The First Step Towards Better Health: Bloodwork as Your State of the Union

by Jeff V. on January 11, 2013

As I mentioned last Friday, today begins a multi-part series on taking control of your health and fitness. For many, this is a new year’s resolution, and it’s a good one.

It’s also one that fails very frequently because people typically attack it by going to the gym with no real goals other than “weight loss” in mind. Two months in, they’re frustrated, likely starving and have low energy. They quit.

Like everything else, having a plan is paramount. And in order to have an effective plan, you have to know where you are before you begin. In other words, you need a baseline.

Taking Inventory

No matter how out of shape or unhealthy you think you are, do not skip this step. Why? First, you might get some ugly news back, but that’s good: you will know exactly what you need to improve, and you might have some idea of what’s contributing to mental fog, low energy or poor libido. Second, you’ll probably want a medical screen run before to start an exercise program if you’ve been sedentary for an extended period of time, so you’re killing two birds here.

Above all, you can’t adequately get to where you want to go unless you know where you are. To this end, your first step is getting some comprehensive bloodwork done.

I normally refer folks to Robb Wolf’s excellent list of basic tests to have run so you can understand your health’s state of the union, as it were. His full article is here, but below is what Wolf recommends for men and women, respectively.

Testing for Males:

  • Complete Blood Count (white blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelet count)
  • Complete Thyroid Panel (TSH, Free T3, Free T4, TPO)
  • Complete Lipid Panel: (Total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, HDL, VLDL)
  • Adrenal Panel: (Cortisol, DHEA, DHEAS)
  • Complete Metabolic Panel: (Electrolytes, Comprehensive Kidney and Liver Function, Fasting Glucose)
  • Complete Hormonal Panel: (Total Testosterone, Free Testosterone, Estradiol, GH stimulation tests, IGH–1, SHBG)
  • Renal Function Panel: (BUN, Creatinine)

Other Important Tests/Readings:

  • Specific C-Reactive Protein
  • Homocysteine
  • PSA (Prostate specific antigen)
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Red blood cell magnesium
  • Zinc

Testing for Females:

  • Complete Blood Count (white blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelet count)
  • Complete Thyroid Panel (TSH, Free T3, Free T4, TPO)
  • Complete Lipid Panel: (Total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, HDL, VLDL)
  • Adrenal Panel: (Cortisol, DHEA, DHEAS)
  • Complete Metabolic Panel: (Electrolytes, Comprehensive Kidney and Liver Function, Fasting Glucose)
  • Complete Hormonal Panel: (Estradiol, Progesterone, Total Testosterone, Free Testosterone, GH stimulation tests, IGF–1, SHBG, FSH, LH)
  • Renal Function Panel: (BUN, Creatinine)
  • Immune Panel: (CBC, T and B lymphocytes)

Other Important Tests/Readings:

  • Specific C-Reactive Protein
  • Homocysteine
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Red blood cell magnesium
  • Iron
  • Ferritin
  • Melatonin
  • Zinc

Ask your doctor about the costs associated with these tests. Many of these will fall under standard bloodwork, but some may not depending on your insurance arrangement.

Also, understand that any blood panel returns a snapshot: a picture of results at a given point in time. For things like hormone panels, taking two a few months apart allows you to compare progress. Bloodwork should be an ongoing, periodic exercise so you can keep tabs on your progress.

At 43 and in reasonably good shape, I had these tests run on myself (along with a complete nutriton panel, which we’ll get into another time), and I learned some interesting things. My Vitamin D was low (it was winter here in Michigan), my zinc levels were non-existent, and I was deficient in magnesium. My total testosterone came back low (a result of not enough sleep or calories for the workouts I was doing). Upon seeing these results, I immediately began corrective action – action I wouldn’t have taken without knowing these results.

In particular, ask your doctor to pay specific attention to any biomarkers related to inflammation: complete metabolic panel with lipids, complete blood count (CBC), C-Reactive Protein, Rheumatoid Factor (RF), etc. Inflammation is the root cause of an absolute smorgasbord of disease, so it’s important to know if you are suffering from systemic inflammation.

Whatever you do, don’t skip this step. Remember, you can’t get to your goal unless you have a starting point.

Next week, we’ll begin talking about where you’ll realize or miss 90% of your health and fitness goals: your diet.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me. See you next Friday.

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