Although lab work is not always a definitive indication of your health, it is an important guideline, and knowing what it means can benefit you greatly.  

We standardly expect our doctor to review lab work for us, interpret what he or she sees and to make recommendations; we rely on their judgment. But labs are a snapshot of our personal health, so shouldn’t we understand what is going on inside us?

Most doctors respect when their patients have interest and input on their own labs, and you are the best resource for what your numbers are year after year. Ask for a copy, take them home, look them over and check the markers. Are they in range or almost out of range? Are there significant changes from previous results or any small notations of interest? Take notes and ask questions.

Your lab work, however, is not the last word on your health. If you still aren’t feeling well, and the doctor says you are fine, it’s time to find out why. The informed, curious, persistent patient who asks questions and scrutinizes their health history comes out ahead.

For instance, the serum calcium range is 8.5-10.3, and that is fine if you are under 40. Anyone over 40 years with even a 10.0 level is suspicious for parathyroid disease, a condition of high calcium that creates tumors in the parathyroid glands. Because it represents only one percent of the population, it is often overlooked. (1) According to James Norman, MD, one of the world’s foremost experts on parathyroid disease, one in 500 women walk out of a doctor’s office each month undiagnosed. He adds that it typically takes 2-5 years for these patients to finally get a proper diagnosis. Symptoms of this terrible disease include osteoporosis, joint pain and stroke.1

You might notice on your labs that the range for vitamin D is 30-100 ng/mL, while your doctor may consider 20-50 to be acceptable. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s leading functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, MD, any vitamin D level that isn’t in the optimal range of 40-70 is at risk for numerous health issues including cancer, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.2 Check your lab work and question your doctor if yours is outside this range.

Liver enzymes (ALT and AST) are markers that may appear normal, even if liver disease exists. Fast food, simple carbs, sugar and sodas have given rise to fatty liver which now precedes alcohol as the leading cause of cirrhosis.3 So, if you have discomfort in this area accompanied by fatigue and loss of appetite, but your liver enzymes are normal, request additional tests. And know that if given a chance, the liver can heal with the proper nutrition.  

These are just three examples that demonstrate the importance of knowing your numbers. Ask your doctor to explain anything you don’t understand, and if he doesn’t have time, find one that does. Know that functional medicine practitioners take more time to help you understand test results and how lifestyle plays an important role in those results. You and your doctor are a team, so get to the bottom of your concerns no matter how many rocks you have to look under, as it can save your life in the long run.

Betty McDonald is a licensed acupuncturist and functional medicine practitioner. She is owner of The Wellness Place and can be reached at (760) 766.6223. For more information visit

References: 1); 2); 3)

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