It never ceases to amaze me how under-used labs are in the current healthcare system. Physicians have extensive diagnostic tools available to them that can greatly improve patient outcomes, yet they are rarely used. For example, “routine bloodwork” from an HMO typically includes 7 chemistry markers and a lipid panel. Your PPO provider may include a complete blood count (CBC) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), but this is still minimal at best. The purpose of these screenings is to rule out the more common serious diseases, but does not help to establish relative disease risks in patients.
The comprehensive blood chemistry panels I recommend to my patients look at over 65 markers, giving us an extensive understanding of their physiology. These thorough screens look at blood sugar regulation, cardiovascular health, thyroid function, lipid levels, liver and gallbladder integrity, nutrient and mineral status, while also screening for inflammation, infections, immune issues or blood disorders. This allows us to look for patterns rather than assess individual biomarkers, which is essential to assessing probabilities and determining an accurate diagnosis. Of course, blood chemistries are always analyzed in conjunction with a detailed history and physical exam.
When analyzing blood chemistry, Functional Medicine Practitioner’s utilize two main types of ranges: a pathological range and a functional range. The pathological range is set by the lab and used to diagnose disease. This is what conventional medicine is concerned with, diagnosing disease and prescribing the recommended pharmaceutical intervention. The functional range is more refined and is used to assess risk for disease before disease develops. These ranges are established through the research of well-respected organizations, such as the American Association of Clinical Chemists (AACC), to be the optimal conditions in which disease risks are most reduced.
For example, the pathological range for glucose may be 65-110 mg/dl, while the functional range is 80-95 mg/dl. Levels above the pathological range may indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes. Values falling above the functional range but within the pathological range may indicate the presence of blood sugar dysregulation in the form of insulin resistance, which increases the future risk of developing diabetes. Managing blood sugar and other biomarkers before they extend outside the pathological range is fundamental in practicing preventative medicine.
When patterns of functional imbalances are recognized, they can easily be addressed through diet, nutrition, lifestyle and other noninvasive therapies. The majority of conventional medicine providers do not embrace these functional ranges, believing that treatment is only warranted once a disease is present. In doing so they ignore the importance of preventative medicine and nutrition. This philosophy defines health as being free of disease, but we know true health is much more.
If you have never had your comprehensive blood chemistry measured and assessed by a functional medicine provider, please do so. It is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your optimal health and vitality and avoid becoming another statistic in the current health care crisis.