Optimizing your health as you age means taking proactive steps to understand where your health stands currently, and determining what interventions or protocols are needed to evolve from disease management to a state of total well-being. Lab testing is typically the first frontier of information a provider and patient must gather in order to assess health and determine a pathway to optimal health. Dr. James “Jay” Stevens, MD, CAQSM, ABAARM, FAAFP, Medical Director and Provider at Essential Health – Cary, explains the importance of medical testing as we age, what testing can reveal, and which tests to make sure you are receiving from your provider to best monitor your health over time.
What is medical testing and why is it important?
A medical test, or “lab test” in this case, is a standardized and validated measure of some substrate or analyte that is used to confirm or refute an expected diagnosis or symptom. Lab tests are used to help define a disease process or to confirm normality, or even reveal an optimal state. There are literally hundreds of medical tests – blood tests, radiological tests, and functional tests, to name a few. The choice of tests should be based upon the presentation of an illness, but it can also serve to confirm “wellness.” You can think of medical tests like a “painter’s palette:” there are multiple colors to choose from but all of them together paint a full picture of health.
It is critical to understand that providers should not “treat a test result.” My personal position is that “we treat our patients, not their lab results.” Even while using the most advanced test capabilities in history yet, we must use them to confirm or to refute a patient’s symptom complex. Tests should be considered in the context of what the patient voices they experience: their physical signs and their subjective symptoms.
Why are different types of tests needed as we age?
We all change over the course of our lives. As we age, many aspects of our lives change. Some are very evident, including wrinkles on our skin, physical stamina and energy, and decline of mental acuity or performance. However, the aging process can also be seen from a micro-perspective. As we age, we typically lose energy production inside every cell in our body. This is typically a prolonged process of decline related to inflammation and the decline of nutrients, or the accumulation of toxins or both. The science to test the “micro” (intracellular) environment is now possible – validated and reliable tests can show us the intracellular environment and we can act upon these results.
A perfect example is Glycosylated Hemoglobin (A1c) which reflects cells’ relative glycemic saturation (sugar saturation inside of every cell in our body). If it is seriously elevated, we call this “diabetes” and if slightly less so then we call this “prediabetes.”
The “aging” process itself also changes what tests are needed and what results are considered “healthy.” Understanding this is crucial. A very simple example would be menopause. Normal levels of hormones in a young and healthy woman drastically change during menopausal years. Also, women at a certain age may benefit from different types of testing, such as tests that measure bone health.
Why is it important to find a provider who can interpret test results?
It is important to find a provider who has been well trained in advanced testing protocols and who can interpret results relative to the individual. This includes the conditions that surround the decision to order a specific test. Once a battery of tests have been reviewed in the context of the individual patient, a strategic plan can be developed to correct or preserve optimal health.
How is Essential Health’s approach to testing unique?
Essential utilizes a “Precision Health Care” perspective. Our philosophy is: “one size does not fit all.” Although we utilize very common “conventional” tests (lipids, electrolytes, etc.), we also use many precision specialty tests, and at times, a combination of conventional and precision specialty tests to characterize individual wellness or certain cellular dysfunctions. Based on both conventional and precision results, we can individualize a lifestyle approach as well as specific ways to correct or optimize an individual, from the cell to an organ to the whole person.
To assess a patient’s basic health status, a typical testing panel may include the following:
- Complete Blood Count
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
- RBC – Magnesium
- Full Thyroid panel
- B12 level
- Estradiol, Progesterone, Testosterone, DHEA-S, Morning Cortisol
- Cleveland Heart Inflammatory Panel and Omega-Check
- A1c (perhaps the single most important test)
However, when a patient presents specific symptoms beyond what could be explained by initial testing, we are able to propose precision specialty tests to uncover additional insights into a patient’s health at a deeper level.
Medical testing can not only be a powerful educational tool to learn more about your health status at a single point in time, but also a way to track the progression of better health over time. It takes an open mind, an inquisitive spirit, and a knowledgeable provider to take the precise, right steps towards optimal health throughout the course of our lives.
Learn more about how our providers can help support your health at a cellular level by scheduling a Meet & Greet today.