Blood testing is a big part of my practice. Why? Because more often than not I need more than just physical signs and symptoms to establish the root cause of your problem. But blood tests aren’t only important when you have suboptimal health. Once yearly blood testing is something I encourage everyone to do as it is a great tool to help measure your overall health and detect any changes over time.
Which blood tests should I be getting?
To stay on top of your health, I recommend ensuring your GP includes these in your routine blood tests;
Full blood count: This test examines the number and types of cells and components that make up your blood, including your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A full blood count provides information about your overall health and can be used to; Diagnose infections or blood disorders, monitor your response to treatment, or investigate abnormal bleeding or clotting.
Lipid panel: Lipids are a group of fats and fat-like substances that are important for energy production and cell structure and function. The lipids measured include cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Cholesterol: There are two types of cholesterol tested; Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to other cells and when it is high, it has been shown to increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Therefore this cholesterol is also known as ‘bad cholesterol’. HDL, on the other hand, scavenges cholesterol from the bloodstream and takes it back to the liver for disposal. Therefore it is referred to as ‘good cholesterol’.
- Triglycerides are slightly different, but equally as important to keep an eye on. Triglycerides are the most common type of body fat. They are found in your blood and are also stored in fat cells for later energy use. They are essential to good health, but too many can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Ferritin: Ferritin is a protein in your blood that binds to and stores iron. Therefore the amount of ferritin in your blood indicates how much iron you have stored. Although you can test the amount of iron in your blood (serum iron), your body will pull from its ferritin storage to keep it relatively level. Therefore when measuring iron levels, ferritin is a much better indicator.
Vitamin B12: This vitamin is necessary for nerve function and the production of DNA and red blood cells. It cannot be made by the body and therefore must be provided through diet. It’s found in animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and milk products, but is not usually found in plant foods. Once consumed, B12 binds to intrinsic factor in the stomach for absorption. B12 can then be stored in your liver and pulled out when required. Symptoms of low B12 can include weakness, dizziness, fatigue, paleness, shortness of breath, irritability, mood disorders, and weight loss. Getting your B12 tested is especially important if you follow a low animal-product diet, such as a vegetarian or vegan one.
Folate: Folate is one of the B vitamins (B9) and is important for the growth of tissues and the function of cells. Specifically, it is important for red blood cell and DNA formation. High levels of folate are found in dark leafy green vegetables, edamame beans, asparagus, potatoes, broccoli, peas, sunflower seeds, liver, and yeast extract (vegemite/marmite). Folate is not able to be stored in the body, therefore regular consumption is required. Having optimal folate levels is especially vital just before and during pregnancy, as low levels can lead to neural tube defects. Note: Supplementing with folic acid (a synthetic version of folate) may not address your deficiency. Ask your practitioner for further advice.
Thyroid: This glands sits at the front and centre of your neck and is involved with a range of functions including metabolism, growth, and development. It controls these functions via its production of two important hormones; T3 & T4. These are made in response to an increase of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by a gland in the brain. If your T3 and T4 levels are low, TSH will increase to stimulate their production. When it comes to blood tests, TSH is often the first measure ordered for thyroid function. A high TSH may suggest your thyroid is not producing enough T3 and T4 and therefore could be underactive. However, it is also important to measure your T3 and T4 levels as sometimes TSH is the last change and indicate any problems. Thyroid antibodies can also be measured, which helps to indicate if your immune system is attacking your thyroid and playing a role in your presenting symptoms.
Liver enzymes: Enzymes are proteins that assist with reactions, and the enzymes within your liver are very important for the liver’s main function; detoxification. If liver enzyme levels are elevated it can indicate your liver cells are inflamed or injured. Possible causes of liver damage include alcohol, medication use (including statins, antidepressants, and some antibiotics), metabolic syndrome (which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and being overweight), and viral infections.
HbA1c: This measures your level of glycated hemoglobin, or more simply put, the amount of red blood cells attached to a sugar molecule. This measure provides an indication of blood sugar control over the past three months. Why three months? Every three or so months your red blood cells regenerate. A high HbA1c indicates you’ve had higher levels of blood glucose over the past three months, suggesting poor blood sugar control and an increased risk for health problems. High blood glucose levels can damage the small blood vessels, specifically in your eyes, feet, and kidneys, leading to serious problems. Knowing your HbA1c level and how to keep it low will help to reduce the risks of developing complications.