Sample lab results showing reference range and resultant values.

Sample lab results showing reference range and resultant values.

Those of us that are using functional medicine to get better, know that part of that process involves ordering lab work - sometimes a lot of it. For a functional medicine practitioner, it's critical to get an understanding of what is going on in various system functions, in addition to cross-referencing that with client symptoms. However, taking lab results at face value may not be so wise.

Lab reports usually come with an actual value of the molecule or substance being measured. Then the lab will show you a reference range and sometimes the lab will indicate if your value is within this reference range. Easy enough, right? Not so fast! You really want to make sure your functional practitioner knows if that is enough.

So how do you know that your functional medicine practitioner knows how to interpret the labs?  One of the first things they should do is educate you on reference range and what it really means. Each laboratory establishes their own reference range. It's the range of values they get from all the people they test and they determine what is normal for that population. However, keep in mind, the people who often get tested are people who are not feeling well and already showing disfunction in their body! Further, since each lab has their own reference range, you may get lab work done at two different places and have two different reference ranges! Makes it not so valuable as a reference, right?

What your practitioner should then explain is that each value has an optimal range. Optimal range refers to the values that healthy, vibrant, full-of-energy people have. I don't know about you, but *that* is what I want. Most practitioners have been able to identify what this is from their own years in practice, and a lot of this information is now made available through functional medicine training (like the FDN course I am taking). This optimal range does vary on the individual somewhat and may be above, below or equal to the statistical medians reported in the reference range.

So lets take an example. In the image above, there is TSH (the first lab result). TSH is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone and this is something that many doctors test to get an idea of Thyroid function. (TSH alone is not the whole thyroid picture, and that is a whole different story - you can learn all about that in the Thyroid Sessions) The reference range here is 0.45-4.5 mU/L. However, most functional practitioners now know that the optimum range for most people - those that feel great - is between 0.5 and 3.0. And for me, I know that I feel best when my TSH reads just under 2.0 like it does in the image above.

So, to summarize, if you have a functional practitioner who accepts lab results at face value and doesn't immediately educate you on what optimal ranges are, it's time to find a new doc. If all this is old hat to you - then keep calm, and carry on!

Would love to hear from you what impact this information (whether from me or from your own health advisor) had on you when you learned it! Share in the comments.