Understanding Your Blood Work and Why It's Important

Posted by Sabrina Sarabella on Saturday, March 14, 2015

Knowing what is going on inside your body is important for your overall health. Analyzing your blood work is the best way to figure out what is going on with our internal chemistry.

When our doctors test our blood as a patient we often times don’t have the knowledge to understand what our blood work is telling us.

Usually when we go to the doctor for our annual physical they draw blood from us. The doctor calls us within a few days if something is out of normal lab range and is a red flag for our health. Most of us don’t really know what those numbers mean and doctors may not alert us if our numbers are within normal range, but outside the functional limits.

A doctor’s job is to help cure us when we are sick rather than helping us feel our absolute best every day unfortunately. Often times they don’t always have the time to spend with us that we may need to optimize our health. We must take control of our own health by understanding how to analyze our blood work to identify hidden messages that tell us what is happening with our body.

There are some key things to look at in our blood work when we are feeling low energy and/or having struggles with weight loss, that may give us the answers. 

When looking at your blood work there is a difference between out of lab range and out of functional range. The lab range is used to diagnose disease; the functional range is used to assess risk for disease before the disease develops. When blood work is analyzed by a lab or doctor they are most concerned with blood work that is out of lab range and can be in the disease state.

Preventative health care practitioners, like myself, look at blood work that is out of lab range, but also out of functional range. When these numbers are out of functional range, it tells us that we should take preventative measures so they don’t become out of lab range and cause a disease state in our body. We can use different techniques including nutrition and lifestyle modifications that can help us have optimal health and keep our numbers within functional range.

Here are some key areas to be concerned about in our blood work when trying to identify factors that are affecting our health, such as energy and fat loss.

CORTISOL: A hormone produced in the adrenal glands that is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucose. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system, aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

Cortisol is measured through blood and saliva tests:
-Blood tests (usually done after 12 hours of fasting and first thing in the morning) measures the level of cortisol in the blood.
-Saliva tests measures your cortisol output rhythm throughout the day.

THYROID: A gland found in the neck that controls how the body uses energy, makes proteins, and controls many other hormones in the body. Hormonal output from the thyroid is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Blood tests check how well the thyroid gland is working. A full panel includes -TSH, total T4, Free T4, T3 uptake, total T3, Thyroid antibody. However, doctors often only test a subset of these, which can miss many thyroid issues.

IRON: A mineral that carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our body and helps our muscles store and use oxygen.

Iron is another mineral to look at if you are feeling tired and run down. If you are iron deficient it is important to figure out why. If you take an iron supplement and your iron levels go up, then you were probably iron deficient. However, if you are taking an iron supplement and your levels do not improve you could have some sort of absorption issues going on in your body.

Food sources for iron: meat, fish, poultry and plant foods (nuts, fruits/ veg, grains, tofu) and dairy (milk, eggs).

VITAMIN D: A fat-soluble vitamin that is responsible for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, phosphate and zinc.

Vitamin D plays an important role in the metabolism of calcium. Decreased blood levels can interfere with bone development and strength, while elevated levels can be toxic. Consequently, the serum level needs to be determined and monitored to effectively provide dietary supplementation or treatment. More recently, low vitamin D has been associated with non- skeletal disorders such as: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, celiac disease, IBS, weight gain and lethargy.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means it gets absorbed in the fat of your body, not like Vitamin C and other that are water soluble and get excreted through urine. We get Vitamin D from the sun, it hits our skin and then it activates a hormonal cascade to make Vitamin D.

Lab levels identify Vitamin D deficiency happens below 30-35 (depending on what lab you use). Functional levels actually say you should be between 50-80 and even up to 100.

When supplementing with Vitamin D, you may want to increase your dosage in the winter months. If you are deficient in D you may need to take higher doses at first to get your Vitamin D levels back up to normal ranges and then taper back down.

When the sun is out, go outside for at least 15 mins without sunscreen to get the benefits of Vitamin D.

Food Sources of Vitamin D: Liver, beef, veal, egg yolk, dairy, and saltwater fish (herring, salmon, tuna, sardines)

Now that you know what to look for from your blood test results, you will be able to better analyze those results. Armed with this knowledge, you can now feel confident when your doctor reviews your blood tests with you. I also recommend asking for a copy of your results for your own records.

If you find out that you are deficient in one of these key areas, it could be what has been whats been holding you back from your weight loss goals or optimizing your health. When you are able to identify these deficiencies you can use quality supplements to help repair the body and get the nutrients it needs to be in optimal health.

Here are a list of blood tests and what they mean: 

CBC- Complete Blood Count
• A blood test used to give important information about the kinds and numbers
of cells in the blood, especially red blood cells, white blood cells and

Chem Panel
• A blood test that provides an overall picture of your body’s chemical balance and metabolism. It can give you a picture of the way your body is processing and burning fat (triglycerides) and sugar (fasting glucose).

Iron panel
• Blood tests that are used to evaluate body iron stores or the iron level in blood serum. 

Thyroid panel 

  • Tests that check how well the thyroid gland is working.  A full panel includes TSH, total T4, Free T4, T3 uptake, total T3, Thyroid antibody.  

Vitamin D- 25 hydroxy
• Test how much vitamin D is in your body 

  • B12 
  • Folic Acid 
  • Cortisol- blood and saliva testing 
  • blood (usually done fasting first thing in the morning) measures the level of the hormone cortisol in the blood.
  • saliva measures your cortisol output rhythm throughout the day 
  • Tests adrenal health 
  • DHEA- natural steroid and precursor hormone produced by the adrenals 
  • Glucose-(Fasting) - markers for diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Lipid Panel- Lipid Panel with Total Cholesterol: HDL Ratio. This group of tests
    measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Cholesterol and triglycerides are lipids, or fats. 
  • Hemoglobin A1C- The A1C test is a good way to look at your blood sugar levels in addition to fasting glucose.  The higher your A1C level is the greater the risk of diabetes and poor heart health. 

To set up an appointment to discuss your blood tests please email me at info@SabrinaSarabella.com