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It’s tempting to consider blood chemistry analysis as a diagnostic practice that falls squarely in the domain of allopathic medicine. Anyone who has ordered or had a blood test knows that the results are typically a battery of individual markers, measurements, and statistical ranges that offer very little insight into the functional health of the testee. Blood tests — as many Functional Medicine practitioners believe — are only useful for diagnosing patients already presenting with severe illness.
The simple fact is that this is not true. In fact, the continued belief that blood chemistry analysis is a tool that only allopathic medicine can make use of effectively is prolonging your patients' search for the answer to their dysfunctions. Here’s why.
Under the allopathic approach to blood chemistry analysis, a patient visits their doctor for a specific complaint, who, suspecting a certain illness is at play, orders a blood test. When the test comes back, the medical practitioner assesses a number of possibly relevant blood markers and their levels, noting those that fall under a minimum level or exceed maximum levels. If these deviations match their suspicion based on the patient’s symptoms, they’ll make a diagnosis and begin treatment.
As Functional Medicine practitioners, our job is to minimize the likelihood that our patients will get sick enough that they require allopathic treatment. As a result, we need to think of blood chemistry analysis a little differently. Functional Medicine can provide much-needed context to a blood test that is sorely missing. There are two major features of the Functional Medicine approach to blood tests that practitioners can use to provide this context.
Under the allopathic approach, the medical professional attempts to diagnose their patient with a specific disease so that they can begin treatment. Under the Functional Medicine approach, we want to build a comprehensive picture of our patients, their state of health and — most importantly — how that health is trending.
In this way, we can help reduce the likelihood that they will become ill, reduce dysfunction and improve their quality of life.
Thus, the functional approach to blood chemistry analysis requires a more nuanced assessment of blood panel results, which brings us to our second major feature of Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis (FBCA).
In a blood panel, a given biomarker’s level can vary wildly and still be considered within a normal range. Although extremely high or low levels of a biomarker can be used to support a diagnosis, the allopathic perspective doesn’t infer much from variations in biomarker levels within the “normal” range.
There are a few issues with this. The first is that regularly assessing these levels can show trends that help medical professionals treat dysfunction before it becomes disease. The second is that “normal” is a statistical construct — just because someone has the average levels of a biomarker for someone of their sex and age doesn’t mean that their levels are optimal, or even healthy.
What’s more, a biomarker’s levels — even if they are within a normal range — can have greater implications for a patient’s health in the context of other biomarkers’ levels. By taking a more holistic and nuanced perspective, we can examine the interrelationships between biomarkers so we can assess imbalances in our patients’ physiology, deliver real value to our patients and improve their quality of life.
FBCA benefits patients complaining of the difficult-to-diagnose issues that commonly spur many patients to seek out Functional Medicine in the first place. These are patients with chronic concerns or unexplained changes, such as:
Fatigue and low energy
Digestive disorders such as bloating, heartburn, constipation, and gas
Pain and inflammation — muscle aches, stiffness, etc.
Sex hormone issues ranging from erectile dysfunction, low libido, menstrual irregularities to struggles with going through menopause
Anxiety or depression
And many other conditions
In short, FBCA best serves the bulk of patients seeking treatment at your practice — it should be the first tool a Functional Medicine practitioner turns to get a clear window into the body's functions and a comprehensive view of their patient's health. With this information, they can best determine how to build a treatment plan that brings their patients to optimal health.
As with any new assessment tool, the best place to start is through education. In our guide Stay Optimal: An Insider’s Guide to Your Patients’ Blood Biomarkers, we discuss the major blood biomarkers that you might assess using FBCA and how variations in their levels can signify trends toward dysfunction. Or, if you’ve got other questions about functional blood chemistry analysis, contact one of our experts.