Blood test for health: Functional ranges versus lab ranges

functional versus lab ranges

Did your blood test for a health problem say you’re perfectly healthy even though you suffer from fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, digestive issues, joint pain, or other symptoms that make you miserable? Does your doctor give you a prescription for antidepressants or tell you to seek therapy because your problems “don’t exist.”

Many doctors dismiss people’s health complaints because of an incomplete blood test that only looks for full-blown diseases instead of trends toward disease. In functional medicine, however, we use a blood test for assessing risk of disease before it develops. This way you can do something about it before it’s too late. For instance, a fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dL can identify a risk for diabetes long before a diagnosis. Or more complete thyroid testing can explain hypothyroid symptoms when a standard test shows results are “normal.”

Functional medicine uses a blood test for a return to health

Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of symptoms instead of overriding them with drugs or surgery. One tool we use to accomplish this is to interpret blood tests using functional ranges, which outline the parameters of good health.

In contrast, the ranges most doctors use are based on a bell-curve analysis of all the people who visited that lab over a certain period of time, many of whom are very sick. These lab ranges have broadened over the last few decades as health of the American population has declined. As a result, more and more people with real health problems are told they’re fine because their lab results fall within these wide ranges.

Do you really want to evaluate your health in comparison to all the sick people who visited your lab, or do you want to look at a blood test for what constitutes good health?

Looking for blood test patterns 

Because functional medicine is based on an in-depth knowledge of human physiology and how various systems in the body work together, we also look at a blood test for patterns instead of just looking at individual markers. By doing this, we see how these different systems influence one another to cause a constellation of symptoms.

For instance, looking at different white blood cells reveals whether an immune reaction is chronic or acute, and whether a virus, a bacterial infection, allergies, or parasite may be causing it. Other patterns can help us identify fatty liver, leaky gut, different types of anemia, or even a possible autoimmune disorder.

Blood test for functional medicine is more thorough

A blood test for functional medicine also includes more markers that standard blood tests. For instance, many doctors only look at TSH, a basic thyroid marker, when running a blood test for hypothyroidism. In functional medicine, however, we know that Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland, is responsible for 90 percent of hypothyroid cases in the United States. Therefore we also test thyroid antibodies to screen for autoimmunity along with other thyroid markers for more information.

A blood test for a functional medicine approach can also help us know what other tests may be necessary, such as a gastrointestinal panel or further testing for anemia.

Principles of functional medicine

Once the potential problems or risks have been assessed, the functional medicine practitioner uses a variety of science-backed, non-pharmaceutical approaches to restore health. These include:

  • Adjustments to the diet
  • Lifestyle changes (such as eating breakfast, proper sleep hygiene, physical activity, or reduction of stress)
  • The use of botanicals or nutritional compounds to improve physiological function
  • Other natural medicine approaches customized for the patient based on lab testing
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Lesser known causes of anxiety

what causes anxiety

Suffering from anxiety is like being held prisoner in a place where worry infuses every thought, your heart pounds, and the world seems jarring and disorienting. With anti-anxiety medications among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, Americans are clearly suffering. Though medications relieve the symptoms, they don’t address the cause.

Some causes of anxiety are obvious: stimulants such as caffeine, weight loss pills, energy drinks, or supplements that increase energy. Psychological or emotional stressors, such as having to speak in public or prepare for a major exam, can also bring on bouts of anxiety.

However, chronic anxiety can have lesser-known causes that, if managed, can relieve symptoms and negate the need for medication. Although the cause of anxiety can sometimes be neurologically complex, other times it can be as simple as making some changes to your diet and lifestyle. Below are a few lesser-known causes of anxiety.

GAD autoimmunity and anxiety

GAD stands for glutamic acid decarboxylase, an enzyme that triggers production of the brain’s primary calming chemical, called GABA. Some people develop an autoimmune reaction to GAD, which means their immune system erroneously attacks and destroys it. As a result, they can’t make enough GABA to calm the brain and anxiety goes up. GAD autoimmunity is also linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, motion sickness, vertigo, facial tics, and other symptoms. GAD autoimmunity is more common in those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease and a gluten-free diet can alleviate symptoms.

Gluten and anxiety

Gluten has other links to anxiety. It’s hard to believe something as innocent as your morning toast or a bowl of spaghetti could cause anxiety, but recent research shows that is the case for many people. Gluten has been shown to trigger inflammation in the brain and autoimmune attacks against brain tissue, which can cause anxiety. Although a gluten-free diet is an important first step, many people find they also need to eliminate other foods such as dairy, eggs, or other grains to dampen immune flare-ups and anxiety. An anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet is a good beginning to address brain health.

Blood sugar imbalances and anxiety

It’s amazing how many chronic health issues stem from a blood sugar imbalance caused by eating a high-carbohydrate diet. Every time you eat too many carbs in the way of breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, desserts, pastries, soda or sweet coffee drinks you send blood sugar and insulin surging and crashing. When this happens daily it can create a multitude of neurological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, and fatigue. Skipping meals and drinking too much coffee also feeds this cycle. A lower-carb, whole foods diet with enough healthy proteins and fats can keep energy on an even keel and tame anxiety.

Unmanaged Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

The majority of cases of hypothyroidism in this country are autoimmune, meaning the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. When an autoimmune attack flares, damage to the gland spills thyroid hormone into the bloodstream, which can amp up metabolism and cause symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and heart palpitations. In this case proper management of the autoimmune thyroid condition can help subdue anxiety.

These are just a handful of possible causes of anxiety typically overlooked in the standard health care model. Ask my office for other strategies on managing anxiety using natural means.

Why sleep is more difficult for women

female hormones sleep

Is there a torture worse than hitting the sack exhausted from a long day only to toss and turn for hours, unable to fall asleep? Or perhaps you fall asleep but later bolt awake and can’t fall back asleep?

By the time women hit their mid 30s or early 40s, many struggle with sleep. Either it’s difficult to fall asleep, difficult to stay asleep, or both. Although sleep difficulties can have many causes, fluctuations of female hormone prior to and during the transition to menopause can steal many hours of precious sleep.

Female hormone imbalances and sleep problems

When a woman enters perimenopause, her production of estrogen and progesterone begins to decline. Ideally the adrenal glands, which produce stress hormones, take over production of these hormones to ensure a smooth transition into menopause. Unfortunately, most women today enter perimenopause (pre-menopause) in a state of chronic stress and their adrenals glands are either producing too much or too little of stress hormones. To take on the added job of producing sex hormones is simply more than they can handle. That’s when sleep issues can kick in, as balanced levels of estrogen and progesterone are necessary for healthy sleep. Other symptoms may include hot flashes, night sweats, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and more.

Women may also experience sleep issues during certain times of the menstrual cycle when hormone levels fluctuate.

Low progesterone and problems sleeping

Low progesterone seems to have become increasingly common among women and can play a large role in sleep problems. Progesterone is referred to as the “calming hormone” whereas estrogen is more excitatory, and low progesterone is associated with sleeping difficulties.

Chronic stress can impact progesterone levels. Every time you experience stress your adrenal glands release cortisol, a stress hormone. When demand for cortisol is constantly high the body borrows pregnenolone, which is needed to make progesterone and other hormones, to make cortisol instead. This is called “pregnenolone steal” because the body steals pregnenolone from the hormone cascade in order to keep pace with the demands of stress.

Stopping pregnenolone steal may help improve hormone function and improve sleep. Strategies for stopping pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, which eases the body’s burden of stress. You may also need to work on restoring gut health, taming chronic inflammation, or managing an autoimmune disease appropriately, approaches that benefit from the guidance of an experienced practitioner.

Estrogen and sleep problems

When estrogen is too high and progesterone too low, it can cause sleep problems for the obvious reason—there is too much of the excitatory estrogen compared to the calming progesterone and the brain can’t calm down enough to rest. A proper ratio between the two is important.

However, low estrogen can also contribute to sleep problems. Estrogen is intimately connected with serotonin, a brain chemical associated that is converted to melatonin, a sleep hormone. Low estrogen may lead to low serotonin activity and contribute not only to sleep problems but also depression and anxiety. The female brain is highly dependent on sufficient estrogen for normal function in general, and low estrogen can also cause symptoms that include brain fog and memory loss.

Strategies to support hormone balance

Tending to adrenal function and other health issues may help correct hormonal imbalances. This includes not only reducing lifestyle stress, but also eliminating dietary stressors. Eating a diet lower in carbohydrates to prevent blood sugar swings, avoiding foods that cause an immune reaction, not drinking too much alcohol, tending to bacterial gut infections and other aspects of digestive health, and supporting immune balance are all whole-body approaches that can foster proper hormone function and improve sleep.

Ask my office for help in supporting healthy hormonal balance, and improving sleep.

Baby videos can lower IQ; better ways to boost baby’s brain

educational DVDs lower child IQ

Popping in a DVD for a baby or toddler can provide a brief but blessed break for the harried parent, and playing an educational video takes some of the sting out of the guilt. Unfortunately, even an educational video featuring classical music, shapes, colors, and early words may do more harm than good according to researchers. A child’s brain needs constant physical activity and interaction with the environment to develop properly, and time in front of the screen suspends that development, even if it’s an educational video or computer game.

Research shows the younger a child begins spending time in front of the screen, the lower they score on language tests, despite being taught language on educational videos or television. Unfortunately, almost 90 percent of children spend two to three hours per day in front of a screen by the time they are two years old.

Educational videos overlook brain development basics

A parent who wants her child to read or learn numbers early overlooks some basics of brain development. The timing of left and right hemisphere development is of utmost importance during these first years of life.

A child’s right brain is dominant through about age three. The right brain governs the ability to read emotions, see the big picture, intuition, creativity, and imagination. Experts say teaching more left-brained activities, such as language, critical thinking, logic, and math is not appropriate during this critical right-brain period of development.

In fact, childhood brain issues such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorders reflect lopsided growth of the hemispheres, with the left brain often dominating a weaker right brain. This explains why these children may be academically gifted but have difficulty with such right-brain tasks as reading social cues.

Although watching educational TV or videos won’t necessarily cause a brain development disorder, experts say it can delay the development of crucial wiring and even delay language development.

Better educational alternatives to TV and videos

Physical activity and healthy interaction with the environment are the most vital aspects to a properly developing brain. Babies and toddlers do not need traditional education on TV and videos. Simply becoming part of the world around them is highly educational for them. Ample access to physical movement appropriate for the child’s age (i.e., do not put a child who should be learning to crawl in a walker or leave her strapped in a car seat for much of the day) is vital for proper brain growth, as is playing with age-appropriate toys, loving interaction and touch from caregivers, the ability to safely observe and explore his world, and protection from overstimulation.

Healthy brain development starts in the womb

Although the early years of life are critical to brain development, brain health starts in the womb and is significantly affected by the mother’s health (and, according to newer research, the father’s age—children of men older than 50 are significantly more likely to have autism).

To maximize a baby’s brain power, both parents should start with functional medicine principles before the baby has even been conceived. These include stabilizing blood sugar, eliminating foods that cause inflammation, detoxification, balancing hormone, adrenal, and thyroid health, and repairing the gut, which is the seat of the immune system. The health of the mother’s immune system significantly impacts the development of her baby’s brain, and many women today unknowingly suffer from autoimmune or chronic conditions that imbalance their immune system.

Ask my office for tips on how best to support health nutritionally prior to conception, during nursing, or after your baby is born.