In the 19th century a French debate raged between two of the eras biggest intellectual heavyweights that would determine the way practiced medicine for the last 150 years, and still do to this day.
What You Need to Know Before You Get Your Bloodwork Done Privately
What Does Getting Blood Work Done Mean To You?
It may be that you got a blood count from a visit to the doctor when you felt under the weather, or, maybe you track a specific marker you were told to pay attention to as it was out of range.
Some would consider a ‘perfect score’ on our blood markers as the ultimate indication of health; Or you may be one of the few who regularly tracks several blood markers regularly with the aim of optimisation.
Getting blood markers checked has never been easier or more accessible; Since several companies now offer services where you can have test kits ordered to your own house, collect a sample of your own blood, and send it off for testing of the relevant markers.
This begs the question as to whether everyone should be checking their blood markers regularly? Do they really tell us everything we need to know about our bodies? Or are they not quite what some would believe them to be?
A Snapshot in Time
Any given 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, slept badly or did a killer workout. Reading anything into any isolated blood marker is probably not going to 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 the 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 and how this can be translated for you. Back to our blood glucose example, though a snapshot of blood glucose alone is of 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 got an extensive blood panel looking at up to 60 results, it is extremely unlikely they will all be in within the ‘normal’ range for anyone. It’s observed anecdotally, with some evidence to back it up, that athletes are more likely to have abnormal blood markers.
Taking this context into account it is far more likely for a young, 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 everything in 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 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.
Though our cognitive abilities and potential for abstract thought set us apart from other animals, we shouldn’t be tricked into thinking that we are different in respect to how our genetics express themselves in with our environment. We are still animals, designed to thrive in our natural environment.