Blood Work Matters

blood vial and blood panels

Out of sight, out of mind

What you don’t know won’t hurt you. 

I’ve heard these two phrases far too often lately. From friends, colleagues, and clients when they’re talking about their health—specifically when they’re talking about getting their blood work done. If you say these things to yourself, it’s time to stop. The stakes are too high. I understand why you say them, believe me. Your results might reveal scary things and you may not be emotionally ready for what you learn. You may be filled with anxiety and fear. I’ve been there; I empathize. You have to be strong, though, because your blood work can tell you the raw truth of what’s happening in your body.

You can’t escape it.

Your blood work results are far more important than the number on a scale and tell you infinitely more than a simple BMI calculation. I strongly encourage you to get to the doctor and get a comprehensive blood work-up done. It’s an empowering act you can use to build momentum towards optimal health and wellbeing. You may have to reframe your thinking; you may have to face your fears. You may go in with butterflies in your stomach, but I promise, you can make them fly in formation.

Why You Should Get Your Blood Tested

Blood work is an integral part of understanding the state of your health today and forming a realistic idea of what your potential is for tomorrow and the rest of your life. It’s a snap shot of what’s going on under the hood. Your circulatory system carries blood to every cell in your body. It provides all your cells with everything they need: oxygen for respiration, vitamins and minerals for metabolism, immune products for healing, and proteins to do work. It transports the energy molecules you need to move. It delivers the hormones you need to wake up, go to sleep, control stress, and reproduce.

The phrase “your life’s blood” doesn’t come out of thin air.

Blood tests can tell you what’s going well, too. They can confirm you’re on the right track, or identify health risks you can’t feel or see. Having the facts laid out for you can also be a wake-up call. For example, there’s something about seeing a report in black and white indicating your inflammation markers are through the roof that all of a sudden makes it easier to prioritize getting seven or eight hours of quality sleep per night. You’re more likely to show up to the gym consistently if your blood work says you’re pre-diabetic and your doctor lays out the facts about the relationship between movement and blood sugar regulation. And guess what? No one has to see your results but you and your doctor. If you like, you can share your information with a fitness professional who can come up with a plan—within the parameters set by your primary health care provider—to create a healthy and sustainable way of life. I recommend keeping your loved ones in the loop, too, but ultimately the decision is yours.

What You Should Test

Comprehensive metabolic panels and/or complete blood counts are a good place to start.  These types of tests provide the fundamental information you and your doctor need to assess your current state of health. I’d also encourage the following:

  • Total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, lipid particle numbers and sizes, triglycerides, Lp(a), and ApoB.
  • Basic inflammation and metabolic biomarkers such as C-reactive protein, cortisol, IGF-1 and insulin.
  • Thyroid and blood sugar tests including TSH, glucose, and HbA1c.
  • Nutrients including 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D, calcium, electrolytes, iron, ferritin and bicarbonate.

Depending on your age, gender, and health goals, these additional tests might be in order:

  • Folate
  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol
  • Magnesium
  • TIBC
  • Vitamin B12
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Free T4
  • Fibrinogen
  • Homocysteine

Don’t Panic

That list seems long, and I hate to break it to you, but it’s not complete. I don’t want to overwhelm you, though, so I’ll stop there. I know this all seems like a lot, but really, the truth is there’s a whole lot going on inside your body every minute of every day.

Let’s say you get your blood work done this week. It will take a few days to get the tests back. It’s crucial to get the results interpreted by a trusted health care professional that knows you and your story – everything from your family history to current life stressors. Make sure you have someone you already have a relationship with. Once you go over the results together, the next steps are up to you. You’re the one who has to make the final decisions about how can you change your life, improve your health, and continue to thrive. You’re the one who has to be willing to implement any new behavior and stick to any plan. You’re the one who knows the big picture. You know what your biggest challenges will be. You know your strengths and your weaknesses. You have to take some time to sort all that out and make the changes that will work for you.

Lifestyle Changes that are Good for Anyone, Anytime

There are some simple steps you can take that will definitely improve your results—and I can say this with confidence without even seeing them or knowing you. Good nutrition comes first: eat plenty of plant foods (especially non-starchy vegetables), cook with healthy fats, consume less processed sugar, and drink at least 8 cups of water every day. These eating habits can improve your triglyceride levels, your inflammatory markers, and the results of other metabolic tests. Moving every day, intentional breath work, and high quality sleep will help your hormone balance and likely improve both your inflammatory markers and blood sugar regulation.

One last thing: one test is not enough. You need to stay on top of your levels and monitor your progress. After you establish a baseline, get another full work-up done after three months. If that doesn’t feel like long enough, wait six months. Once you establish your baseline and confirm you’re trending in the right direction, you need to get comprehensive blood work done every year around the same time. 

Don’t wait. Get it done.  And remember:

Nothing changes if nothing changes!