Vitamin D. Most doctors don’t test for this very important hormone (not actually a vitamin) even though we know it plays a really important role in immune health and bone health, to name just two.

But let’s name a third. There are studies that show that vitamin D levels could play a role in the prevention of breast cancer, and women with higher vitamin D3 levels at diagnosis of breast cancer tend to do better, with improved outcomes.

More and more I’m working with otherwise healthy patients with no symptoms to optimise health and healthspan (the number of years a person lives free of disease).

So yes, when it comes to blood panels, vitamin D is one that I test for, notwithstanding the fact that you will have heard that Covid outcomes are usually worse in people with lower levels of vitamin D. (This is true for most viral infections).

Ever wondered what blood panels are most insightful for a Functional Medicine doctor working with you to optimise your health? Apart from vitamin D, here are the blood panels that I am usually most interested in:

Eight Blood Panels for Optimising Health

  1. Complete cholesterol panel, including LDL particle size. Knowing your total cholesterol count is useless unless interpreted in relation to your “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Not all bad cholesterol is bad – this is why I recommend checking the particle size of the “bad” cholesterol. There is concern if, within the total LDL count, there is a high number of small, dense, and hard (imagine a golf ball) LDL particles, which requires more urgent attention, versus when the LDL’s are larger, fluffier particles which are not associated with plaque and disease.
  2. Inflammatory markers: HS-CRP and ESR. HS-CRP (C-Reactive Protein) is a specific inflammatory marker that is associated with cardiovascular inflammation. This marker, when interpreted with you sugar panel, cholesterol and homocysteine, is invaluable. If there is strong family history of heart disease, I would add a Carotid doppler as part of my risk assessment. Again, prevention is king here. When you know, you are more likely to make the hard dietary and lifestyle changes.
  3. Sugars. This should be a full comprehensive panel to avoid missing out on an opportunity for early detection of insulin resistance. More and more research is pointing toward higher states of insulin being a strong marker for inflammation in the body – which leads to accelerated aging in the body – a term coined “inflammaging”. The HBA1c, Fasting Glucose, and Fasting Insulin could be game changers for your health and Healthspan. I never strive for normal results, I strive for optimal results. If you don’t do all three, you will miss early detection and the chance for early intervention.
  4. Homocysteine. This is a really useful marker which has two prongs: (1) Cardiovascular health marker; and (2) Marker for a chemical process that happens in every cell of the body called the methylation cycle. It helps me understand, on a cellular level, how this process is functioning and if it requires support. Just to say that the methylation cycle has more than 200 functions that we know of, among them: Detox, immune regulation, DNA repair and regeneration and neurotransmitter production and breakdown. So if it’s not working properly we want to know about it!
  5. PSA for men. Prostate specific antigen to assess prostate health, key here is that the trend of the results can be very useful in early detection of problems within the prostate. Note: PSA is not done on its own to screen for Prostate cancer. Just a note that I will also selectively test for testosterone.
  6. Full Blood Count. Haemoglobin, shape and colour of your red blood cells to assist in early detection of iron deficiency anaemias, or folate and B12 deficiencies. It also includes a panel of your white blood cells so that we can detect underlying infections and/or allergy states.
  7. Liver function test. Here we’re testing for pathologies in the liver, including non-alcoholic fatty liver, which is one of the most common pathologies and, more importantly, is reversible.
  8. Thyroid hormone testing. This includes antibodies which can be raised ten years before abnormalities may be present in the thyroid hormone levels. Problems here can be a common cause of non-specific symptoms, mostly fatigue, constipation, and hair loss.

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A question I often get is: “How often should I check my bloods?”

This is completely dependent on the purpose of the testing. In someone with an abnormal cholesterol panel, once they have started making changes, I would repeat testing within six to eight weeks, not to find a normal result necessarily (not yet), but to ensure the changes are having a significant enough impact, and that we can continue safely on a particular programme.

On the other hand, if I am working with someone optimising their health – I would test every six months to a year. That’s what I do on myself. It allows me to see the impact of the health changes that I’m always making and adjust (diet, lifestyle, supplementation) from there.

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