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Functional medicine is a form of medicine that views the body as one whole, integrated system.
Unlike conventional Western medicine, which divides the body up into multiple systems, functional medicine looks at how these systems relate to one another.
While functional medicine excels at treating chronic disorders, it is also used in preventative care.
Leona West, a certified nutritionist, herbalist, fitness trainer, and birth doula working at Santa Monica Wellness Group specializes in reading blood work from a functional standpoint. She explains that functional lab ranges generally run wider or tighter than conventional labs. This is because functional medicine looks at the entire spectrum of a disorder, making it easier to prevent and treat disease.
Conventional medicine, on the other hand, uses lab data for diagnosis alone. While diagnosis is valuable, all the deficiencies and steps leading up to a disorder are often overlooked.
Here are some key things to look for on your next lab panel:
Leona explains that for women, the most common thing that you will see out of range is iron.
Severely low iron is what is known as anemia. Even borderline low levels of iron can contribute to many of the symptoms related to anemia.
Low energy is one of the most common signs that iron levels are not where they should be. Another common sign is frequent bouts of the flu.
If you are interested in strengthening your iron levels, skip the traditional iron supplements in the supermarket. Otherwise known as ferrous sulfate, these supplements are notorious for causing constipation.
Leona especially cautions against men taking an iron supplement. Unlike women in their childbearing years who bleed every month, men have no outlet if their iron levels rise too high.
Foods that enhance iron levels in the body include:
Leona explains that, “We usually hear it a lot in terms of bone health, but vitamin D is very critical for the immune system.”
People who have low levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to infection. When vitamin D levels drop below 50, you are more likely to fall ill. Besides evading the common cold and flu, vitamin D dramatically impacts the body’s ability to fend off cancer, in particular breast cancer.
Vitamin D is regulated by the sun. During fall and winter, when we get less sun exposure, vitamin D levels naturally drop.
If that’s not reason enough to get your vitamin D levels checked this fall, according to Leona, seven out of 10 of her patients do not have optimal levels of vitamin D.
While vitamin D deficiency is common, Leona recommends that you first run a panel and check vitamin D levels before taking a supplement that offers anything higher than 2,000 iu (international units).
If you want to bring vitamin D levels up, try to:
White blood cell count is something else that your physician may look at. White blood cells, or leukocytes, defend the body against infection, disease-causing bugs, and foreign material.
The optimal and functional range is wider than the conventional model, somewhere between 5 or 8.
If your WBC falls under 5, this can indicate that your immune system is weak. This could be due to stress, underlying infections, or low levels of flora.
In this case, Leona recommends:
An easy way to check immune function is to look at TSH levels. This is especially true if you have a history of an underactive thyroid or a family history of hypothyroidism.
Because hypothyroidism affects the immune system and regulated metabolic function, it is a good idea to check the thyroid if you find that you are especially susceptible to infection.
In order to determine the health of your thyroid, a physician will look at TSH levels in the blood. The functional range for TSH, which is 1.8-3, is much higher than the conventional laboratory range.
If your thyroid is underactive, you may want to consider:
Functional medicine differs from conventional Western medicine in that it views the body as a complete system. Functional medicine can be used in preventative care to treat the entire spectrum of a disorder, making it easier to prevent disease.
Here are several helpful guidelines you can use today to read functional blood work on your next lab panel:
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