be incredibly helpful when it comes to symptoms like gas (especially the silent but deadly ones), bloating, acid reflux, constipation, nausea, etc. So, make sure to ask about alternative testing to bloodwork (dependent upon your symptoms).
I hope these “rules” have helped you understand the control you can have over your health as well as the wealth of knowledge that can come from such seemingly simple numbers when utilized properly. If you haven’t had labs done recently, or you’re tired of not having the pieces to your puzzling health, no worries! As a health coach, it is out of my scope to order labs for you, BUT I have teamed up with Dr. Kevin Murray who utilizes Science-based Nutrition created by Dr. Van to use your lab work and symptoms to see vitamin, mineral, and other nutritional deficiencies in what may be causing your health issues. This allows us to pinpoint exactly what is ailing you! This means, if you need labs done, I know someone we can work with. And if you have already had recent labs done, but still feel lost after the “you’re fine” speech from your doctor - I would love to take a look in one of my Comprehensive Health Assessments where we can see things a little differently through a Functional lens. And even with all the crazy numbers and tests, we at Loving Health LLC strive to keep health simple, so it’s something you can love.