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The prevailing myth about blood chemistry analysis is that it’s a diagnostic tool only used for determining the presence or absence of disease. This, however, isn’t true. When conducted from a functional perspective, blood chemistry analysis can be an incredible method for preventing the evolution of dysfunction into disease. Applied correctly, FBCA can serve as a signpost on a patient’s journey to optimal health. Let’s explore how.
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Not exactly useful. What's more, its tedious nature meant that this process wasn’t exactly feasible to do for every patient that might need a blood cell count.
Today, blood chemistry analysis provides a lot more information than just a count of circulating red blood cells. Medical practitioners regularly evaluate the levels of various biomarkers in the blood to detect the presence or absence of diseases of all stripes. If your fasting blood glucose comes back above 110 mg/dl, for example, your doctor might suspect that you have diabetes.
Patient-Focused; Not Disease-Focused
In contrast to allopathic medicine’s focus on disease, the functional approach to blood chemistry is a patient-focused one.
An allopathic practitioner looks to categorize a patient’s symptoms under a specific disease to deploy a specific treatment plan tailored to that disease. This approach begins with disease and works back to the patient. Functional medicine does the opposite; it starts with the patient and their concerns, then works towards treating those concerns.
By building a holistic, comprehensive picture of their patients’ health, functional medicine practitioners provide treatment plans tailored to the patient. Ideally, this helps to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. Going even further, it helps to prevent states of dysfunction — that is, those states of imperfect health that fall through the cracks of disease diagnosis.
“Normal” Isn’t Optimal
If Functional Medicine differs from allopathic medicine in that it focuses on the patient rather than the disease, how is that reflected in blood chemistry?
Allopathic blood chemistry analysis relies on whether or not a given biomarker’s values are inside or outside of a laboratory’s reference range. These ranges are calculated based on the average values found within a sample population. Blood testing laboratories define “normal” as the values reflected in roughly 95% of their sample — the upper 2.5% and lower 2.5% are considered to be abnormal.
The problem here is that many practitioners only diagnose disease or dysfunction based on whether their patients’ blood tests fall outside of the broad range of values found within the 95% reference ranges. But these are statistical averages; not true markers of actual health.
Rather than say their patients’ blood biomarkers fall within “normal” limits that have very little to do with the individual's real health, Functional Medicine practitioners use blood chemistry analysis by looking at much tighter ranges. These functional blood chemistry ranges are empirically correlated with real health outcomes, and by tracking their patients’ progress toward or away from those ranges, practitioners help guide their patients toward optimal health — not merely “normal” health.
How Practitioners Use Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis to Treat Dysfunction
With the right tools and knowledge, practitioners use FBCA and functional blood chemistry ranges to recommend supplements, medication and/or lifestyle changes. If a patient’s fasting blood glucose is too high, for instance, the practitioner might recommend diet and exercise. On a follow-up test, the practitioner might observe that the patient’s fasting blood glucose is still high; since their recommended treatment didn’t have an impact, they might invest in further testing or modify their treatment plan.
Importantly, the practitioner would regularly test the patient’s blood to observe how their glucose levels evolve over time. FBCA is all about tracking trends. By taking multiple blood biomarker profiles, practitioners can see whether and how their treatment is making an impact.
FBCA also serves as a means of targeting future testing. Rather than recommend a battery of tests that run the gamut from mildly to majorly invasive, cheap to expensive, vague to precise, functional medicine practitioners can use a blood test — a non-invasive, cheap and informative test. If more testing is needed, the practitioner will have ruled out those tests that don’t seem likely to yield any pertinent results.
It’s certainly more useful than counting individual blood cells, and it's important to know that you've got diabetes so you can begin appropriate treatment. But wouldn't it be better to know that you're on the road to diabetes long before the actual disease manifests? Wouldn't it make sense to treat dysfunctional blood sugar regulation early to bring your body back to optimal levels?
How is Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis Actually Conducted?
Step 1: Take a Blood Sample
Drawing blood is simple enough, but there’s more to this stage than that. First, you’ll need to determine what kind of blood test to order. For example, if your patient is new and doesn’t have any specific complaints, it could be a good idea to order a generic, full male- or female-oriented blood panel. Or, your patient may have come to you complaining of fatigue. You may suspect some form of blood sugar dysregulation and should order a comprehensive metabolic panel as a result.
Step 2: Order the Chosen Blood Test
Next, you’ll want to send your blood sample to the laboratory of your choice, such as LabCorp or Quest.
For licensed professionals, blood testing can be ordered through the patient’s insurance plan — though this may limit which sorts of tests you can order. Alternatively, licensed and non-licensed practitioners alike can have their clients order blood testing through direct access testing (or DAT) if they operate within a state that permits DAT.
Most results will be available within 24 hours, but more complex panels may take 2-3 days or longer.
Step 3: Analyze Results
As established, it’s important to analyze the results from a functional perspective. Simply reading a lab report will only call out when results are out of the normal range, whether above it or below. Naturally, if a given biomarker is out of normal range, that will be clinically significant for you and your patient. But interpreting the results with a functional eye will provide you with more clinically relevant conclusions you can bring to your patient, even (especially) if a biomarker is within the normal range.
If you’re new to FBCA, this might be an intimidating step; fortunately, there are courses, reference materials and tools to help support your analysis. We dive deeper into this aspect of FBCA further down the page.
Step 4: Develop a Treatment Plan
Based on your analysis, develop a treatment plan. The precise nature of this treatment plan will depend upon your training and specialty. It could be that a diet and lifestyle intervention is called for. Or, maybe supplementation and medication is a better path forward. In any case, you’ll want to be thorough, analytical and sure to tie your conclusions back to the blood chemistry results that inspired them.
Step 5: Report Clinical Findings and Recommended Treatment Plan
Once you’ve analyzed your patient’s blood test results, schedule a visit to discuss your findings and recommended treatment plan. This visit serves as your opportunity to communicate how you’ve reached your conclusions, to show your analysis and explain what it is about their blood test results that stood out to you. The importance of communication cannot be understated; if a patient understands why you’re recommending a treatment plan, they’re far more likely to stick to it.
Step 6: Follow-up and Track Change Over Time
After a few weeks have passed, you’ll want to schedule a follow-up visit. Now’s a great time to ask your patient whether they’ve experienced any improvements or deficits, how they’ve managed compliance with your treatment plan and to schedule additional testing.
Observing change over time is one of the major reasons to implement FBCA at your practice; whether a patient reports worsening symptoms or improving symptoms, it’s important to take the tests and evaluate whether or not that change is objective. After all, we all know how powerful the placebo effect can be.
Many medical practitioners may want to learn more about the "how" of FBCA before investigating further. For those practitioners, we recommend reviewing our guide, The FBCA Blueprint: How to Implement FBCA into Your Practice.
For practitioners who want to build up the fundamental, functional knowledge essential to this method of blood chemistry analysis, we recommend registering for our FBCA Mastery Training. Registrants gain:
- Access to 12 core training modules that cover the basics of FBCA, blood biomarkers and the practice of FBCA
- An optional certification track
- A free 3-Month Subscription to ODX’s Blood Chem Software (Certification Only)
- 35 Category 1 hours of Continuing Medical Education as approved by the Oregon Board of Naturopathic Examiners and/or 35 Category 1 hours of continuing education for LAcs as approved by the California Acupuncture Board
One of the good problems that FBCA causes is an influx of patients and corresponding blood test results to track, analyze and interpret. That’s why we provide the Optimal DX Blood Chem Software. This platform:
- Integrates key FBCA knowledge from Optimal DX’s founder, Dr. Dicken Weatherby,
- Automatically identifies biomarkers of functional interest, potential conditions to watch out for and potential treatment recommendations, and
- Generates easy-to-understand, visual health reports for both the practitioner and patient alike.
Optimal — The ODX Blog
Expand Your Knowledge
Browse our resources to learn more about Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis, blood biomarkers, the functional approach to medicine and more.
Insider's Guide to Your Patient's Blood Biomarkers
Read Optimal DX's insider guide to blood biomarkers — an informative introduction to Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis, commonly analyzed blood biomarkers and their relationship to dysfunction.Download Now
The "FBCA Mastery" Certification Training Program
Learn Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis from Dr. Weatherby, earn Continuing Education credits and get certified in this transformative assessment technique.Enroll in Course
The FBCA Blueprint: How to Implement FBCA into Your Clinic
Interested in Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis but don't know how to start? This guide walks you through setting up FBCA in your practice.Download Now
Optimal - An ODX White Paper
Read our white paper"What Is Optimal - Striving for Optimal Blood Chemistry Results and Optimal Health". At the heart of this whitepaper is a thorough review of the ways standard reference ranges are established and why optimal ranges work better for the Functional Medicine practice. To demonstrate this concept of optimal ranges we review 6 representative biomarkers: Glucose, Homocysteine, Iron, TSH, Vitamin D and Magnesium.Download Now