Measurement is the first step that leads first to understanding, then to control, and eventually to improvement. If you can measure something, you can understand it. If you can understand it, you can control it. If you can control it, you can improve it. You can’t manage for improvement if you don’t measure to see what is getting better (or worse).
Beyond doing the standard, serum chemistry profile a doctor orders during an annual exam, most people don’t have a measurable system for objectively tracking the ongoing status of their health and well-being. Many women take nutritional supplements, but don’t have a way of assessing their efficacy, either. They rely on faith, a friend’s advice, or how they subjectively feel when it comes to deciding how much of what products they should be taking. And they are almost always led astray.
In general, there is a parallel between the way most people make dietary decisions and the process of driving a car around aimlessly. The objective is to go somewhere, but there are no directions and no way to determine when—or if—they have arrived.
Back in the ‘good old days,’ before the advent of walk-in labs, the realm of medical testing was an exclusive club only accessible to licensed healthcare practitioners. In those days you would need to make an appointment with your doctor, ask him or her to order the lab assessments you wanted, and investing several minutes in justifying their medical necessity. Any tests deemed unnecessary could still be ordered, but for ‘preventive’ or ‘informational’ purposes only. These would not be covered by insurance. And getting your results would require a second appointment.
Thankfully, things have changed. As consumers begin to bear more health care costs on an out-of-pocket basis, they are becoming increasingly engaged in and responsible for managing their own health care. While you may not have known, it’s been possible for you to order your own laboratory assessments for many years. Both their accessibility and affordability has continued to increase as the quantified self movement has gained momentum. As a result, online and walk-in access to direct laboratory testing is now available in most states.
The labs you choose (either walk-in or online) will contact you directly with your results in a time frame that will vary depending on the specific type of tests you’ve ordered. Typically, results are available on the lab’s secure website or by email. Many online assessment sites offer doctor or other healthcare provider consultations along with the results either for free or at a minimal cost.
There are a number of different reasons why many people decide to pursue their own laboratory testing. Some want to have more frequent tests than their doctors are prescribing. Some want additional information which requires ordering a more extensive panel. Others are simply curious about their own body chemistry and want to learn more about it.
Sorting through the vast number of health assessments that are now available can be a daunting task. But they can be grouped into three, basic categories–global health assessments, individual biomarkers, and deeper diagnostic tests.
Global Health Assessments
These four global health assessments that we all should perform in order to understand how your body is truly functioning and guide us to steps we can take to improve our health, performance capacity and longevity.
The Serum Chemistry Blood Calculator
The standard chemistry panel has been around for decades. It evolved as a way to assess the function of critical metabolic pathways and organ function at a time when our testing ability was limited in either scope, process, or cost. While it has been the gold-standard of health assessment, it is important to know that it really is just a sign of a body in disease or failing in a critical pathway.
It’s important to realize that some serum reference ranges are not consistent because they are either based on changing health averages among the general population and/or they are modified based on shifting medical opinion. Cholesterol levels, for example, were once considered within normal range until they exceeded 250 mg/dl. When high cholesterol was (incorrectly) identified as the primary cause of cardiovascular disease, it became treatable condition. The normal or healthy range of cholesterol was reduced to 200 mg/dl or lower, creating a massive (and profitable) demand for cholesterol-lowering medications.
Even though research has confirmed the essential importance of relatively ‘new’ health markers such as vitamin D3 and magnesium, these have yet to be incorporated into the standard chemistry panel. In fact, more markers are being removed from the panel than added due to costing and insurance coverage issues.
And keep this in mind: Since reference ranges are based on what is considered normal for a full 95 percent of the U.S. population, it requires a relatively large insufficiency or imbalance of any given serum assessment marker to be considered abnormal or out of range. This creates a problem because results that are classified as normal despite being sub-optimal (when viewed alone or in conjunction with other sub-optimal results) may indicate subtle but significant imbalances that a busy doctor may not have the time or knowledge to discern.
An artificial intelligence tool known as the Blood Calculator processes the data from a standard, serum chemistry panel using a machine-learning algorithm to offer you a highly accurate assessment of your functional state of health. Based on the 39 different blood chemistry markers it requests, the calculator provides volumes of clinically useful insights including the presence of:
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Hormonal imbalances
- Metabolic imbalances
- Immune dysfunction
- Bacterial, viral and parasitic infections
- Heavy metal and chemical toxicity
Without the assistance of artificial intelligence, the depth and breadth of information made available would be nearly impossible to achieve.
We are learning that a healthy gut microbiome may be one of the most important physiological goals for all to achieve. Advanced diagnostic assays from Viome allow you to very specifically analyze your microbiome and from this they are using computer algorithms based on large continually growing population data to provide recommendations to both your super foods to eat daily and those which you need to eat to avoid.
Our gut microbiome is always changing so you will want to repeat this every 4 months for the first year and then every 6 months to continually adjust your diet to provide a rich and diverse but microbiome which will provide huge benefits to your health.
In addition, it is important to know is that by creating a rich and diverse gut microbiome, you will improve your ability to metabolize carbohydrates and improve your metabolic health. This will make the next step easier to achieve.
Advanced Genetic Assessments
Most people have heard of the genetic testing 23andme. While this is a basic assessment for data collection and determining familial ancestry, the technology used in this assessment in order to provide mass screening falls short as it is not always accurate, reproducible, and/or functionally relevant. In addition, there are some concerns surrounding the confidentiality of the data gleaned from these tests.
Newer, more advanced genetic tests offered by the DNA Company in Quebec Canada and DNA Life in Denmark have emerged as the new leaders. These ‘new generation’ DNA tests can help you accurately determine your body’s specific nutrient needs while pinpointing any genetic predispositions that may be interfering with your ability to achieve peak health and performance–all with a simple, salivary sample. Here’s a snapshot of just a few of the many things you can learn:
- How efficient your body is at converting sunlight into vitamin D3.
- How well your body is coping with the levels of pollution and stress.
- How beneficial high or low-intensity exercise is for your genetic type.
- How effective your pancreas is at producing insulin.
- How the presence of a gene that limits the amount of dopamine your body makes contributes to poor mental health.
- Which grains and healthy, saturated fats may not be genetically appropriate for you.
- Cellular Metabolism
A comprehensive organic acids assessment offers a ‘bird’s eye’ view of how well your body’s metabolism is functioning at the cellular level. This urine-based test from Great Plains Laboratory will allow you to identify any irregularities with your body’s gastro-intestinal, detoxification, and/or oxygenation systems that can be addressed with dietary and lifestyle interventions.
This non-invasive urinary profile is a powerful tool to provide a snapshot of the body’s cellular health that will concur with other assessments and provide more detailed cellular status on the presence of toxins and/or nutritional imbalances that may be limiting the body’s ability to create energy, detoxify, fully digest foods and counteract the negative influences of oxidative stress. Once identified, these imbalances can be specifically addressed through targeted dietary, lifestyle and nutritional interventions and monitored over time for improvements.
Why use an organic acid test?
Organic acids are metabolic intermediates produced in pathways of central energy production, detoxification, neurotransmitter breakdown, and intestinal microbial activity. Accumulation of specific organic acids in urine often signals a metabolic inhibition or block. This abnormality may be due to a nutrient deficiency, an inherited enzyme deficit, toxic build-up, or drug effect. Testing for organic acids helps reveal activity and *changes at the metabolic level, helping you discover hidden issues and pinpoint where therapeutic focus.
Next week in part 2 of this post, I’ll share with you the critical individual markers of health to assess.