Functional Medicine

Private Blood Tests? What You Need to Know Before

Henrietta Paxton

Head Nutritionist at Biospan (MBANT, CNHC)

Functional Medicine

Private Blood Tests? What You Need to Know Before

What Does Getting Blood Work Done Mean To You?

You may have got a blood count from the doctor when you felt under the weather, or, maybe you track a specific marker because you were told it was 'out of range'.

Some would consider a ‘perfect score’ on our blood markers as the ultimate indication of health. Or, you may regularly track several blood markers regularly with the aim of optimisation.

Getting blood markers checked has never been easier - since several companies now offer services where you can have test kits ordered to your house. You collect a sample of your own blood, and send it off for testing.

Should everyone check their blood markers regularly? Do they really tell us everything we need to know about our bodies? Or, are they a myth?

A Snapshot in Time

Any blood reading is just a picture of what was happening at that moment on that day.

For example, high fasting blood glucose on a given day is not necessarily indicative of pathology; maybe you were stressed the previous day, had poor sleep, or did a killer workout. Reading into any isolated blood marker probably won't give much feedback [1].

So Is Tracking the Best Way To Avoid This?

Tracking your blood markers may give you a better indication of what is going on in your body over time. Using your blood glucose example; if your fasting blood glucose was creeping upwards over time, this may be an indication that your lifestyle and diet may not be working for you.

However, even with this example, it can take decades for metabolic dysfunction to manifest itself in blood markers. Usually when you start to see real evidence of metabolic dysfunction, the body may have been fighting to keep homeostasis for a long time before this stops becoming possible [2].

Why Does Context Matter?

Where blood markers can really provide value is when a range of results are taken into context with the background of your lifestyle, diet, and genetics.

To do this, you need to know:

  • Which tests you should be getting,
  • How the markers relate to each other and how this can be translated for you.

Back to our blood glucose example, though a snapshot of blood glucose alone has limited use, a snapshot taken together with HbA1c and fasting insulin can tell us a whole lot more. Then if you add in a lipid profile, liver function and inflammation markers and relate this to how you live and eat - it becomes possible to get an idea of how your body is functioning [3].

It’s important to bear in mind, the more markers you do, the more markers are likely to be out of range. If you get an extensive blood panel looking at 60 results, it's unlikely they will all be within the ‘normal’ range for anyone.

It’s observed that even athletes are more likely to have abnormal blood markers.

It's far more likely for a young and healthy athlete to have markers out of range due to extreme adaptations required by their lifestyle – not due to dysfunction [4].

In this case, it is important to understand the difference between physiological changes and pathological changes.

What Should You Do?

As with all of biology, context is everything. Without detailed knowledge of how specific markers can relate to each other (or relate to our lives), getting blood work done can create more issues than it solves.

Taking a reductionist approach and chasing change in specific markers can be a waste of time (or even become negative to your health).

The best way to utilise blood work is to conduct a panel recommended to you by someone trained in the functional medicine model, who is blood panel literate, and knows details about your diet, lifestyle, goals and why you want to be checking blood markers in the first place.

Getting blood tests can be a waste of time or a useful look into how your body is reacting to your lifestyle. The difference lies in how you go about it.

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