Getting the Most From Your Blood Test, Part 1


Red blood cellsProbably the most-asked questions from my patients have to do with their blood tests.  Conventional medicine places a great deal of emphasis on blood tests, and consequently so do you as the patient.  So how can you get the most information that will really be useful in making decisions about your health.  I encourage you not to just rely on your doctor looking over your test results, because often that doesn't happen, or he is only looking at values that are outside of the "normal" range.  So let's talk about blood testing from start to finish and make that prickly experience really count! Blood testing really emerged in the early 1900's after it became common knowledge that there were different blood types based on differences in red blood cells.  Then it became possible to test for diseases such as syphilis and rubella, and later the concept of establishing "norms" for all blood values developed.  Now everything from Calcium to C Reactive Protein levels can be evaluated.

And that is the key word in blood testing - evaluate.  So first you should know that each lab has its own set of "normal" values for each chemical test.  These are generally determined by looking at the entire population that has had blood testing and basing "normal" values on where 95% of the tested population fall in their value.  This is not the best way to determine optimal health.  Instead it simply reflects the majority.

Optimal values are generally more narrow than the broader values established.  So you can still be symptomatic, even dysfunctional, but test within normal ranges for many of your blood values.  Also, these reference ranges can be inaccurate for certain populations due to the variance with age, sex, race, diet, use of prescriptions, herbal remedies and even stress.  For instance many people have their glucose tested without fasting first, skewing the results and the resulting reference range.

Blood testing also has another limitation.  Time... When you have a blood test, it shows what is in the blood at that given moment and it also assumes that all areas of the body share the exact same blood composition.  Neither of these things are always true.  So blood testing gives you a picture which you can compare to your symptoms and other evaluation techniques to determine what important things about your health and your nutrition that the blood test is telling you.

The last issue with blood testing is that your values need to be reviewed in groups.  In other words, glucose is not the only blood value that should be used in evaluating your glucose tolerance.  You also have to look at insulin and hemoglobin A1C.  So being able to group values together to get a comprehensive picture of a particular function, such as liver function, is important.

Once you have decided to have blood testing done, there are a few things to consider:

1) There are hundreds of potential blood testing values which can be done.  Be sure to check with your physician to see which ones he/she is recommending and see if there are any additional ones you wish to add.  If you cannot get your physician to agree to add them to your test, then take the test he is offering and then look at one of the alternative labs listed below for the additional screenings you would like to see.  They may not be covered by your insurance, but the costs are generally low and worth their weight in gold!  Or ask your physician to allow you to get your blood testing at a lab of your own choosing.

2) Be sure to ask if there are any preparatory things you should do to make the blood testing more effective.  One thing you should definitely do is stop all herbal and vitamin supplements three days before the test so that you get a sense of your inherent blood values.

3) Be sure to drink plenty of water before your blood testing so your blood composition is relatively even throughout your system.  You want to eliminate dehydration as a factor in any blood values, especially hormones and kidney function tests.

4) You have a choice of which laboratory processes your blood testing.  There are a number of labs that cater to more readable tests as well as tests that are reflective of the concerns common in the holistic world.  You might want to look at Quest Diagnostics, ZRT Laboratory, or ask your holistic health care provider for a recommendation.  Even national labs online can set up a test for you at a location in your neighborhood.  Once you know which lab your physician uses, you can request a listing of all the tests they offer and see if your physician will add ones you would like to have.

Another consideration is that there are a number of alternative tests that can shed light on your blood test and narrow the interpretation to your individual issues.  Things such as saliva testing for hormones, Trace Mineral Hair Analysis, urinalysis, live blood cell analysis and even endocardiograph tests can all bring illumination to your blood test and help you get your health into focus.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Blood Testing series...