Bloodwork analysis is a crucial component of successful neurological recovery after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, or concussion. As we explain in this article, the entire body must be working in harmony for the brain to heal and for the positive changes to stick. Thorough blood tests are an important method of identifying imbalances in the different systems of the body, allowing a clear view of what’s happening.
However, not all doctors interpret these lab results the same way, and it’s important to know the differences between the conflicting approaches.
This article focuses on the differences between the standard model and the functional medicine model, identifying the causes and consequences of following outdated models. In short, interpreting blood work through a functional medicine lens differs significantly from the “standard” lens, and is entirely more effective in identifying and treating imbalances before they become disease.
THE STANDARD MODEL | STANDARD LAB RANGES
The standard model uses ranges that are far too wide, and thus only flags numbers when they’re outrageously off, meaning it’s often too late by the time the doctor says anything. This disempowers patients by making them dependent upon significant interventions, often including invasive procedures and pharmaceuticals that bring a whole slew of negative side effects.
This standard approach is problematic because it leads to higher levels of disease in our country, overwhelms hospital staff trying to accommodate patients whose disease has already wreaked havoc on their bodies, and makes millions of Americans dependent on pharmaceutical medications for the rest of their lives.
THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE MODEL | FUNCTIONAL LAB RANGES
Functional lab ranges, on the other hand, are much narrower, and therefore allow the patient to see the direction that their numbers are trending before it’s too late. This empowers the patient and the practitioner to catch imbalances before they escalate into disease, and treat them proactively with lifestyle changes rather than reactively with extreme methodology as mentioned above. This is a vastly superior approach in improving patients’ quality of life and reducing the likelihood that they will need to depend on prescription medications for the rest of their lives.
At Resiliency, we use this functional medicine perspective, looking at a smaller range of lab values and considering all potential factors when reviewing our patients' bloodwork. Understanding that the human body works as a complex set of system allows us to identify address issues further "upstream" (meaning root cause) rather than merely focusing on "downstream" symptoms.
An example often helps our patients understand this, so we will use testosterone levels in men. Through the standard medical lens, many doctors consider acceptable testosterone levels to be between 300-1,050 ng/dL, regardless of the man’s age, lifestyle, and other conditions. If an 85-year old man, for example, has a testosterone level of 900 ng/dL, this is certainly not “normal”, yet it is often not flagged as problematic because it still falls within the acceptable range. On the other end of the spectrum, if a young man 21 years of age has a testosterone level of only 350, this can be considered “normal” even though this is extremely low for a man his age.
In the above example of the elderly man with high testosterone levels, let’s imagine the doctor sends him home without addressing his high testosterone. The patient’s health declines, and a year later he goes back to the doctor. His testosterone level is now 1,100 (out of range), so his doctor finally runs some tests and they find he has advanced stage testicular cancer.
Something that could have been treated earlier with a high degree of success is now a life-threatening condition.
This type of experience happens in different contexts all the time, with patients experiencing kinds of symptoms that are often either dismissed because the lab values are within the acceptable range, or masked with a pharmaceutical medication without addressing the root cause. Thankfully, more and more practitioners are adopting a functional medicine approach and considering a wider range of factors when looking at blood work.
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