This article applies to almost anyone who’s ever had blood-work ordered by a doctor. I will always ask on an initial visit at my Austin office, if you’ve recently had bloodwork and 99% of the response I get is:
“Oh I’ve already had a blood test done and my doctor looked at it and told me everything was normal.”
When the Doctors Says Your Normal, But You Don’t Feel Normal
What’s crazy is that even though these patients don’t feel well, their blood tests come out “normal”. Clinical experience of course tells me that these people are by no means “normal” and are a far cry from being functionally optimal. My goal for every patient is not to simply be “normal”, but 100% functional. This is why I love Chiropractic so much. It’s not about symptoms or how you feel; but how your body is functioning. Taking this a step further, it’s sad to know that so many people may not yet have progressed to a known disease state, but they are what we call dys-functional, i.e. their physiology is no longer functioning properly, and they are starting to feel un-well and approaching disease; yet their doctor is telling them “Your Normal.”
When your doctor looks at your labs and says “Your Normal”, that does not mean “Optimal.” Click to tweet
How sad is that? It’s the typical let’s wait till you have full blown disease before we treat you situation.
Let’s take a look at some of the typical functional problems patients present to my clinic with because it is common for practitioners like myself with signs and symptoms such as:
- Fatigue and low energy,
- Digestive disorders such as bloating, heartburn, constipation and gas,
- Reduced immunity
- Pain and inflammation – muscle aches, stiffness, etc.
- Thyroid abnormalities – anything from full blown autoimmune thyroiditis (the most common autoimmune condition on the planet) to the myriad of signs and symptoms associated with a sluggish thyroid
- Sex Hormone issues ranging from erectile dysfunction, low libido, menstrual irregularities to struggles with going through menopause
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety or depression
- Weight fluctuations
- Hypertension and the range of issues associated with the cardiovascular system
- Cognitive impairment.
These are some of the typical signs and symptoms of a functional disturbance in the body.
However, many patients with these symptoms present with no clinical findings, because their blood tests all appear within “normal” range.
The image above pretty much says it all when someone is obviously not feeling well yet they’re told everything is fine. Unfortunately this is the experience of millions of people, every day. This 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 dis-ease and dysfunction.
It’s also important to remember that even when modern medicine gets it right, they literally have nothing to help the millions of people suffering from these signs and symptoms because their primary treatment is either Drugs or Surgery. For example… have you ever seen someone who is happy, rejuvenated, full of energy and completely at peace with themselves who was also carrying around a bag of medications? If you were to take an olympic athlete and pump them full of drugs, would they get healthier? Of course not. It’s biologically impossible to to throw drugs at someone and expect them to get “healthier”. Drugs can change symptoms; but they certainly don’t heal the body.
A traditional lab test report lacks meaning
Anyone who’s ever looked at a laboratory or blood chemistry report can understand that its designed to be deliberately obscure. It is a long list of names, mostly of things you’ve never heard of, followed by a long list of numbers, an occasional H or L, the reference range and then obscure units.
Nothing about this provides meaning to you, the patient; other than “H” for High and “L” for Low.
Thousands and thousands of these reports are handed to people every day. Tons and tons of patient data are amassed and codified in these reports. Though these data can guide and direct our personal health journey, most of the meaning suggested by the data is unfortunately lost.
The issue is certainly not the lack of data (the average laboratory test has 67 biomarkers on it), but rather the absence of a method powerful enough to tease-out the meaning entrapped within the numbers.
Receiving a lab test result like this with perhaps a few hand written notes on it does not extract the full value, the real meaning contained within the data.
No wonder the most common response a patient hears from the physician who is going through the lab with them is “Everything looks normal”!
Normal is a Problem
This data is tricky. Its meaning is derived by comparing it to “normal values.“ So the first question we should ask ourselves is how are “Normal Values” derived:
The majority of conventional, standard, or “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 are above the “normal” range and 2.5% are below the “normal” range.
The “normal” range is based on statistics and not on whether a certain value represents good health or function.
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.
Because they are based on statistics, the “normal” reference values tend to change from year to year depending upon the prevalence of disease in the general population. As our population becomes more dysfunctional and obese and suffers from more cardiovascular disease, the “normal” reference range gets wider and wider. Yep… it’s kind of silly. This leaves a larger number of the population testing in a range that is considered “normal.”
Normal ranges also vary from state to state. What might be normal in Virginia may be abnormal in California.
The problem is that “normal” reference ranges usually represent “average” populations, rather than the optimal level required to maintain good health.
Once again, “Normal” does not mean optimal.
What you need to know is that most “normal” reference ranges are too broad to accurately detect health problems before they become pathology and are not useful for detecting dysfunction. So, when your doctor finally tells you that your labs are abnormal, it’s too late and you’re already diseased. But If pathology is not present, you’re considered “healthy.” 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.
A 100% Functional “Optimal” Range
The functional approach to blood chemistry centers around changes in physiology and not pathology.
A Functional medicine doctor will use ranges that are based on optimal physiology and not the “normal” population.
This results in a tighter “Functional Physiological Range”, which allows us to evaluate the gray area in the above image that’s within the “Normal” range that to me tells me that something is not quite right in the physiological systems associated with this biomarker.
So we increase our ability to detect patients with changes in physiological “function”. More important is the fact that we can begin intervention whether its nutritional support, organ system support or recommendations for further testing.
This process allows me to identify the factors that obstruct you from achieving optimal physiological, biochemical, and metabolic functioning in their body.
- Don’t settle for “Normal” ranges of blood chemistry
- “Normal” is almost never “Optimal”
- Blood-work or Lab analysis should reveal functional highs and lows rather than just High or Low.
- Blood-work or Lab analysis should almost always result in nutritional recommendations, organ system disease risk and further testing
Why would you want a Functional Medicine consult? Because we don’t settle for normal.