Many of us have had labs drawn by our doctors who briefly review them and look for any abnormal values outside the laboratory’s conventional guidelines. If we’re lucky, our doc will provide us a brief explanation of what the labs indicate, but in most cases we’re either shuffled out of the office with a pat on the back or recommended a medication to help bring the values back into the “normal” range.
The problem with this typical scenario is four-fold:
- The lab ranges are often set based on a population of individuals who are not overtly sick. This means that the ranges are based on the absence of disease, not based on optimal health.
- Doctors should explain the reasoning for requesting the labs and discuss the connection between the patient’s biochemistry and their symptoms. This allows patients to understand how their behaviors, diet, and sleep habits impact their internal workings. Provided with this information, they can shift their lifestyle toward prevention rather than treatment of disease.
- Recommending medication to manage symptoms does not address the underlying cause of disease. For example, if someone has high blood pressure, starting a blood pressure-lowering medication does not address the underlying reason for the elevated level in the first place. Is it due to diet? Inadequate sleep? Deficiencies in certain nutrients necessary for relaxation of the arteries? Left unchecked, these underlying issues always prop up elsewhere. A great explanation of this can be seen with magnesium. Magnesium deficiency can cause high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, and a host of other ailments. Instead of prescribing a medication for each of these symptoms, identifying and treating the magnesium deficiency can save time, money, and suffering.
- Pharmaceutical medications always come with the possibility of side effects. Statins to lower cholesterol can cause muscle aches, headaches, insomnia, skin flushing, nausea, and abdominal pain. Meds for insomnia can cause dizziness, constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, heartburn, weakness, or stomach pain. Side effects of heartburn meds include: constipation, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, cough, upper respiratory infection. This cycle goes on & on. It’s often that a patient will start a statin for cholesterol and eventually end up on all three of these medications as they try to chase side-effects. Instead, it’s far more beneficial to identify why the cholesterol is elevated from the get-go.
Let’s take a look at three values on what should be run in a standard lab panel.
- Triglycerides. Triglycerides may be the most important biomarker to watch out for on a standard lipid panel. These indicate the amount of fat in the bloodstream and can often reflect an overconsumption of carbohydrates in the diet. Sugar and carbs that we consume in excess of what is used for exercise are often converted to triglycerides in the liver. Every time we consume carbs, we spike a hormone called Insulin. Insulin communicates with the liver and can shift the size of the cholesterol particles we produce to a smaller, stickier type. This small sticky type has a great chance of contributing to heart disease than the large, fluffy type we would produce if our carb intake was kept in check. Ideally, I like to see fasting triglycerides less than 100. If these levels creep over 100, the either the carbohydrates in the diet need to be scaled back, or exercise needs to be ramped up. Or both!
- Magnesium, RBC. Red Blood Cell (RBC) Magnesium is a very important nutrient to evaluate on a blood test. Magnesium helps over 300 different enzyme systems in the body operate, ranging from energy production to muscle and artery relaxation. It helps calm anxiety and promotes a restful sleep, prevents headaches, lowers blood pressure, aid in hormone production, and a myriad of other functions. Unfortunately, as a society we are chronically depleted in magnesium. Our soils are largely stripped of magnesium and other vital nutrients from repetitive harvest without crop rotation. Produce, which typically contains the highest amounts of magnesium, and plucked before they’re ripe so they can ripen in transit to our grocery stores. And guess what depletes magnesium in our body…stress! So whether we’re dealing with mental / emotional stress, fighting an infection like a virus or bacteria, or if we’re exercising, we are consuming magnesium to deal with these tasks and our requirement subsequently increases. It is important to check for RBC magnesium because this is what is actually available inside the cells. Merely checking magnesium in the bloodstream can often miss underlying deficiencies. I recommend a magnesium supplement for about 90% of my patients, but the form, dosage, & timing of magnesium matters! Be sure to speak with a Naturopathic Doctor or Functional medical practitioner before starting any supplement regimen.
- Vitamin D. Nearly everyone in new England is deficient in vitamin D unless they are supplementing or tanning, the latter of which I typically do not recommend. Though it’s considered a vitamin, vitamin D really acts as a hormone in the body to facilitate the absorption of calcium from our intestines and reabsorption from our kidneys. It helps with building and strengthening our bones, preventing osteoporosis. It helps our immune system function properly, both aiding in the eradication of infection reducing the risk of autoimmune diseases. It helps provide neurological protection and aids in the production of neurotransmitters that help us feel alert, focused, and happy. It even helps with reducing the risk of several types of cancer and reduces our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The benefits of vitamin D go on & on. Getting adequate levels from the sun, even during the summer months, is often quite difficult and the forms added to foods, like milk, are often subpar. Starting a daily dose of vitamin D is one of the best things you can do for your health. Again, speak with a Naturopathic Physician for proper dosing guidelines.
For more information and for the optimal forms of various vitamins & minerals, visit www.wholesomeplace.org.
Dr. Matthew Castanho is a board certified and licensed Naturopathic Physician who practices medicine with the goal of addressing the true underlying cause of disease. As opposed to merely treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals, Dr. Castanho fully understands human physiology and the dietary and nutritional components that help regenerate health. Using these natural principles, he helps his patients restore optimal function to their bodies. He commits hundreds of hours annually to continuing education, always looking for the newest and more effective ways to serve and support his patients.