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Bloodwork: The Basics that you NEED to know.

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Where to begin?

Taking charge of your medical care and requesting specific blood work can be intimidating. The intent of this article is to make you more familiar and more comfortable with some common tests that are available. If you follow The Endorphin Plan, you know we are huge advocates of quarterly or semiannual blood tests. Why? Without data, you are just guessing. Remember, like all benchmarks, the data you glean from these tests is just a snapshot of that exact moment in time. Don’t freak out! Understand there will be may be fluctuations – some which can be completely healthy and natural, and others which can also be extremely unhealthy – so YOU need to grow to learn and know thyself. What is YOUR normal? How does that compare to the general population? If you are a healthy, competitive athlete, you better believe that your hormone profile should reflect that fitness level when compared to the Average Joe. If your mile time, max squat, or max deadlift was the same as the everyday Joe or Jane you probably would be quite disappointed. So for instance, if you are performing a significant amount of training, having a hematocrit count near the top end of the “healthy range” should be the standard (barring other circumstances). The way you look at health markers should be no different than how you treat a PR on a WOD, lift, or run.

On to the tests and what they mean…

CBC Panel. Complete Blood Count.

Who should order the test. Everyone. Your doctor was going to order this anyway (if he wasn’t, be concerned).

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? The health of your blood. Are you anemic? Do you not clot? Do you have pure immune function? Etc. etc.

More info.

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel,

Who should order the test. Everyone especially those that eat poor diets and/or think they are at risk for diabetes.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? Sugar, electrolyte (mineral), protein levels, liver & kidney function. If your fasting glucose levels are above or near 100 (this increases up to 125 on some reference ranges) you are typically considered “pre-diabetic” or diabetic, Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) is the specific test that is usually used to confirm diagnosis of diabetes. HbA1C is a test that confirms a trend over a broader time horizon – about 8-12 weeks whereas fasting glucose is simply a measure of your blood sugar at that specific moment.

More info.

More info on blood sugar levels and what constitutes  healthy.

Comprehensive Male/Female Hormone Panel.

Who should order the test? Everyone. Hormones dictate our lives.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? Your hormone levels. There’s a ton going on with this one! Hormones are responsible for so many things in your body. We don’t realize that by performing exercise of eating a certain way, we are actually taking advantage of a positive way of manipulating our hormones. We are quite literally upregulating or downregulating genes. There is an entire area of study dedicated to understanding these effects called “epigenetics”. This panel includes major hormone levels like Total Testosterone (most often looked at but most meaningless! It is not about how much T you have, it’s how much you can use!), Free Testosterone (most important, how much testosterone is free in your blood to bind to receptor sites & can actually be used), DHEA (hormone precursor derived from cholesterol, low DHEA levels can cause a cascade effect of low androgen levels), Estrogen (more specific and more important but often not ordered is a specific type of estrogen known as “estradiol”), thyroid function (metabolism), and cortisol levels (stress hormone). More info.


Lipid Panel/Profile.

Who should ask for the test. Everyone. Your doctor was going to order this either way, this is their favorite go to, to prescribe you statins and other cholesterol drugs. Remember folks, dietary cholesterol was very weakly linked, for years, to cholesterol in your blood.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? Fat and cholesterol in the blood. This is one of the most often ordered tests and most often misunderstood tests. For years doctors scared patients into vegetarian based diets because eating “animal proteins/fats led to increased blood cholesterol levels”. Well, research says you were misled. Dietary cholesterol does not effect blood cholesterol levels IN MOST INDIVIDUALS (hyper responders may be effected). Link to some commentary on the research.

Vitamin D Test.

Who should ask for the test. Everyone that lives in modern society.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? Do you work in an office or wear dress clothes or a uniform that prevent your skin from seeing skinlight for multiple hours a day? Vitamin D is the miracle vitamin, some doctors argue that this is more of a hormone than a simple vitamin. Linked with hormone health, mood, life expectancy, and many other things. There is an entire group dedicated to the research of Vitamin D. Optimal levels are 50-70ng/ml. More bare skin exposure to sunlight or Vitamin D3 supplementation are almost always the cure for low vitamin D levels.

More info.

Cortisol Test (typically blood or saliva).

Who should order the test?  Are you lethargic, constantly stressed, and have trouble sleeping? This test is a good area to look.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? Stress and adrenal fatigue. Look them up! Usually collected through self swabbing saliva multiple times a day to monitor the fluctuation in cortisol levels throughout the day. These levels should be high in the morning (to wake you up and get you going, so a bear doesn’t chomp on your sleeping body) and low at night (to make you sleepy). Often times these levels are reversed for people with mood or sleep disorders. More info.

Thyroid Panel.  (TSH, T3, Free T3, T4, and Reverse T. Specific tests that may or may not be included in the hormone panel.)

Who should order the test? Everyone. This is a major metabolic function.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? If you think you have a “slow metabolism” this and the rest of a hormone panel is the place to look. These tests are indications of thyroid function. Reverse T3 and Free T3 are two of the most important thyroid tests that are often not ordered.

More info.

C-reactive Protein (CRP).

Who should order the test? People that have chronic conditions that may lead to inflammation throughout the body.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? This is an indication of inflammation found in your body. Are you reacting negatively to certain foods, are you allergic to cats or the dust in the air, do you only get 4 hours of sleep a night, etc. etc. These can all effect inflammation in the body.

More info:

Gene Tests. (Well known companies that provide these tests: WellnessFx, 23andme, Fitness Genes, Genomic Express)

Who should order the test? Fitness geeks. “Biohackers”. Those curious about how your particular body reacts to different stimulus.

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? The possibilities are really endless. These tests can be used to hone in and alter your training to make sure you are using the most effective stimulus for YOUR body.

Food Allergy Tests (IGG, IGA, MRT).

What does the test tell you in a nut shell? The foods that your body responds well or negatively to based on antigen response. MRT tests your blood response to over 300 common foods. This is a lot quicker and more scientific than using an elimination diet to determine your personal food intolerances. Food allergy tests can be both blood tests or skin tests.

More info. IGA IGG. MRT.

Stool Sample.

Why should you take the test. If you have gut issues, don’t be afraid to ask for a stool test. We all have bacteria and parasites to some level. If you are addicted to sugar you may find a simple explanation such as a very unhealthy balance of candida. If you have IBS, you may find your bacteria levels are not in line with where they should be. Pre and Probiotics can help resolve some of these issues.

More info.

Neurotransmitter Tests.

Who should ask for the tests? These tests may be expensive and unnecessary for you but if you have mood disorders, don’t feel well, or have big swings in mood/emotion then don’t be afraid to ask for a test of your neurotransmitters.

More info.

Remember now, we are not licensed physicians and we are not providing medical advice. We are providing you with the information that hopefully is the catalyst to greater personal development and learning that allows you to take your health and your life in general to the next level.

Remember, always Train with the Purpose to Reach Optimal!

Additional reading on common blood tests and common occurrences that may be overlooked during your next quarterly blood work.

Here is LifeExtensions (a very well respected supplement brands) info on their Top 10 Blood Tests.

Here is a piece on what your doctor may not be telling you about blood tests by Everyday Health.