How we physically and mentally feel is an important measure of how healthy we are. However, the way we feel is only one piece of the puzzle. Blood work can help you more intimately understand your overall health, your body’s unique needs, and identify the root cause of illness.
Generally, a naturopathic or functional medicine doctor will ask you a variety of questions before ordering lab work relating to how your digestion is functioning, frequency of bowel movements, your energy levels upon waking and throughout the day, how easily you fall asleep and stay asleep, mood, libido, and more. These are all questions that provide insight into a person’s overall health. However, blood work can help you and your doctor get to the root cause of why some of the above may be out of balance. If you are feeling totally well on the other hand, blood work can confirm this and provide a baseline for you to come back to. It is also important for screening purposes, meaning, doing blood work on a regular basis (usually annually) can screen for imbalances before they manifest as symptoms. These imbalances can then be treated before they become a major issue.
In my practice, I recommend blood work annually for all of my patients. If a patient is presenting with symptoms, blood work is usually a part of the initial investigation so we can better understand why the symptoms may be happening. The blood work I order is completely unique for each patient. While there are generally certain tests that are recommended based on the age and sex of the patient, I typically individualize this further to include blood work that looks at the specific organs and body systems that could be out of balance and causing the symptoms in question.
For example, a female in her thirties with low energy and hair loss would lead me to order blood work that looks at thyroid function, iron levels along with other various nutrient levels, blood sugar, and perhaps even certain sex hormones depending on her cycle. Another example would be a male in his 50s with poor digestion and high stress; this presentation would lead me to look into liver function and cholesterol levels, and I would likely recommend other tests like a colonoscopy and endoscopy.
Each case is unique, and the way the lab work is interpreted can also be unique between medical providers. While a patient may fall into the reference ranges laid out by the labs, I always look at where in that range the patient falls. For example, in Canada the range for ferritin (which is the best first line measure for iron levels) has a reference range of 5-272ug/L (these numbers can vary depending on the lab). Someone who has a ferritin of 20ug/L may be considered normal by some doctors, as would a person with a ferritin of 265ug/L. Each reading may contribute to symptoms, but be dismissed as normal. Because I am always seeking to optimize health for the patients I work with, these two individuals that fall on opposite sides of the spectrum could benefit from support to bring their levels to a more moderate, balanced place, supporting them to feel their best.
As always, seek the advice of a doctor. Most naturopathic and functional medicine doctors are trained in laboratory analysis and take the time to review labs in detail with patients then put together treatment plans accordingly. Always see your doctor at least annually so he or she may order the appropriate lab work and other testing based on your age, sex, and other specific medical concerns. Lab work is a wonderful way to help you understand where your body is at, and to deal with the root cause of any symptoms you may have.