I’d like to introduce the importance of the functional medicine lab reference range

Hello Everyone,

One of the most common questions that we get here is “my doctor says my lab tests all look normal, so why do I still feel horrible?”

There are two main reasons for this.

One– the standard lab reference range versus functional medicine lab reference range.

Most doctors (and laboratories), when assessing blood chemistry, look at what is called a “standard laboratory reference range”. Labs base these numbers on an average of people who are getting their blood tested, both sick and healthy. Therefore, when one patient is comparing their results to this standard laboratory reference range, really what they are doing is seeing how sick they are compared to a population who is both healthy and sick. This is kind of like going to McDonald’s and seeing that compared to the people in there, you’re in pretty good shape. If you go to a gym where there tend to be more healthy people, unfortunately, we tend to notice how out of shape we can be. While humbling, it is a more honest assessment of our physical fitness. (Read what fellow Functional Medicine Practitioner in California has to say about Functional Medicine Labs vs. Conventional.)

The functional medicine lab reference range is like the people at the gym—it’s an average of the blood chemistry levels of people who are healthy. By comparing our values to these, we tend to notice how out of shape we can be. Oftentimes symptomatic patients are within the standard laboratory reference ranges, but are outside the functional medicine reference ranges.

In our office, we use functional medicine lab reference ranges. We also refer to the standard laboratory reference ranges so that we can show our patients the difference between the two. Patients love seeing the black-and-white the difference. Just this morning I saw a patient whose main complaints were chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Her previous labs showed no problems. But when I ran a functional medicine blood chemistry panel on her, guess what? It showed that she was hypothyroid, and had lots of inflammation! No wonder she felt horrible!

Two-Insurance-based medicine versus patient-based medicine.

Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room right now. Who is in charge of healthcare? Is it the doctors? Who pays them? If you answered insurance companies, you’re right! And guess what, insurance companies make their money by cutting our benefits and doctors’ pay. And how do they do that? By telling doctors and patients what they will and will not cover, or just by flat out not covering something but they said they would. We’ve all either experienced this or have heard of somebody who has.

Right now, insurance companies are covering less and less laboratory testing, which leaves us as patients hung out to dry. Almost all patients that I’ve seen do not have comprehensive laboratory panels run on them to see what their real problem is. This is the second reason why many patients are told that their laboratory tests are normal even though they still feel horrible. Nobody ran the right tests!

Let’s look again at my previous example of the patient with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. She felt terrible but was told she was normal. Her old hospital-run lab tests did not check for inflammatory markers such as ferritin, HS-CRP, and homocysteine. The tests also did not take into account functional medicine blood chemistry lab values which, would’ve shown that she was borderline hypothyroid! Once we put these all together, the picture became clear—both to me and to the patient—much to my patient’s satisfaction. By the way, yes, she is feeling much better.

If this blog interests you, and you’d like a second opinion on your case, just click here for a free second opinion!

Yours in health,

Dr. Sheehan