It is well known that blood tests are used to diagnose disease. Many people get “health checks” on a yearly basis and are often told that their blood work is “normal” and they have nothing to worry about. The majority of people who feel “unwell” will come out “normal” in the medical reference ranges. They dont have a disease so there is nothing to worry about right? WRONG! Blood work can, and should be, used to monitor health. Many people are a far cry from being functionally optimal, and yet their doctor or wellness check-up tells them they are normal. They may not have progressed to a known disease state, but they are dysfunctional, i.e. their physiological system is no longer functioning properly and they are starting to feel the impacts. Things like:
Fatigue or low energy
Pain & inflammation
Sex hormone dysfunction and low libido
Even if your blood test results are in the normal "medical reference range", they may not be optimal for your general health, physical and mental performance, and longevity. “Normal” and Optimal” are two very different things when it comes to blood work. “Normal” reference ranges are based on the distribution of a bell curve, which says that 95% of the population are normal and 2.5% of the population is above the “normal” range and 2.5% is below the “normal” range. There is a big problem with NORMAL, “normal” range is based on statistics and not on whether a certain value represents good health or function.
Normal medical reference ranges are the average ranges of the general population and have very little to do with optimal health and longevity. Today’s “average population” is sick, fat, and unhealthy. As our population becomes more dysfunctional and obese and suffers from more cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, the “normal” reference range gets wider and wider. How silly is this? In many cases, medical reference ranges are created using populations that contain a significant number of unhealthy individuals, leading to ranges that don’t reflect a healthy population in today's society.
Most people wait until it is too late to start monitoring their health. Waiting until you are sick is like only changing the oil in your car when the check engine light comes on. This lack of attention to maintaining the function of your “car” creates expensive future problems, such as engine failure. Adopting a regular health monitoring strategy to stay healthy will always take less time and cost you less money than it would deal with a chronic illness or an engine breakdown.
When conventional medical physicians review your blood test results, their only concern is when a particular result is outside the “normal” reference range because values outside of the normal range help them identify and diagnose disease states, tissue changes, and pathology. This is why it is so important to establish optimal ranges for blood tests. The “If it's not broken, don’t fix it” mentality is not looking at preventative health care and catching the small details.
This is the most important thing to know when it comes to blood testing – Normal DOES NOT EQUAL healthy.
For example, the medical upper range for triglycerides is 150 mg/dL. But there is a lot of research to show this limit should be much lower. Researchers reviewed 61 studies with 726,030 people and found that levels below 90 mg/dL were associated with the lowest risk of mortality. Triglycerides above 90 mg/dL also increase the risk of developing diabetes [R].
A separate meta-analysis of 13,957 people found that levels below 88 mg/dL were linked to the lowest mortality risk [R, R]. Levels above 88 mg/dL magnify the risk of heart attack when cholesterol levels are also high. In other words, high cholesterol levels become much more dangerous when they are accompanied by triglyceride levels above 88 mg/dL [R].
Relying on medical reference ranges can be dangerous. It can give you a false sense of security and prevent you from taking steps to fix your health and prevent disease. By the time your doctor tells you that your labs are abnormal, it’s too late and you’re already diseased. The problem with this black or white way of thinking is that you never truly prevent anything. You either show up with disease or not. What you really want is “optimal” health as opposed to “normal” health.
There is a major difference between conventional medical diagnosis and functional medicine. Functional medicine approaches a patient with a slightly different lens, allowing the functional medicine doctor to see what’s going on not in terms of disease or pathology but in terms of dysfunction. Optimal ranges are based on optimal physiology and not the “normal” population. What’s happening in the grey areas of the chart? Why are the results moving towards the edge? Something is not right.
This results in tighter ranges, which evaluate the grey areas within the “Normal” range that show something is not quite right in the physiological systems associated with this blood marker. The process identifies the factors that obstruct you from achieving optimal health.
Understanding your optimal blood biomarkers can help you to make more informed decisions about your diet, lifestyle, fitness, and supplement choices. TSTM recomends our clients work with a Functional Medicine Doctor (FMD) to regualrly check under the hood and make sure their body is running optimally. Medical doctors are not trained in the same manner and can not offer the same level of service as a FMD when it comes to preventative medicine and lifestyle change.