What's the big deal with lab tests?

Lab testing can be an extremely useful tool for taking a closer look at what is going on in the body, and finding objective markers that can reveal much more than what can be gathered by looking at signs and symptoms. Commonly experienced symptoms such as fatigue, gastrointestinal issues and muscle aches can all be caused by a number of different abnormal bodily processes, and so treating these things empirically, that is, by clinically educated guesswork, can be frustrating and oftentimes without success.

Oftentimes, doctors will reach for these lab tests, which are fortunately very often covered by insurance, in order to assess a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a variety of other conditions. What is unfortunate, though, is the fact that many of the most readily available tests that are used to assess overall health are not used properly. Despite research that has clearly shown cholesterol to be the culprit of heart disease, doctors will still order lab tests for cholesterol levels and look to prescribe based on what looks like, but might not even be, a “high” reading1. Understanding which tests are of importance when dealing with whatever health problems you are looking to address is crucial in choosing a health plan that will put you in a position for success. For this reason, we will talk about two very useful tests that cover a broad range of conditions that are worth you and your doctor’s consideration.

Homocysteine

Homocysteine is produced in the body from the breakdown of the amino acid L-methionine. An elevated level of homocysteine is commonly found in people with chronic inflammation, and has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease2, osteoporosis and fracture risk3. It is important to understand that, although homocysteine has been linked to a number of diseases in addition to those mentioned above, an elevated homocysteine finding is simply a chronic inflammatory marker. Simply lowering levels of homocysteine will not necessarily resolve issues in the body, but is instead a much more useful tool to be used in conjunction with diet, specific nutritional support, and any other modalities designed to address dysfunction.

C-Reactive Protein (CRP)

High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) is produced by the liver in response to inflammation. Like homocysteine, CRP is also seen as a risk factor for a number of diseases and dysfunctions, but differs from homocysteine in its association with certain diseases. Simply put, in certain cases, levels of CRP have been found to be highly correlated with particular diseases that levels of homocysteine have not, and vice versa. For the majority of the time, though, the two are often ordered together for confirmation of an objective view at inflammation going on in the body.

The Takeaway

A good clinician can accomplish much with a careful history and assessment of signs and symptoms you are experiencing, but addressing a dysfunction in the body is often a complex and tricky task. If you are looking to get deeper insight into any health problems you might be experiencing, lab testing, when done properly and used properly, can be an instrumental part in finding the fastest, least frustrating path towards success in becoming more healthy. Using either a test for elevated homocysteine or high sensitivity C-reactive protein levels, or both, is often indicative of the kind of treatment required, and can provide insight into whether a systemic inflammatory process is going on in the body that will need to be addressed along the path to better health.


 

References

1 Mcnamara, Donald J. "Dietary Cholesterol, Heart Disease Risk and Cognitive Dissonance." Proceedings of the Nutrition Society Proc. Nutr. Soc. 73.02 (2014): 161-66. Web.

2 Wierzbicki, Anthony S. "Homocysteine and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of the Evidence." Diabetes & Vascular Disease Research : Official Journal of the International Society of Diabetes and Vascular Disease (2007): 143. Web.

3 Mclean, Robert R., Paul F. Jacques, Jacob Selhub, Katherine L. Tucker, Elizabeth J. Samelson, Kerry E. Broe, Marian T. Hannan, L. Adrienne Cupples, and Douglas P. Kiel. "Homocysteine as a Predictive Factor for Hip Fracture in Older Persons." New England Journal of Medicine 350.20 (2004): 2042-049. Web.