It’s incredible what a blood test can tell you about yourself, and how much you can learn about yourself from taking a blood test. We often dread them, but blood tests can paint a much clearer picture of your health than many other tests, and blood tests can also be lifesaving.
You’re likely familiar with the standard blood test, which measures a full blood cell count, key electrolytes, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, iron levels and liver enzymes. These standard blood tests provide you with the basics and can identify emergencies that must be treated as soon as possible. You could find out your cancer risk with a standard blood test, as well as a serious iron deficiency that could be causing fatigue and other major health complications.
Functional medicine, on the other hand, uses a wide range of blood tests that may help you prevent health problems from worsening into a clinical level of severity. Functional medical practitioners such as naturopaths utilize blood tests to explain food intolerances and other health risks. If you’re wondering what a blood test can tell you about yourself, below are 8 of the many examples of what blood tests can reveal:
1. Estradiol (Estrogen) Levels
Estradiol is the major type of estrogen and regulates the tissue integrity of your reproductive system and connective tissue, your bones included. Some symptoms of low estrogen can be easily noticed, such as irritability, depression and menstrual dysregulation. On the other hand, you may not know that you have poor bone strength until you suffer from a fracture.
To prevent these consequences from sneaking up on you, it’s best to know your estrogen levels now through blood work and find out whether or not they’re normal. A study on the relationship between sex hormones and bone mineral density found that the average woman under 40 years of age had an estradiol level of 71pg/mL and a healthy bone density. The earlier your estradiol falls, the more time you spend losing bone, so it’s important to find out as soon as possible so you can start treating the issue.
2. Testosterone and DHEA
As a woman, you rely on more than just your levels of estrogen and progesterone. Whether you’re going through menopause, are perimenopausal, or are simply taking the contraceptive pill, you may feel that something is … off. Your sex drive has evaporated, you aren’t making progress in your favourite sport or at the gym, and you’re tired all the time.
If this is the case for you, you may be deficient in testosterone, or possibly the precursor to all sex hormones, DHEA. Testosterone levels of under 25ng/mL in women under 50, or less than 20ng/mL in women over 50, are categorized as deficient.
3. Thyroid Hormone Panels
Your thyroid hormones control your body’s metabolic rate, with an underactive thyroid leading to the characteristic symptoms of weight gain, fatigue, depression and constipation. Many people have subclinical hypothyroidism, which affects 6-10% of women and can still cause symptoms despite not being “real” hypothyroidism.
If you suspect that you have an underactive thyroid, it’s best to get a broad-spectrum hormone panel. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is elevated with low thyroid function, while T4 and T3 (the two thyroid hormones) will be low. Additionally, thyroid antibodies should be tested for, in case there is an underlying autoimmune issue. There are, fortunately, natural and integrative interventions that are safe and effective for subclinical hypothyroidism, with ashwagandha extract shown to restore thyroid function in these cases.
4. Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities
How do we know whether we have a food allergy or a food sensitivity? The answer is in our blood work. A “true” allergy will feature IgE antibodies to the offending substance, which allow for a rapid response. This can be anything from a rash to anaphylaxis, where sufferers must have access to an adrenaline shot at all times in case they’re exposed to an allergen.
Other types of food intolerances, including celiac disease and histamine intolerance, won’t appear on an IgE test. These have other causes, such as the lack of certain enzymes (e.g. lactose) or dysregulated gut bacteria. Some food intolerances that don’t show up on an IgE test may involve the innate immune system. Left unaddressed or undiscovered, food sensitivities can contribute to inflammation and chronic diseases such as colitis, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. You can pick them up with a leucocyte activation test (ALCAT test), which measures the innate, non-specific immune response.
Tissue glycation, most conveniently measured from glycation in the haemoglobin of your red blood cells (HbA1c), is a likely contributor to age-related and other chronic diseases. The process of glycation is where unabsorbed blood sugar becomes tangled in the proteins or other molecules of your body’s tissues. This leads to damage, inflammation, oxidative stress, and more degeneration as a result. Think of the neuropathy and vision loss seen in poorly controlled diabetes.
Even if you don’t have diabetes, you can request glycation to be included in your next blood test. And for good reason, too. Although “normal” levels of glycation are set at an HbA1c of 5.6% or less, even “upper-normal” readings of over 5.3% are linked to higher risks of illness such as fatty liver disease. It’s important to keep your glycation percentage as low as possible.
6. Methylation Status
You may be familiar with methylation in the context of MTFHR gene testing, to see if your own methylation processes are impaired. Some people with poor methylation need higher intakes of folate, vitamin B6 and B12, the three main vitamins involved in the process. Others must take pre-activated versions of folate to begin healing from the range of mental health issues that come with low methylation. This is because homocysteine builds up without a healthy methylation cycle, leading to less neurotransmitter production and more inflammation and oxidative stress.
But with mental health and other neurological benefits taking a long time to catch up on us, how can we know we’re on the right treatment path? Blood measurements of homocysteine, alongside red blood cell folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, can be used to see how you’re doing.
7. Level of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your level of omega-3 fatty acids may work together with your methylation status to maintain your mental health, and protect you against neurological problems in the future. Research has found that people with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, do not benefit from taking B vitamins if their omega-3 levels are low. B vitamins could only slow cognitive decline when omega-3 fatty acid levels were normal. Thankfully, as omega-3 fats are present in the cell membranes (blood cells included), you can see your levels on a blood test and get an idea of how you’re tracking.
8. Vitamin D Deficiency
Although a vitamin D analysis isn’t included in your standard blood tests, it’s no less essential. Some of vitamin D’s many functions affect the immune system, where it is able to help fight infections and protect immune cells from damage during “battle”. Even better, vitamin D regulates the activity of immune cells, reducing your risk of autoimmune disease.
Cut-off points for vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency vary. The Endocrine Society classifies vitamin D levels of under 50nmol/L (20ng/mL) as deficient, and between 52-72nmol/L (21-29ng/mL) as insufficient. This is based on parathyroid hormone function, which is responsible for maintaining blood levels of calcium. The more conservative Institute of Medicine considers levels under 30nmol/L (12ng/mL) as a deficiency and insufficiency levels as 30-50nmol/L.
The Bottom Line about Blood Test Benefits
Next time you have a blood test conducted, why not get a more comprehensive blood test done? Testing hormone panels, homocysteine, nutrient levels and potential food allergies or intolerances via Circle Snapshot can paint a clearer picture of your overall health. Blood tests can even reveal potential health problems before they become too serious. If you’d like to identify potential disease risks, learn more about yourself, and figure out what you need to change, get a blood test done as soon as possible.