The annual Exam that helps me know how my health really is...
As my life takes another trip around the sun, I have been struck by a comment that multiple patients have made in the past two weeks: “I did my annual physical and asked the doctor what I needed to do to check if I am healthy and doing all I can at my age, but they only replied with: ‘Your labs look fine.’”
However the story for most people goes on to say, “but I am tired and have gained some weight, and it seems like there is something more I need to be doing.” This comment has come up so many times in the last two weeks, that I have not been able to ignore it, and it is one I have wrestled with myself when I recently came through with some health issues.
“Am I truly doing enough for and at my age?” I am going to touch on this, but for now I want to take a look at what the annual exam and lab look like in our modern world:
Most of us do not even have a physical annually, as it ends up being closer to every two to three years, especially with the back log due to COVID. And even if you do call your doctor to schedule a physical exam, these days it will be a three month wait.
First, the average doctors visit is now under 15 minutes and they may never actually physically touch the patient, as all vitals are done by a nurse. Next, a lab form to get blood work done is requested, which will check cholesterol, liver function, kidney function, blood health, immune health, with maybe a vitamin D check, and that is it. One may or may not even get a response from their doctor if labs are mostly normal, other than an email which does not give more than some basic advice on health. Not much for preventive care now, is there?
One may ask, “Do those lab results actually give my doctor the whole picture of my health?”
The answer, “yes… and no.” The truth is, our current lab values have been designed to screen for major illnesses, aka “survival”, but they are not designed to check if one is feeling good, aka “thriving.” Thriving is a state of the best possible health and that is what most of my patients over the past two weeks were curious about.
Next we take a closer look at vitamins. “Hey Doctor, I take a multivitamin so that means I am healthy, right?” If one looks at their multivitamin label, they are probably feeling really good about that 200% over the RDA that is written on the bottle.
But what does that mean?
RDA stands for Recommend Daily Allowance and was designed to be the minimum nutritional need to keep a solider alive (back to surviving, not thriving). Therefore if we try to only get the RDA, it means we are not actually going to thrive. Research continues to show what the actual thriving dosage of most vitamins and nutrients should be, as they are the building blocks of all of our bodily functions.
Our office performs a lot of annual physicals for patients, but I have been questioning what other than the traditional blood work we should include. So now let me give the answer to the question, “What testing should I do to check if I am healthy and which will help me know what to do about my health?”
Based on the research that is coming out, the two tests we recommend would be 1) a comprehensive stool analysis and 2) a nutrient analysis that shows us vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
A really good stool analysis will display good gut bacteria, bad gut bacteria and digestive health (inflammation, enzymes, and the immune function of the gut).
The more we understand the gut microbiome, the easier it is to see how essential it is to almost every system in our bodies. For example, when one takes medicine for their thyroid, the gut has to absorb it and if it is not functioning, then they are not getting the proper effect of the medicine. We form a symbiotic relationship with our probiotics and they help with metabolism, mood, absorption, and even brain functioning.
So when we really think about it, our health really does come down to poop!
I recommend getting checked especially if one is having constipation, diarrhea, or are unable to go to the bathroom daily. But most people will benefit from a general health standpoint to get their gut checked.
A nutrient analysis that displays vitamins, minerals, and amino acids helps us understand the building blocks of all the basic ingredients needed for the body to function. Pick any vitamin and look at its benefits. One will find that it helps with so many crucial functions in our bodies.
For example, let us pick my favorite vitamin:
Helps absorb phosphorus and calcium to create strong bones
Aids in cancer prevention
Helps the immune system function properly
Reduces risk of heart disease
Improves thyroid function
Aids in autoimmune prevention
The list really goes on and on, but the example above give us an idea of how important vitamin D is for our bodies. Precision lab testing, like nutrient analysis, does not just show if our vitamin D is in the low 30s (which is the survival level not thriving level), it shows how much our cells can proliferate and grow if it has the proper nutrients.
The next question on everyone’s mind now is “Why doesn’t my doctor at Kaiser or Stanford (or any other big institution) do gut or nutrient testing?”
Honestly, I do not know. But I really wish they did, and in my lifetime, I hope to see a true push to preventative care!
Being healthy and thriving for me is feeling good enough to do what I want to do. While I may not be 20 years old anymore, I still want to be active, work out, and be the best version of myself at any age. I have attached some of my labs to see what they look like.
Sneak peak: In the next blog, I will share what supplements I am taking to allow you to learn from my health journey.
** All of the above testing is done in our office and many other offices around the country. Try to find a functional medicine doctor or one who practices precision medicine, and ones using specialty labs to perform them.