What’s inside your cells?
Labs are a normal part of work up when it comes to our health, but what is blood work actually showing us? Blood testing shows us a snap shot of what’s going on in our blood at the particular time the blood was drawn. It’s very helpful to get an idea of what sorts of stresses our body is going through. For example it can tell us our cholesterol levels, how many red blood cells we have circulating and if our liver enzymes are elevated. These levels although very important, tell just a part of the story. Blood markers like liver enzymes are constantly fluctuating and can change drastically in a short time.
For an example a family member recently had some severe stomach pain, fever, fatigue, dehydration, and overall malaise, which was contributed to a stomach flu. She was emitted to the ER where they ran some tests and blood work; all of which came back totally normal minus some dehydration. They gave her fluids and anti nausea mediation and sent her home. 3 hours later she was back in the ER with extremely elevated pancreatic enzymes due to acute pancreatitis. If she had waited much longer she may not be here to tell the tale.
This dramatic but true story I share simply to show how quickly and drastically our blood chemistry can change. Although this form of blood work is absolutely needed to work up patients going through acute and chronic issues there are other ways to look at what’s going on inside our bodies.
Spectracell Labs has one of these tests that I highly recommend for all my patients. It is called a micronutrient panel and looks at nutritional status inside the cells. The novelty of this test is that by looking inside the cells instead of just in the blood we get a picture of what has been going on for the past 3-6 months! The cells used for this test are a type of white blood cell called the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are responsible for fighting bacteria and viruses, scanning the body for tumor cells and more. They have a life span of a few weeks to about 6 months before they die and new ones are formed. Their lifespan being quite long for a cell is the reason they are chosen for this test.
Another benefit to looking at nutritional status inside a cell verses in the serum is that all of our enzymatic reactions that occur happen inside of the cell, not in the blood. It’s one thing if you have high serum (blood) levels of B12 but if this nutrient isn’t getting inside the cell then you are not able to utilize it. This could explain why many people who have methylation defects (and trouble with detoxing) have high serum B12 levels. The B12 is concentrated in the blood but is not able to get inside their cells and be utilized for energy and detoxification pathways.
The micronutrient panel tests for a large array of nutrients. It looks at antioxidant levels like vitamin C, A, and E, all the B vitamins and vitamin D; amino acids; minerals, including nutrients associated with bone health; COQ10 and other nutrients involved in cellular energy; precursors to hormones; blood sugar markers and overall immune status. By looking at these individual nutrient levels in the cell it allows us to provide individualized treatment protocols for what your body truly needs. Often just addressing deficiencies can correct things like hypo or hyperthyroid, blood sugar irregularities, hormones imbalance and more. For example instead of needing to go on a medication for thyroid you may just need to support your zinc, selenium and iodine levels, three minerals essential for the production of thyroid hormone and functioning.
Besides showing us deficiencies the test also has bar graphs for each nutrient tested which shows to what degree that nutrient is present based off of a normal range. I like this way of looking at nutritional status because you are able to see not only deficiencies but also what nutrients may be borderline. As naturopaths we are all about prevention. If you can help support chromium levels before they are deficient let’s say, then you may be able to help prevent sugar imbalance and possible diabetes issues in the future.
I have learned a lot from running these tests on my patients. By comparing results to health concerns I’ve started to see patterns. For example lower levels of B12 and B5 seen together represent chronic stress to the adrenal glands- an endocrine gland that is responsible for producing cortisol (our stress hormone) as well as male and female hormones and a hormone called aldosterone, which helps balance our water and sodium levels. Deficiencies in zinc not only can lead to lower immune systems but also can be associated with lower vitamin A levels, since zinc helps to make a regional binding hormone needed for vitamin A transportation. It also is involved with activation of thyroid receptors, making binding globulins (or proteins) that help transport thyroid hormone, as well as helping to make serotonin and dopamine- two neurotransmitters that help elevate and stabilize mood.
Everything truly is connected and when one or more nutrients, like these important building blocks mentioned above are low, it can through off so many physiological actions in the body. Low nutrient status slowly affects physiology over time and our bodies do have an intrinsic ability to carry on even when levels may be low. Understanding the dynamic and intricate balance between these nutrients can help to transform health and well being and allow the body to work more efficiently.