Why I look deeper when someone says their blood work is “normal”

Author: Dr. Michelle Durkin on 23 November 2021

The way I evaluate blood work is not going to be the same as a medical doctor. So many times I have had a patient tell me their blood work is "normal" and yet when I look at it, that is not actually the case. 

That is because the lens through which I look at your blood work is a preventative one. I'm not waiting for a disease to be present to start treating a problem. 

Now this isn't to knock medical doctors. They are trained to give medication when there is a pathology present and this is something I agree with. Don't give medication unnecessarily. But where I feel the medical system is weak and where naturopathic medicine excels, is in identifying red flags early, treating with lifestyle solutions, and preventing a disease state so medication is not required.

To illustrate this I am going to go through some blood work I completed on myself several years ago. 

Here were the results that I would consider early warning signs:

White blood cells       3.8       (4.0 – 11.0)

Fasting glucose          5.2       (3.6 – 6.0)

Hemoglobin A1c        0.055  (>0.055 = at risk, >0.060 = prediabetes)

TSH                             3.91     (0.35 – 5.00); this is the conventional range, I however like to see this number between 1 -3; the lower the better

As you can see I had 3 markers that I would consider borderline abnormal,  my white blood cells,  my hemoglobin A1c, and my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). 

White blood cells are a reflection of the immune system and your ability to fight off infections. Hemoglobin A1c is a marker of how well my blood sugar was controlled over the previous 3 months. TSH is a marker of how well my thyroid was doing, the higher the number, the lower it was functioning.

I knew if I could improve these markers I would improve my overall health, increase my ability to prevent chronic disease, and address some of the minor symptoms I was having.

So what did I do?

I ended up shifting my diet to a real food, lower carb, Mediterranean type diet. I got rid of bread, even the gluten-free stuff, all chocolate except dark chocolate occasionally, whole grain cereals (I used to love Kashi cereal), brown rice, whole grain or gluten-free pasta, fruit smoothies, and rice crackers with hummus (one of my go to snacks).

I became more aware of eating enough protein, more fat (yikes!), and lots of veggies.

My smoothies switched from mixed berries and protein powder to spinach or kale, celery, cucumber or zucchini with protein powder and fat in the form of avocado. It was amazing how much longer I could go without feeling hungry.

My snacks became nuts and seeds, veggies and guacamole, and whole fruits with nuts butters. I also started using the medical foods I use with patients, mixing them with water or in a smoothie. One medical food in particular that I used was called UltraMeal360. I frequently use it to treat blood sugar and cholesterol abnormalities.

Lunches and dinners had more veggies in them than I ever had before. It became standard to have 2 veggie dishes with some good fat + a protein for dinner, and then the leftovers for lunch. I was eating cauliflower rice instead of brown rice, spaghetti squash instead of pasta, and burgers with lettuce wraps instead of buns.

I no longer felt bad or unhealthy eating bacon and eggs on the weekend for breakfast and I substituted the bread for tomato slices.

Fast forward a year and I was feeling better than ever. I frequently received  comments from family friends about how healthy I looked. I knew it was time to repeat my blood work to see if it had changed as well.

Here were my new results:

White blood cells       5.0       (4.0 – 11.0)

Fasting glucose          didn’t recheck because it was normal last time

Hemoglobin A1c        0.046       (>0.055 = at risk)

TSH                             1.68    (0.30 -4.00)

hsCRP                         0.2       (<1.0) – didn’t check the first time but wanted to see the level of inflammation in my body

What really impressed me was my improved thyroid function.

So often people just treat the symptoms and never address the underlying cause. Could I have taken thyroid supplements to “fix” my thyroid? Sure. But then I would have become dependent on a thyroid supplement instead of addressing the root cause.

I decided to make the commitment to address the foundation of my diet first, based on what my blood work was showing, and it made all the difference.

Now I would love to hear from you! Have you ever made changes to your diet and had surprising changes to your blood work? Leave your comments below and I'll be back next week with another edition of Doctor as Teacher Tuesday!

***Announcement - I will be hosting an online webinar in the new year on how to understand your blood work. I will walk everyone through my latest blood work results that I completed last week. The blood work that I had done is called the Enhanced Healthy Living Assessment by Life Labs and costs $200 to complete. If you are a patient and would like the same assessment done in order to follow along with your own results in the webinar please let me know and I will have it arranged through my receptionists. Look for a sign up email for the webinar soon!***

2 Replies to “Why I look deeper when someone says their blood work is “normal””

Diana Purvis

Really enjoyed your newsletter about blood assessment.

I’ve had problems getting Drs to show concern even when blood levels were flagged.

Thanks for this Nov newsletter.

Dr Michelle Durkin ND

You’re welcome Diana!

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