When Your Doctor Says You’re Fine, Part 1 - Analyzing Lab Ranges
You’ve been to every doctor you can think of - your general practitioner, gastroenterologist, gynecologist, endocrinologist - and every one of them comes to the same conclusion: “you’re healthy, there’s nothing wrong.”
But, when you’re struggling with chronic health issues and not feeling well, that’s the last thing you want to hear.
Don’t worry, I’ve been there too, friends. And I know how frustrating it is to be hoping for a positive test result or an abnormal lab, just so you can finally know what’s going on with your body.
So that’s why I’m going to be doing a four part series on how to dig deeper into your health concerns, even when conventional medicine tells you you’re healthy and there’s nothing they can do.
There have been so many times in my healing journey where traditional tests at a doctor’s office have come back normal, but when I dug a little deeper and did functional testing I was able to uncover some areas of needed improvement.
A lot of times this digging requires working with a functional medicine practitioner who can fully support you with root cause medicine.
If you’re struggling with your current health team, I’d recommend you check out my previous blog post on how to find the best healthcare professional for you! Finding that one person (or team of people) who is dedicated to getting you better makes a whole world of difference.
I’m hoping these few examples, from my own health journey, of how digging a little bit deeper can encourage you to not settle for less than your best when it comes to regaining your health.
Part 1 of this series will take a look at the difference between western medical lab ranges, and functional medicine lab ranges, and how they can make a big difference in your treatment plans.
Over the next few weeks I’m also planning to dive into a variety of other methods of testing and how, by digging a little deeper, you might be able to get those answers about your health you’re looking for.
But for now, let’s take a deeper look at those standard blood work lab ranges, and figure out how we can get the best information out of them to help us get back to our best health!
You usually won’t find me in my General Practitioner’s office unless I’m getting blood work done.
Blood work is really the only thing I go to my traditional doctor for - I can usually get an appointment within a few days and everything is usually covered by my insurance, a huge win-win in my book.
However, that’s about where I stop with my trust and reliance on my General Practitioner. Don’t get me wrong, these types of doctors are super important when you have certain health issues (like an ear infection, UTI, or high blood pressure).
But, with my chronic health issues (and I’m sure yours too) I feel more often times than not, that I’m way more knowledgeable about my condition and what treatment options would be appropriate than my doctor is.
And, I’ve also found that this the same when it comes to reading and interpreting my blood work results.
Blood work is interpreted by comparing your value for each test to a range of values. If you’re number falls within what the lab has decided are the “normal” limits, your blood result is deemed “normal.”
There are a few problems with that approach.
First, normal lab ranges vary from lab to lab. So I could get my blood tested at one doctor’s office who uses Lab A, and then go to another office who uses Lab B and come to two totally different conclusions about my results.
Lab ranges tend to vary from lab to lab because each lab creates its “normal” range based off an average of all of the blood that they test.
Which leads me to my second issue with standard lab ranges - these lab ranges are based largely off of sick people’s data.
Who are the majority of the people that go to doctor’s offices to get blood work done? They are folds who have some sort of medical complaint and are not in perfect health. Yet we base our lab ranges off of their values!
So your doctor is telling you whether you’re healthy or not based off of ranges that were established from non-healthy individuals.
Which is why I ALWAYS ask to see my actual lab values whenever I get bloodwork done. Even if they tell me all of my labs are normal (which I hear every, single time) I still make sure I can get a copy of the actual data.
This way, I can either send them over to my functional medicine practitioner, or just take them to google and do a little digging on my own.
I actually did this very thing recently, so here are some examples where my blood work looked “normal,” but with a little digging and a functional medicine lens I was able to uncover a different story.
Below is a table showing standard blood work that tests your liver enzymes, ALP and ALT.
These results can help to show if you have any liver damage, fatty liver disease, or your liver just isn’t functioning well.
And as you can see, if we just look at the traditional lab ranges, my liver looks great, totally normal!
But, if we take a look at the functional lab ranges (which are tighter on both the high and the low end), we can see that my liver isn’t functioning at its best. My ALP is slightly high, and my ALT is slightly low.
These results aren’t too far out of the functional normal ranges, but they’re still not optimal.
And since I know that I’ve been having issues with my liver and fat digestion, these functional results make a whole lot more sense than the traditional “normal” results that my doctor gave me.
And now I’m adding in glutathione to my supplement plan to help support my liver and detox processes - something I would have missed had I not dug deeper into my test results.
I also had similar results with my Thyroid labs.
In the traditional medicine world, my TSH and T3 look perfect - completely within range. But when I look at these values through a functional lens, my TSH and T3 are a little low, which is indicative of a sluggish Thyroid.
I could keep going for days with all the examples of when my doctor pronounced me completely healthy when really my lab values still weren’t quite optimal.
And I think that’s the thing - your doctor is looking at lab values as a tool to prevent and treat chronic disease (like heart disease or diabetes), while a functional doctor is going to look at lab values in order to determine if your body is functioning optimally.
So it would make sense that the ranges to determine optimal function are much tighter than the ones to determine disease progression.
It’s really nothing your regular doctor is doing wrong, it’s just that in the gut health and autoimmune disease world, our bodies often aren’t functioning optimally and looking at standard lab ranges just isn’t going to give us the information we need to get them back to that healthy place.
By being your own health advocate, and putting in the work to make your own conclusions about your lab results, you’re one step closer to getting your health back to its optimal range.
Complete health for me or you is going to look totally different than complete health for another person. So, I encourage you to not just take a doctor’s word that your body is running smoothly, but actually take a look at your lab results yourself.
I find that learning what each test result means for my body and how it’s currently functioning is so interesting and empowering - and it gives me the tools to get one step closer to achieving the health I know I can have!
The Bottom Line
Traditional doctors are your friends when it comes to treating and managing chronic disease and running lab work at little or no cost to you.
But, don’t blindly accept a “your blood work all came back normal.”
Ask to see the values yourself, and many offices now have online portals where you can view your results easily.
And then take those numbers to your functional practitioner, or do some research on your own, in order to get a more holistic read on your health.
Traditional doctors aren’t looking to see whether your body is functioning optimally like a more holistic doctor is. And a lot of times the fact that we’re not at optimal health is the reason why we’re still not feeling well.
I’ve found a lot of success just googling the lab test that I’m looking for and then “functional lab range” (for example “ALT functional lab range”). The results you really want aren’t going to be at the top of the search results, but with a little digging you’ll be able to find some accurate functional ranges.
Or, better yet, find yourself a great functional medicine practitioner who can interpret your results for you!
Blood work can be such a valuable tool to get an accurate picture of what’s going on inside your body, and knowing how to use the data you’re given makes all the difference.
Next week, in Part 2 of this series, I’ll be looking at the differences between standard stool tests run at Gastroenterologist offices and my favorite functional medicine stool test.
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