The Benefits of Nutritional Lab Testing
Getting and staying healthy in 2013 takes time and effort. There are many things that we need to do to get and stay healthy. Most of us can easily list for five things. The ones that most frequently come to mind are eat a healthy diet, exercise frequently, get enough sleep, don’t smoke and manage your stress.
These five lifestyle factors are essential for staying healthy.
When you go to your doctor, the doctor wants objective information. So he or she orders lab tests to see what is actually happening in your body, even when you are eating right, etc. Without this objective information, the doctor has nothing to go on, nothing to work with.
Natural health doctors know that there are two things that are critical if you want to get and stay healthy these days. So when someone see’s a “natural” doctor, we use lab tests to assess these two critical areas.
The first would be nutritional status. The second is detoxification. Let’s quickly look at each of these, and then at how nutritional lab testing is so important.
Nutritional deficiency is common these days. It’s because of the poor nutrient quality of our foods (nutrient deficient soils, nutrients lost in food processing) and diets full of starches, fat and animal products.
There’s a range of nutrient deficiency. When you read a vitamin bottle label the RDAs indicated are primarily designed to prevent the classic deficiency diseases.
For instance, if you’re severely deficient of vitamin C you can get scurvy (sailors used to get it on long voyages until citrus fruits were added to their diets). You only need a little bit of vitamin C to prevent scurvy.
But vitamin C service many other functions of the body. It’s an antioxidant, it contributes to synthesis of connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, discs). Depletion of vitamin C can contribute to weak blood vessels and easy hemorrhaging of capillaries causing bruising. Vitamin C is most concentrated in the adrenal glands in the body and plays a major role in defending against stress.
How much vitamin C is enough? To prevent scurvy you only need a little bit. But to have healthy blood vessels and a strong body that resists stress adequately you need a lot more.
But then the real problem is how do you know that you’re getting enough?
The answer is lab testing it looks at the level of different nutrients in your body. Until recently such lab tests were not “bundled” together in a way that allowed a good general, broad nutritional assessment.
Such testing is now available, covered by many insurance carriers, and is a very effective tool in assessing nutritional status so that deficiencies can be identified and corrected to build optimal health.
A second major component of health building from a doctor’s point of view is detoxification. Thousands and thousands of chemicals enter our bodies through air, food and drink.
A few research studies extensively evaluated the “toxic burden” of average Americans (who were not obviously exposed to toxins through their work or environment). These average Americans who were health-conscious were found to have high toxic burdens. That is, their bodies contained many toxins.
It is still not practical for doctors to assess a patient’s toxic burden in the same way that has been done in research studies because of cost. It costs several thousand dollars to do the sort of testing that has been done in research studies.
On the other hand, some major toxins are easily tested. One group is the “heavy metals”. These include mercury, lead, cadmium, uranium, tin, etc. I have been testing patients for heavy metals for nearly 3 decades and have only found 2-3 individuals who were fairly clear of heavy metals. Most people are in the red zone for at least one or more of the major toxic heavy metals.
The Benefits of Testing
Modernization of labs and advancement in technology now allows extensive testing of nutritional status and focus testing for body toxins at a reasonable cost. Much of this testing is now being covered by many insurance carriers.
If you really want to get a handle on your health and begin to steer yourself towards getting healthier or simply ensuring that you stay healthy, testing your nutrient status and body toxin levels (heavy metals) is an extremely wise thing to do. It provides objective information that your doctor can use to make specific, targeted recommendations based upon objective information.
What Is Tested?
Here are some of the areas of body function that are tested.
Antioxidants Vitamin A, carotenoids, Vitamin E, tocopherols, alpha-lipoic acid and CoQ10 are tested, giving an overall picture of your body’s antioxidant status. Antioxidants protect cells against free radicals and having high levels of antioxidants is essential for long term health. The current major theory of aging maintains that it is the cumulative damage of free radicals that causes us to age.
The following B-Vitamins are commonly tested: thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pyridoxine (B-6), biotin (B-7), folic acid (B-9) and cobalamin (B-12). The B-Vitamins are involved in many, many cellular processes that are responsible for energy production from food, detoxification, DNA repair and synthesis, fatty acid and cholesterol metabolism, synthesis of brain neurotransmitters, of hemoglobin and red blood cells, SAMe synthesis and more.
Deficiency of B-Vitamins can cause neuropathy, muscle weakness, dementia, anemia, diarrhea, depression, memory loss, irritability, impaired immunity, hair loss, scaly rashes on the face, fatigue, heart disease and birth defects.
Cellular levels of manganese, molybdenum, magnesium and zinc are tested. Manganese has antioxidant functions, and plays a role in energy production, digestion and cartilage/ bone formation. Molybdenum deficiency can cause impaired detoxification capacity, neurologic disorders and even brain damage (when severe). Magnesium can cause muscle weakness and spasm, constipation, depression, hypertension, arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances and even personality changes. Zinc plays a key role in immunity, protein metabolism, synthesis of hemoglobin, development and growth, reproduction, bone formation and muscle and nerve signal conduction.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are at the core of a biochemical system in the body that regulates inflammation. Most Americans are deficient in omega-3 fats that help to suppress inflammatory processes in the body, including pain. Essential fatty acid deficiencies are also associated with decreased growth and development in infants and children, dry skin/rash, poor wound healing, increase risk of infection, and increased risk of cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases.
Digestive function can be assessed by evaluating the health of and levels of favorable microbes in the gut. These microbes produce B-Vitamins and Vitamin K, enhance digestion and absorption of nutrients. Diseases associated with imbalances of microflora in the gut include irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, colic and cancer.
Another measure of intestinal health and digestive function is levels of pancreatic enzymes. The enzymes secreted by the pancreas are essential to food digestion.
Mitochondrial Function and Dysfunction
The healthy operation of the cell’s energy burning furnaces, the mitochondria, underlies cellular health. The mitochondria is where sugars, fats and sometimes protein is burned for fuel. The mitochondria generates an energy rich molecule called ATP that fuels all cell operations.
The effectiveness of mitochondrial function can be assessed by measuring biochemical intermediaries. So if the process of cellular burning of sugar requires six steps, there are six intermediate products from the beginning to the end of the process. Measuring the relative amounts of these intermediaries allows us to see how well your cellular furnaces are working at each step of the way.
Why is this important? Each step requires vitamins and minerals for the step to proceed. In addition, specific toxins can block the different enzymes involved. If one of the steps is identified as being slow or blocked, specific nutrients or detoxification protocols can be used to reestablish optimal energy production at a cellular level.
Metabolites (break down end products) of neurotransmitters can be evaluated in the blood and urine. Their levels infer the balance of these critical signal molecules in the brain.
Major heavy metal toxins can be measured in the blood. These levels reflect recent exposure to such toxins. The cumulative effect of long term exposure to toxins is better evaluated by taking urine samples after pulling the toxins out of the body tissues with specific detox protocols.
How Much Does It Cost?
Lab testing for nutrients and toxins is covered by many major health insurance companies. There is usually a copay, but it is a fraction of the total cost of the lab testing. Our preferred testing lab guarantee’s a maximum charge to the patient, regardless of the reimbursement from your insurance company (applicable to certain insurance carriers only).